Festival Number 6: weekend of the year
What what what?
That’s what just about everyone I mentioned this festival to has said. Festival Number 6 is an eclectic music festival set in the surreal, enchanting village of Portmeirion in North Wales, at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. Portmeirion took fifty years to build and was designed by an architect who wanted to enhance the natural landscape rather than detract from it. The result is a place basically like nothing else in the British Isles at least, and it’s where the cult TV show The Prisoner was filmed: ‘You are Number Six’. Geddit?
When Festival Number 6 comes to town it takes over the whole village, the forest, the fields and now, thanks to me and my crew of surfing miscreants, the estuary too. This year I’ve been working with Volvo Sailing to help promote kiting and to get new people into the sport, and No.6 was the last stop on the Sailing Academy tour. In July Kate and I took a drive up to assess the site and plan where the kiting sessions would go. The estuary dries out a low tide and is massive; ideal for power kiting, but there is a river between the sand bar and the village which needed to be crossed, and there are no bridges. On the spot I decided that we could ferry the participants across on standup paddle boards, and about a minute later, figured if we were to be taking boards up we should also run SUP taster sessions around the high tide when the sand bar was under water. And that’s how SUP got into Festival Number 6.
The next job was to liaise with the local coastguard regarding tidal flows particular to the area so that we could dodge the fastest flow to ensure our boards and clients weren’t on the water. Then, I mapped out the areas we would kite and SUP in, taking into account potential festival foot traffic and prevailing winds. And then, I needed to assemble the team that would be able to execute three days of SUP and kiting sessions with professionalism and safety in a festival environment. Good friend and owner of the Cold Water Project, Sam Lutman Pauc was naturally integral as a Volvo team rider, and we had already run two sailing academy weekends this year but I needed two more instructors.
I cast the net pretty wide but as ever the solution was close to home: Julius Bull from JB Adventures in St. Ives and Nick Bartelot from the famous school that I used to run, the Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay, turned out to be beyond perfect for the job: can-do attitudes, an eye for detail, the right skill set and an excellent way with people. Lastly but in now way leastly, Kate was on the team. A photo of Kate paddling was already going viral online as the poster for the festival’s activities luring people to join in. Kate is also a very strong paddler, has degrees in law, physiotherapy, broadcast journalism and is completely unflappable in all situations, so clearly us blokes could just hand everything over to her if it went wrong
Our team and SUPs were in place. We had excellent boards from Mistral, RRD, and Coreban including the downright marvellous Bear Grylls Scout. Seriously, if you want to run SUP sessions and you want to make it as easy as you can for people, this is the best board I have seen. We had three of those whoppers and everyone loved them. Then, I brought Ocean Rodeo Soul and Ignite drysuits for protection for the instructors because seven hours above water in a wetsuit is a very miserable condition to endure. My buzzword for the sessions was ‘protection’ – both for us, the instructors, and the clients.
All that was left to do was roll out the sessions. Ostensibly each session should be the same, but as the tides and weather change, the day wears on, different ages and groups of people come down, the music gets too loud, you have to smoothly adapt and tweak the lesson to give the clients the best experience. This also keeps it fresh for the instructors and that promotes vigilance and more importantly, fun! Or else why would you do it? Kat and Emma from Volvo Sailing were on the bank the whole time signing the participants in and handling the scheduling. I was so impressed with how professional and efficient they were. Between us all I think we made a great bunch, I definitely got the feeling everyone enjoyed working in that team. Well over a hundred people were given proper SUP lessons that weekend – not just a quick wobble about but the real deal – and I reckon just about all of them said they wanted to do it again.
That’s the fundamental value of this set up: getting these sports under the noses of the public and opening their eyes to the possibilities on their own doorsteps for doing something new. It’s really important for everyone that works in the industry whether that be tuition, media, equipment, or riding professionally. Without the upwelling of new people into the sports we’d all be out of a job, and if we’re out of a job there’s no one to make the kit and then it becomes mega expensive and then it just dies a death. Wind and water sports make life better, it’s as simple as that, and I take every hat off to Volvo Sailing for rolling their sleeves up and making this happen.
This wasn’t just about getting your head down and banging out the sessions; we were in a mystical location by day and sleeping in luxurious yurt tents by night that would have enchanted the most discerning Victorian traveller. Sure we were busy but it’s always the snatched moments that you remember; the goofy moment during a session, the ‘in-jokes’ that develop, that first post-work beer…we were all sure that we packed so much more into every minute of our days than those attending in a leisurely capacity.
In the evenings we mixed it up with the festival crowd. We had to leave before Manic Street Preachers performed on Sunday night (big shame, my favourite band, ever) but did see and hear so much. I’ll remember My Bloody Valentine as the loudest band in the world, ever. Like many in the kitesurfing game I’ve travelled a fair bit and will continue to do so, but it’s been a while since I’ve left somewhere and felt a touch of the blues. I’m not a festival goer and never will be, but Number 6 was something else.
This was a large scale event; 10,000 people, big name established acts, relevant up and coming acts, big sponsorship and some big ticket prices. The media were swarming everywhere. Last year NME named it best small festival of the year. The UK Festival Guide called it the best new festival. So when you decide to do a world first and put some power kiting and SUP in a festival like this, who are you going to call? A bunch of surf bums from the West Country of course