Cycling in London is the closest I get to surfing. Given I live 60 miles from the nearest beach break, that is a small comfort.
I first learned to surf when I lived in New York. All through that first summer I monitored the surf forecast like an addict. Rising at 4 or 5am to take the A train out to the Rockaways, just for the chance to ride two foot waves, might sound masochistic to some, but I grew to love it.
If I managed to catch even a few of those short breaks in a session it was like an early payday. I was officially addicted.
When I came back to London I missed the disconnection from daily life that surfing brings. Which is why it’s a relief to drop into traffic for two hours every day and forget about the day-to-day.
I start my journey on Brixton Hill. It’s a crisp morning, leaves swirl in cyclones around my wheels.
Brixton’s an attractive place, with a pre-World War I cinema and enough jerk chicken shops to seed a small booklet of bad puns.
In the last five years it’s gentrified beyond the knife crime that gave the area an `edge’ in the late-nineties. The other cyclists here, with their worn trousers and white t-shirts, are attractive.
They tick past me in a steady stream, a cascading rhythm of downshifts and unclipped cleats that sound like monotone birdsong.
The weather switches north of the Oval Cricket Ground. My arms bubble with goosebumps. Weaving through double-decker buses I dive for the gaps between vehicles, like a surfer chasing a closeout.
Buses and trucks swing past like heavy six foot waves. If you cycle in any city for long enough you start to detect the patterns of how different vehicles move through lanes of traffic.
This bus will slow down when he sees me pass him, idling at a stop. But this lorry will speed up on the same manoeuvre, so I downshift, pedal back, and slot in behind his wave of exhaust. Pedal harder now to slip out the kerbside so you don’t inhale too much and cut up the slipstream on the inside to overtake him at the stoplight.
There are the same cliques and tribalism in city cycling that you get in the ocean. The shortboard riders (matching lycra, socks, clip-in pedals club shirts) punching through traffic. All short, sharp turns and power.
The languid longboarders - sit up and beg bikes, mismatched clothing, baskets). They are happy to catch a couple of waves and go with the flow.
At the other end you have the newbies wobbling in the shallows. And the old-guard - leathered skin, 1978 tour t-shirt and bodies like old rope or the bottom of a foot - they don’t take many waves but when they do they glide through the tightest turns and narrowest slots. All while riding fixed-gear bikes with no front or back brakes.
There are 1,585 of you on this list. In 1585 the first group of colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh landed on Roanoke Island. What happened next will blow your mind
(spoiler: they disappeared).