I caught up with Jessica Tuckman, a surfer on the UK Pro Tour who hails from the cold, cold Cornish coast, to talk about being a woman in the water, her favorite breaks, and what being a pro is all about.
When did you start surfing? Do you remember the first time?
The first time was in Scarborough. It’s the North Sea and it was grey, windy and definitely cold. My cousin took me surfing and let me have a go of her board, and it was so fun. I didn’t manage to stand up at all and was very unbalanced but it was really exciting. I was just laying down on the board and shrieking with delight every time I caught some whitewater.
What was the road to becoming a professional surfer like?
I didn’t really plan it. I used to run with the Manchester Harriers when I was younger and also entered shows as I used to have horses, so competition is something I have embraced. I enjoy it because your scores indicate if you are improving, and you also meet lots of like-minded people.
It’s exciting to surf under pressure. I entered my first contest for fun in October 2012 and the waves were pretty messy. I didn’t do well but the people were all really friendly and supportive and when I was training for it I improved because I had something to focus on. I decided to just go for it and I’ve now surfed two competition seasons.
I’m focusing on my wave scores, and hopefully all the training I’m doing will pay off. I’m competing with myself, in a way, as I aim to improve on my previous years’ results. I definitely see improvements with every competition experience and I have all the committed people behind the contests to thank for that.
You’re on the UK Pro Surf Tour and I know basically nothing about UK surfing. Where are the contests? What are the breaks like? What are the major surfing spots in the UK?
A lot of contests are held in Cornwall and Devon. In the transition from Autumn to Winter there are contests in the northeast of England and one in the far north of Scotland.
All the contest locations have great waves in the right conditions. We’ve had some awesome waves over the last few years.
There are breaks all over the UK coastline. From the popular surf and holiday locations in the south west such as Newquay, Penzance and Croyde to winter in Bournemouth, from the cold northeast spots surrounding Scarborough to Porthcawl and the Gower in Wales. A lot of surf spots are local knowledge and I guess you need to find a few good surf friends to help you out.
How would you describe UK surf culture?
There’s a good community that I know of. Welcoming people who live healthy and wholesome lifestyles. Even in the short time I have been on the scene there is a massive increase in the amount of people in the water. This is great — more people are getting fit and healthy and enjoying the most amazing and life-changing sport I know. On the other hand, this is hard for the surfers already in the sea as we get crowded lineups and there’s been so many accidents involving out of control surfers colliding recently.
Did you know a lot of women who surfed growing up? Who are your women surf idols?
I knew none at all. I only started surfing at 20 years old and just made a leap deciding to really commit to it. I thought my cousin Tina was pretty cool as she surfed in a university surf club and then went travelling around the world. She went to Hawaii, Australia, South Africa and more awesome places. So I guess that inspired me to surf.
Sally Fitzgibbons is my favourite surfer at the moment as she has a great surfing style. Her surfing is progressive and she always seems so excited and to be loving life. She promotes a clean lifestyle and is someone for young women to look up to.
What’s it been like traveling on the tour with other surfers? Is there a lot of camaraderie and are there hijinks going on?
I guess we are all pretty focused. There’s definitely hijinks, mostly by the young lads. Boys will be boys, eh! The best bit is feeling like you are on an adventure with your friends and exploring surf spots away from your hometown together.
Do you have professional surfing goals or are you more just going with the flow? What’s next for you?
A bit of both. I really want to see continued improvement in my wave scores. I’m also going with the flow in a way as I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. If I do that then I risk sacrificing the joy that I get from surfing.
I also want to be able to create good surfing videos and hopefully be able to offer more variety in my surfing which will be exciting to my viewers. People are so encouraging and its great when they tell you they loved a video you worked hard on.
I can’t let you go without asking about the cold water. How do you psych yourself up for that? What do you wear? I have a friend who surfs in Maine and wears wool socks in his booties — anything like that? Horror stories?
Ahha, thas a great idea! I’ve got top quality wetsuits for the cold water. Snugg Wetsuits sponsors me and they are made to measure, so I guess i’m really lucky. In winter I also have to put boots and gloves on. I can’t wait for the water to be a bit warmer!
Finally, have you surfed anywhere else in the world? What are the best places to surf that you’ve been to and what are some of the places you’d love to visit?
The Canary Islands and Morocco both have amazing waves. I’ve been to both places multiple times and to a few islands in the Canaries. I just keep going back because I know what to expect and also love the culture. I’m going to surf in Portugal in April, and I think my dream location would be the Maldives.