Kernow, by land or sea

by Harvey Bentham on November 07, 2023

(cornish) Ponnek [ponn-eck]

(english) Dusty

‘Mordarha’ ; to ride a wave (Cornish)

‘Ponya’ ; to run (Cornish)


Cornwall and surfing go hand in hand. Our picture perfect coastline fuels the surfer stereotype that probably isn’t too far away from someone we know. Our relationship with the water in Cornwall is almost an identity. This geographical allure sees our population double over the summer months and instills awe and wonder throughout the winter barrage of large swell and rough seas. 

The word ‘surfing’ has coined many images over the years, and with it the waters have muddied in trying to define what it means to so many people. Tales of empty waves and fresh new board shapes being discovered seem like a thing of folklore; compared to our often crowded line ups and over abundance of equipment choice we see today.

To me, surfing is a dance; a movement; a space; something undefinable and fleeting, just out of reach. It has its definitions, its measurements and terminology, but the essence of what surfing is, is a bit of an enigma; it shifts like the sand underneath your feet depending on what or whose lens you’re looking through. And that’s how it should be in my opinion. Its as unique as all of us. The core feeling whilst on a wave is what unites us together, a shared understanding that this feeling lights us up inside. It’s what keeps us going back in day after day, to search for that feeling again.

The constant call of the Atlantic Ocean we feel living on Cornish shores is persistent. An ever beating drum we live our lives by; ebbing and flowing with the tides, shifting direction with the prevailing winds, the salt is in our blood. This deep reverence for our landscape, to immerse ourselves in the rugged cliffs and endless coastline is what fuels our collective sense of being. Take away our land then who are we?

A growing number of seekers are pushing limits and edging ever closer to the answer of this same question- trail runners. Running to me is innately human. It is at the foundation of evolution and a core pillar of my being.

Moving my body is medicine. I will never understand the complexities of the human biology, yet I am certain that it is made to move. Cells signal, blood flows, muscles contract, and my mind is free.

My biggest hurdle when it comes to running is my mind. Funny how that feels like an oxymoron; my conscious mind can make or break a run that primarily involves a multitude of sub-conscious movements. Tapping into my biological rhythm that sets off a cascade of reactions enabling me to get out and move is something I am eternally grateful for.

Two sage pieces of running advice given to me from my Dad when I first started engaging in the race scene four or five years ago, still echo around my head every time I toe a start line; don’t set off too quick, and focus on the out-breath. The first golden nugget is something I am still to master, my race plan is yet to mature from setting off at my ambitious planned pace and hold onto the heels in front of me for dear life. The latter wisdom has fuelled my research and practice into understanding the key relationship between our breath and how our body moves. Having this as a mantra whilst out on the trail or in the sea, consciously bringing my awareness back to the breath, has opened up a deeper level of understanding to my outdoor pursuits and how I approach them.

Finding those precious moments to mentally pause whilst physically moving feels like a superpower. Time stands still. Extraordinary insignificant things come to my attention; how a leaf effortlessly drops to the ground, the sound of my foot kicking through a puddle, the sensation of the cold air reaching my nostrils. A shift happens, sometimes subtly and other times it requires a little persistence, but eventually I find myself at complete ease in my body and mind. As I patter through the trail conscious of every step to secure solid footing, I begin to notice my surroundings a little more keenly. My senses elevate and I am rewarded with a sharp focus on the present moment. I hand the reigns of my movements over to the body and sit back and watch as I attempt to temper my ceaseless thoughts. This balancing act of finding peace whilst physically working hard is a source of wonder that continues to excite me and sees me continually setting my alarm far too early to get out the door in search of it again.

Committing more time to running over the years and actively trying to improve led me down a solitary path of increasing weekly mileage and goals of faster mile times. I had the blinkers on and thought the only way to improvement was through pushing hard every single run and just doing more of it, a simple enough formula to stick to.

I only recently started running with other people opposed to my usual hermitic endeavours, smiling and offering a casual wave at other runners as I passed by was the maximum extent of interaction I was used to. This shift to integrating my passion for running alone into a group setting has been hugely beneficial to my fitness, performance and overall wellbeing.

Joining various Run Clubs and organising meet-ups made me realise that the community aspect of both surfing and running are integral building blocks for the future of these sports.

Whether we are surfing/running solo or as a group, having a sense of the wider community with us, either seen or felt, can be a powerful motivator. Having someone physically on our shoulder as we snake through coastal trail markers or hearing a cheer from the lineup as we paddle for a wave makes us feel unstoppable; equally important is knowing that our community is out there even when we lace up for some solo miles, that we are a piece of the bigger puzzle and someone else is going through a similar experience as we are.

These opposing ideas and feelings mould into tangible outcomes that can benefit the human mind. The dichotomy of being alone in a crowd or together whilst apart brings me back to this notion of what surfing and running tap into for me. They offer me freedom. Freedom of space to explore and indulge in our wild landscape. Freedom of thought that cultivates creativity and curiosity. Freedom of choice, to be able to access the outdoors in ways that please me.

This privilege and gratitude is not lost on me and it is deepened by having a playground of a county to call home. Cornwall has some of the best green and blue spaces to explore in the UK, in this case the stereotype has merit.

Moorland, ancient woodland, farm tracks, sand dunes, and the infamous coastal path are all on our doorstep ready to be explored. This diversity of trail is making Cornwall a heavyweight in opportunity, access and events for the running scene. The South West Coast Path is the backbone of Cornish trail running, 330 miles of ankle wobbling fun awaits the intrepid adventurer with enough elevation to make your thighs tremble. I am lucky enough to have called the cliffs and waters surrounding Porthtowan my local haunt this summer, combining some steep inclines to run up for the best surf scouting position to watch the waves roll in and plan my position in the water. I’ve lost count how many times I got carried away and stood on the cliffs soaking in the immense natural atmosphere surrounding me. Give me a good old geological formation, some sea birds and waves to watch and I’m happy for hours. But along the way we find more than awe inspiring scenery, rich local history and fresh sea air in our lungs. We find each other. We find the humans behind the stories. We find our community. Sharing our passions and exploits with those that get a similar buzz to us is a wonderful feeling. Add in a growing coffee culture and a landscape you can’t take your eyes off- you can see why some call it God’s country.

Stumbling on Ponnek’s Dusty Club tagline of ‘Adventure Together’ this feels pretty apt for me. Adventuring together is sometimes the only thing that we can do. Navigating through life can get confusing sometimes, and getting a proper reset outside in nature is always a good starting point for me when I’m in a bit of a funk. Nothing quite hits the same as that first wave submerging my face, or the thrill of reaching the top of a hill and soaking in the world below. This is what keeps me searching for adventure, by land or sea, sometimes alone but always together.

Shoutout to Run Cornwall Run Club for those Saturday morning meet-ups keeping the stoke high all year round and creating a little hub of legends, join us in Penryn one weekend for a jog and a cracking post-run brew - we’re a friendly bunch!
 Also a big mention to the team at Ponnek for forging their own path and welcoming in so many people to enjoy the journey with them.

Only thing to discuss now is where should we hit the trail next .. ?


Images 2 | 3 | 4 - Will Harper-Penrose

Images 1 | 5 - Harvey Bentham