Zuma Jay will quietly mention that they may very well be one of the oldest running surf shops in Europe. It’s a contested title, and one to which several stake a claim, however there can be no doubt that Zuma Jay has a strong case. Nestled in a back road of the picturesque beach town of Bude in North Cornwall, Zuma Jay is a flash of electric blue down an otherwise unassuming street.
Ask around about Bude and you will often hear a similar story: It’s a long way away from everywhere else. Stretched up into the north-western corner of Cornwall it sits on the boundary with neighbouring Devon. Unlike much of Cornwall it carries an EX postcode, instead of the TR and PL codes of the rest of the county, and if you drive in from the south you may notice your radio station mysteriously shift from BBC Cornwall to BBC Devon.
Bude’s somewhat isolated location has lead to it being a bit of an enigma and a law unto itself, but one that brings with it its own very distinct charm. Zuma Jay surf shop sits at the heart of the surfing community in Bude, so we sat down with shop manager Paul one recent sunny Tuesday to talk surfing, Bude, and whatever else was on his mind.
Paul, for those not familiar with your patch, what’s the lowdown you’d give any surfer making their way over to Bude?
Well, we’re pretty blessed here. We’re not a huge surf area but we’ve got our waves in town and along the stretch of coast either side. We’ve got Widemouth Bay to the south which we still class as a town beach - it works on pretty much all conditions and all tides. You’re pretty much guaranteed a fun wave their regardless. Like anywhere when it gets big it’s always going to be a bit of a struggle. As a general rule we enjoy southerly swells, as there are a lot of spots that can hold that swell direction.
In terms of other sights to see right in the centre of town, we’ve got the sea pool which is lovely because there aren’t really many of them that are left.
A sea pool as in a nice place to swim?
Yeah absolutely. It’s an old Victorian one. Most of them have since been demolished but ours is still going. Next to that is the harbour mouth which is great when you get huge conditions, as the harbour holds it well. It can be a real haven and a lot of beginners go there. It’s a real go-to beach, although low tide around our area is always a bit tricky and then it ends to be a harder wave.
Next up there is Crooklets, or the town beach "proper". Further up the coast you’ve got Summerleaze and to be honest you'll keep finding beaches as you head up the coast to the north.
How have the various banks been this year?
They vary… we had a little run at the end of winter, sort of March time. The waves were very, very, good. We haven’t had that sort of long run for a good long while. There may be a few good banks around at the moment, whispers on the wind. All power to you if you want to go and search for them!
I’ve been here for 25 years now and I remember the surf being phenomenal when I first moved here. It’s easy to be nostalgic but the reality is that it’s still the same surf now. You’ll hear your fair share of people trotting out the same old lines, "It used to be good here," "ah that last summer was the best ever". Next year could be the best.
At the end of the day surfers are never satisfied, but we all already know that. Some people will say that was the worst winter they've ever had but the reality is that they say that every year.
We’re chatting over the shop counter, and at this point a customer throws in his two cents.
[customer] Surely the worst winter is staying here!
Back to Paul.
Like everything it depends how you take it. At the moment I feel we’ve had a bit of a dry spell for the last couple of weeks. You could have a month of perfect surf, a week of rubbish surf, and you would be turning around and saying it’s awful and that we haven’t had any surf for ages.
You’re only as good as your last surf, huh.
In a way it’s the drug of surfing. It’s great, it’s good for us, good for business and good for surfing.
Zuma Jay has been here since 1974, and the building itself looks pretty old. Can you tell us a little more about the actual shop?
This was originally an old print works. They used to have printing presses in here; you can still see the black ink on the floors. I’ll have to quote Nigel now, because when I came into it the surf industry was an industry, but when Nigel came into it it was a backstreet affair, and surf boards were made upstairs.
[Nigel] When I arrived on the surf scene all the surf shops were backstreet places like this. None of them were on the high street - that would be crazy. We needed a place to hang out and we couldn’t afford anything. It was all sheds in gardens and that kind of thing.
Has it become overly become overly commercial now? Maybe. Am I gonna complain about that? Not really, I do think there is always a balance to be struck. Realistically, it’s all about enjoying the surf.
It seems like there’s still a good and healthy grom culture in Bude?
Yeah we do. Have you met Barnaby? He’ always down here, he’s doing all the junior comps and that, winning national titles. I guess we’re proud of him and it’s nice to have top level surfers coming out of Bude still.
Where do you think things are going with surfing, and what kind of changes are you seeing in the surf industry at the moment?
There’ a lot of wave pools coming through, I think there is about 9 planned for around the country, including the two that are already here. Bournemouth, London, Glasgow, Birmingham, and Aberdeen, at least. It costs £25million to kick these things off - they aren’t cheap, but they’re happening. But y’know there have been a lot of changes. We’ve had a website at Zuma Jays since I started here, and we were doing surf checks and have had a webcam for years. The two guys who set up Magicseaweed are in here often enough and the simple fact is that changed the game.
Nigel and me and have been on minimum wage since the day we started here. I’ve got a house down by the beach and I am perfectly happy. I don’t think you can be chasing the dollar all the time. And the other guys, they’re working hard but they’re not, if you know what I mean. It’s different.
What is your favourite item in the shop? It doesn’t have to be for sale.
That’ll be the Angus board. It’s stashed down the back at the moment in the changing room.
What’s special about the Angus Board?
I love ACDC and it’s one of my favourite boards. All our own boards are Cornish made. This is one of my customs. We use three shapers and we pride ourselves that we still make custom boards. We do sell imported boards as well, obviously, but we look to try and only sell them if there’s something to them that you can’t get made in this country. If we can make it and support local shapers we will.
What board have you spent the winter surfing, and what board are you going to spend the summer surfing?
I always play on quads and twin fins, generally speaking. This winter has been really nice. Everyone’s buzz word at the moment is mid-length which is a bit of a joke because mid-lengths have always been there. Nigel out in the shop has seen the trends come in and out about 5-6 times. I’m currently riding a board that we have a version of somewhere in this shop from about 1980, and I am riding a modern version of it and everyone is telling me it’s the latest thing. Twin pin type tail, 6’’8 It’s been a great step-up board for fun days but I’m finding myself getting lazy on it. In the summer I’ll be going back to the quad fin fish and once in a while I'll jump on a shortboard when it gets bigger.