Chalet Saunton’s SurfFit Retreat in Devon, hosted by big wave surfer Andrew Cotton and celebrity surf trainer Andrew Blake, will have you reconsidering your approach to fitness and gaining board confidence in the sea
For many people, surfing is something that seems entirely sunny and exotic. It’s also something that many believe you can’t do properly in England.
You can, of course, but it’s worth bearing in mind that, while the surf lifestyle is insanely appealing – sun, sea, sand and sun-kissed skin – it’s also pretty hard going. The sport has a wild side, it needs real grit and determination. Surfing isn’t always as sexy as the marketing campaigns make it out to be.
As someone who has spent the last few years surfing, this is something that has always bothered me, so I was pleased to find that the Surf Fit Retreat at Chalet Saunton didn’t play up to this marketing at all.
Instead, it embraces all elements of surfing – the rough and the smooth – blending the appealing ideals of surfing with the skills needed for the sport on one of the most beautiful beaches in England.
The Chalet Saunton has teamed up with well-known big wave surfer, Andrew Cotton and surf trainer to the stars, Andrew Blake to offer a SurfFit retreat for surfers of all abilities, taking place this summer from 13-15 July 2018. With surfing being added to the list of sports at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now is the time to get surf ready! And who better to show the true wild side of the sport than Cotton himself?
Having broken his back riding a 50ft wave at Nazaré, a popular big wave surfing spot in Portugal, Cotton is back and working toward full fitness again. The rehabilitation and fitness lessons that you can witness from Blake to Cotton are fitness tips and skills that you won’t forget in a hurry.
From learning how to stabilise and calm your mind, to learning how to control your breathing, Blake and Cotton will work at the retreat to help you understand what your body needs for optimum control and fitness.
The retreat aims to improve overall fitness, breathing, flexibility, core strength, mental outlook, diet and surf specific fitness
The weekend programme will therefore focus on the skills and techniques used for surfing which can be used both in and out of the water. Sessions will include surf-specific strength and conditioning, meditation, motivation and mindfulness, breathing and yoga, nutrition and will also include surf lessons for all abilities.
The retreat aims to improve overall fitness, breathing, flexibility, core strength, mental outlook, diet and surf specific fitness. Each individual will receive an arrival screening, as well as an end of weekend analysis with advice on how to work on general and surf fitness going forward.
But first, let’s talk about the accommodation and the setting. Chalet Saunton is absolutely stunning and every ounce of detail has been carefully thought through and designed within the property.
Newly opened this season, the Chalet incorporates six 3-bedroom apartments and one 2-bedroom penthouse, with one of the most perfect settings atop the cliff. It overlooks the extremely expansive Saunton Sands with its perfectly peeling waves, as well as Braunton Burrows, a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Every apartment within the Chalet has been designed differently, with a slightly different vibe shining through in each. Expect trendy artwork, marble bathrooms, a particularly white-washed colour scheme and statement furniture pieces.
There is a real sense of intimacy here, and a feeling of familiarity, friendliness and personal touches. This is perhaps because the owner and designer of the Chalet, Tim Fleming, grew up on the very plot of which the property is built.
There is a real sense of intimacy here, and a feeling of familiarity, friendliness and personal touches. This is perhaps because the owner and designer of the Chalet, Tim Fleming, grew up on the very plot of which the property is built
So, despite the high-end minimalism, top of the range fittings and fixtures, free-standing bathtubs in bedrooms (all of which make this property stand out from the crowd) and underfloor heating, the Chalet holds a warm and welcoming feeling throughout.
Perhaps best of all though are the views, accessed from nearly every room within the property, from the floor to ceiling doors and windows or from the long balconies.
After some wine on the balcony as we watched the sun go down on Friday night, we hit the hay in a huge, comfy bed. On Saturday, after a cheeky dawn surf, we headed up for an incredible brunch in the penthouse with fresh coffee, granola, muesli, eggs, avocado, coconut water, juices, fresh fish, an abundance of different breads and more.
Nutrition is something that they take seriously on the retreat and if you’ve got any questions about how to eat healthily, answers are on hand. With dinner provided on the Saturday night by local restaurant The Glorious Oyster and lunch made on our final day by The Homegrown Catering Company, you will find yourself truly spoiled for choice when it comes to the food offerings.
A huge part of the retreat focuses on yoga, mindfulness and strength and conditioning. The first of our yoga classes, that focused on surf-based vinyasa, was extremely challenging and pushed our bodies to realise what they are capable of.
Blake has a certain way of teaching that really allows and encourages your mind to open up to what it has the power to do, and I found listening to his voice and his extensive knowledge while teaching extremely therapeutic – exactly what was needed to calm everyone’s pre-surf nerves. The restorative yoga on the last afternoon was brilliant at winding us down and allowing our muscles to fully recover from all of the fitness that had been done.
Just in the same way that the surf-based vinyasa was challenging, Blake certainly knows how to put you through your paces when it comes to strength and conditioning circuits and dune training. Yes, dune training is as hard as it sounds but incredibly rewarding once you have powered through the pain.
A huge part of the retreat focuses on yoga, mindfulness and strength and conditioning
I found it refreshing to participate in a type of fitness I would never do and it felt good to move and use my body in ways that I don’t usually. Perhaps best of all though, is that you’ll have a laugh and although grinning from ear to ear might not be your usual default face when it comes to fitness, I can assure you that throughout the retreat you will find yourself smiling – nobody can bunny hop up sand dunes and keep a straight face.
One of my favourite parts of the retreat was Cotton’s breath training class, whereby he taught us how to use different breath-holding techniques. I was surprised to find how long I could hold my breath for by the end of the session, and it’s a huge confidence boost to know that you are capable of holding your breath underwater if needed in a wipeout scenario.
Of course, surfing and getting in the water is a big part of the retreat. The surf safari is led by local surf school Walking on Waves, who will take you to a secluded spot way down the beach where no one else can be bothered to adventure to. This is perfect for mixed ability groups, as is expected on the retreat, as everyone can have the space to either start with a lesson on the beach and move into the water with the instructor, or simply get out into the waves and have a splash around with some extra pointers from instructors.
For me, this was absolutely perfect. Having suffered a serious knee injury two years ago from a surf session in Croyde (the next bay around, notorious for its uneven seabed), I have struggled with getting my confidence back. It was really great to chat to both Cotton and Blake about this and to learn the skills needed to overcome this mental block, and then to be able to get out into the surf and put the techniques into practice. I can honestly say I had the best surf I’ve had in two years out there, and it was refreshing to gain some much-needed confidence.
You don’t have to want to be a big wave surfer to participate in the retreat, in fact, quite the opposite. The retreat, although focusing on surf fitness, teaches you skills that can be applied to almost anything from calming techniques to endurance stamina. Equally, if you want to improve your ability in the waves, then this is the retreat for you.