Growing up on the often wild and tempestuous south-west peninsula of the UK may not sound like the ideal spawning ground for a pro bodysurfer, but for Garage ambassador Jack Middleton, the cold water, bleak climate and rural communities of Cornwall have been a perfect inspiration.
“I was born and raised in Cornwall, say Jack, “living about a 30-minute cycle from the beach. As you can guess, I spent most of my childhood in the sea.”
The environment, and in particular, the ocean, always held inspiration for Jack. The rugged Cornish coastline tends to infuse visitors and locals alike with a sense of humility in nature’s majesty and this was Jack’s muse. Studying marine geography at Wales’ Cardiff University paved the way for a life intrinsically connected to the ocean, both in work and play. He lived and breathed the salty sea breeze, his home just a few minutes’ walk from some of England’s finest and most renowned surf breaks.
“When I realised my girlfriend, Brogen, lived about a minutes’ walk from some of Newquay’s best beaches I knew I was on to a winner and have been here ever since. It gets a bad rep for stag do’s and the like but who can say no to 10 beaches within a few miles drive!”
Surfing from a young age, he was part of a core community of watermen and women, the summer months bringing the blow-ins and tourists to Jack’s home breaks of Newquay, but the off-seasons and winters creating a stoke, camaraderie and enthusiasm that only cold-water devotion (and possibly one too many cases of brain freeze) can imbue.
His passions instilled a lifestyle more akin to the warmer climates of Australia and California than the West Country and Jack became involved in surf lifesaving, competitive swimming and, in more recent years, bodysurfing.
“I have always surfed, swam competitively and competed in surf lifesaving so bodysurfing was always the next step,” Jack recalls. “My friend and fellow Garage Handplanes rider, David [Smith], actually convinced me to buy a handplane and enter the local competition about three years ago. I came third, realised I loved it and haven’t looked back. Since then it has opened so many doors and has even led to me getting a bodysurfer tattooed on my arm!”
With his rising passion for bodysurfing, Jack visited California to take part in the Bodysurfing World Championships. Seeing the level of professionalism and organisation in both the event and the bodysurfing club at Del Mar, Jack decided it was time to take British bodysurfing to the next level. While small events had existed for many years, they weren’t on the scale of a globally-viable competition and, with his girlfriend and Garage stablemate, David, set about uniting and expanding the bodysurfing community.
“With the success of the first UK Bodysurfing Championships it brought a lot of the big players together and got media attention. The regular meet ups we are organising are helping too. I would say this time next year we will have doubled the number of regulars and will be sending people to all the usual competitions; the Worlds, European Tour and so on. It is a great time to be involved in the UK Bodysurfing scene.
“Before this summer there was one regular competition – the Approaching Lines Slyder Cup. It is great fun and joins handplaning with paipo, alaia and surf mat riding. It was the competition I first started with so really was the beginning of competing for me – a great introduction.
“The UK Bodysurfing Championships was the first national-level competition of its kind here and was amazing; 16 British riders and four internationals competing over one day at one of the UK’s most well-known waves. It was shifty, peaky, onshore and hard work but worth it and a great first competition.
“I ended up coming second to Miguel Rocha from Portugal with the other two Portuguese riders making up the final which I was stoked on. Coming back from a semi-final at Worlds I feel like, as much as there is still to learn, I am heading in the right direction.”
After university, Jack joined Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), a British non-profit working primarily to preserve and improve ocean water quality. His work reflects perfectly his love for the ocean, organising beach cleans, pressuring the government and major corporations and building public awareness to help protect the coastline and waters of Britain.
“My degree] led, almost seamlessly, into working at SAS and, four years later, I am still here!”, he says. “It is amazing to be able to work in a field I love, helping to protect something that means so much to me.
“We were founded to improve water quality, and that is probably what we are most famous for,” Jack says of SAS. “While we have made huge advances in this area, we are also a leading environmental charity combatting the plastic pollution issue.”
It’s a blessed man who can say his work and his personal life are one and the same, his employment feeding his passions and being able to pay the bills by doing what he loves, but it seems that Jack has nailed it. Blurring the line between work and play further, he recently undertook a four-kilometre ocean swim to raise funds and awareness for SAS.
Jack joined us as Garage ambassador two years ago at a time when his bodysurfing was expanding in so many ways. Aligning with the team across the world, exploring the possibilities of the different Garage models and pushing himself to improve and take on conditions – good and bad – that he might not have otherwise considered have all added to his progression and ever-improving talents as a bodysurfer:
“Ah man, the help that Dave (Archer) and Garage Handplanes have given is beyond words, from the obvious like getting me out in different conditions that I would never usually go out in to introducing me to a whole worldwide community of likeminded people.
“Thanks to Dave there are no beaches or conditions that I can’t go out in, there is an open canvas of tricks and skills to learn and do and a world full of people to meet. One of the best things, I think, that Dave has done for me, however, is introducing us to Vince [Askey] and the guys at Del Mar. Vince is truly amazing and it has given me and Brogen a family in California that we wouldn’t have got otherwise.”
As is so often the way, with a little inspiration, great things can happen. Work, competition, leisure and life have become completely intertwined for Jack, one feeding the other, pushing him forwards in so many ways.
With his side project of Frogs Legz distributing bodysurfing equipment organising events and promoting the lifestyle, there’s rarely a moment that he isn’t connected to the ocean in one way or another, and for Jack, this means that life couldn’t be better.
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