Nothing beats a gathering of Brits on a beach in the rain. Add to that a vintage fever as pervasive as the repetitive dots on a Kidston apron, some wooden bellyboards and a cake competition and you get village fete meets fashion show meets niche sporting event. So niche, that a corner of the north coast of Cornwall was an alcove of media attention last Sunday for the Ninth World Bellyboarding Championships.
“So just what part of this brings you here?” asked my friend. She gestured at his shivering body, the potent grey clouds, the foaming smashing waves.
“This! It’s amazing!” replied Matt McGregor-Mento. He meant the jagged dramatic cliffs of Chapel Porth, the red polka dots of women in retro bathing costumes, the Ford Model A, the custard yellow bathing tent selling wooden bellyboards.
The advertising creative from Manhattan had flown over especially for the World Bellyboarding Championships with his girlfriend and already BBC Cornwall had accosted him about 9/11. The echoes of that day hung oddly in the air, incongruous next to primary colours and painted ply.
The rain began to beat down as clutched his body with his arms, explaining how The Men’s Expression Session had become a little too expressive when his woollen all-in-one costume had separated at the waist, revealing his bottom. He needed to borrow some bathers for his qualifying heat.
Bottoms and Americans aside, the Bellyboard Champs are also famous its cake competition: the annual WBBC Bake Off where village fete meets vintage fever. From cupcakes to seascapes, surf riders to icing illustrations, the array of sponge creations captures the essence of the competition. Sara’s chocolate bellyboard cake recipe complete with secret ingredient is available here.
Beyond cakes (is there such a place?) there is also the famous hedgehog ice cream at Chapel Porth– a combination of ice cream and clotted cream studded in roasted hazelnuts, looking like one of our shyer mammals on a stick. The crunch and cream does it all, smooth but textured. The artery aching Cornish combo of ice cream with a lump of clotted is nothing new and echoes the variation on a cream tea known as ‘thunder and lightning’: bread spread with clotted cream and black treacle (honey or syrup) – another heart-stopping Cornish delicacy that comes highly recommended.
I shared a much-appreciated plate of chicken risotto and half a pint of Betty Stogg’s under the boot cover of Henry Parkin’s car, husband of Sally Parkin, owner of the Original Surfboard Company and vintage swimwear devotee. She is responsible for instigating a wooden board revolution, currently spreading across the Atlantic. As the rain reinforced its patter on the ply, the queue at the National Trust café for tea grew in retaliation and juniors (under 60s) and seniors alike waited patiently to ride the waves. Strictly no wetsuits.
Next year I will be fully armed with a flask of hot tea, whiskey, cake and more cake. As we made our way back up over the cliffs towards St Agnes, wet and vintage weary, the spectacle of tiny pink bodies armed with boards in the swollen north coast Cornish waters was heart-warming and very, very British.