117: Mike Lay/Enter A Cloud

Mike Lay. Photo: Nick Pumphrey

“Surfing is such an addictive thing for me that it almost pushes everything else out of the way.”

The life of the professional athlete is truly an exalted one. There’s the travel. The free kit. The adulation. And the fact that you’re being paid to do what you love.

Small wonder that so many professional athletes get swept along with it all, and start to believe their own hype. As I know from my experience of working in the industry for almost three decades, nothing is more common than the pro athlete who has made the fundamental mistake of thinking their current situation is permanent.

Mike in a typically poised position. Photo: Nick Pumphrey.

It’s why characters like Mike Lay are such a breath of fresh air. Sure, he’s one of the finest longboarders the UK has ever produced, with a truly beautiful, considered style. But he’s also that rare thing: somebody who is amazingly good at riding a board, and also able to see far beyond the margins of our insular little world.

You can see it in the writing he does for the various surf magazines he contributes to, and in the curiosity that seems to come naturally to him. As you’ll discover, he’s a creative, a dreamer, a reader, a writer and, above all, a thinker, as well as a surfer.

Photo: David Gray

These are the conversations I look forward to the most, the ones that take off into unexpected regions in the finest Looking Sideways tradition. I’m really grateful to Mike for going out of his way to make this conversation happen, and for approaching it in such a spirit of honesty and open-mindedness. Hope you enjoy it.

Listen to the episode here:

Connect with Mike

Show Notes

  • At Open Surf
  • Off to Mexico
  • Mike’s winter in West Cornwall
  • Mike’s cancelled itinerary
  • How China are investing in winter sports – and surfing
  • New Chinese wavepool
  • How the WSL are trying to open up professional longboarding
  • The ethics of longboarding
  • The Seedling
  • The Sprout
  • Single fin longboarding
  • The changing face of competitive longboarding
  • “It’s definitely a good thing, but I don’t know if I will take part in it”.
  • BLU contest days.
  • Sacking off contests to focus on single fin longboarding.
  • The influence of James Parry.
  • Forging the freesurf path.
  • “Making a career out of this was so far away from what I was thinking”.
  • Sam Bleakley‘s path.
  • Studying Creative Writing and English Lit at University.
  • Spotted by Reef while surfing.
  • The importance of mentors.
  • The physical/intellectual balancing act.
  • Mike’s surf writing and poetry.
  • “There’s a less obvious path for getting your poetry out there”.
  • The confidence and freedom to have ideas.
  • “Surfing doesn’t necessarily have that much depth to me”.
  • The contradictions of cultural value judgements.
  • “I’m not sure why I value writing a poem more than I value surfing”.
  • Finding your own goals.
  • The single-mindedness required to ride waves of consequences.
  • Concrete creative ambitions.
  • The power of deadlines
  • Snowboarding The World
  • How the WSL longboard tour looks now.
  • The ethics of travelling for surfing.
  • Keeping surf travel local
  • Finding cultural significance in surf travel
  • Brilliant Corners
  • The Mauritanian reaction to surfing.
  • How longboarding lends itself to this type of travel.
  • “The surfing part can be incidental. It’s a vehicle to get you there”.
  • Mike’s book of poetry.
  • A Road Through Galicia
  • Surfing’s rich literary traditions.
  • The in-built tension of surfing writing.
  • Poetic influence of W.S. Graham.
  • The gentrification of British industrial regions.
  • Contradiction of promoting what you long to protect.
  • Bait
  • Is it possible to reconcile tourism as an industry with protecting a local culture?
  • The otherness of Cornwall.
  • The impact of Instagram on local areas.
  • Kernow self-identity.
  • Cornishness and Englishness.
  • The remoteness of British surf culture.
  • Being an oddity in that scene.
  • The future.

People Mentioned

Places Mentioned

  • Wheal Kitty
  • Mexico
  • Sayulita
  • Pendeen
  • China
  • Australia
  • Mongolia
  • Noosa
  • Huntington Beach
  • New Zealand
  • Portugal
  • Saint Agnes
  • Cambridge
  • London
  • Western Isles
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritania
  • Glasgow
  • Madren
  • Penwith
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Cornwall
  • Treen
  • Porthcurno
  • Brighton
  • Encinitas

Companies/Brands/Events Mentioned