Last weekend, Newquay and its surrounding bays played host to a spectacular event. Sun, sea, sand, surf, skating and some top bands came together for the annual Boardmasters Festival, and I was there to review the shenanigans with a new Canon 1300D, VIP tickets and one of my closest friends in hand.
Boardmasters is quite unique in that it combines the traditional music festival format with a British surfing competition that has been running since 1981. For this reason, activities are split between two locations near Newquay. A huge campsite and all of the main music stages are located at Watergate Bay, where the advertised line-up runs three days from Friday to Sunday. On the other side of Newquay sits Fistral Beach, where surfing competitions take place Wednesday to Sunday alongside stalls, a Beach Bar and small-scale music performances.
To make the most of the weekend’s entertainment, I headed first to Fistral Bay.
Boardmasters partnered with lots of cool brands this year, and one of those brands was Canon. They set up a tent at the Headlands on Fistral Beach where it was possible to test out various models, lenses and printing devices while overlooking the action in the bay below. Staff were on hand to offer assistance, and it was the perfect opportunity to discuss taking the first step from smartphone selfie snapper to wannabe pap.
I went along with my new camera and signed up for a tutorial session. Over the course of one hour, we visited the skate arena, bar and beach, where I learned way more than I should already have known about aperture, ISO and focus. Afterwards, we reviewed our many shots of professional surfers, skaters and bikers, as well as festival goers basking in the sunshine.
The Canon 1300D has some fantastic features. You can connect it to your mobile phone via an nFC connection or built-in WiFi to view, transfer, edit and upload your images; and it has a simple mechanism for transferring lenses so you can alternate quickly between long-distance and close-up shots. It’s also very user friendly. While the main aim of this model is to make learning to use manual settings easy, there’s also a Scene Intelligent Auto mode for when you’re caught up in the moment and just want to capture everything with minimal effort.
Having my Canon tutorial on the first full day of Boardmasters meant I had the optimum time to put my new skills into action. Here are some of the highlights of the event…
While many people head to Boardmasters solely for the music, it’s worth remembering that the bands probably would never have gone there if Newquay hadn’t first become known as one of Britain’s top surfing locations and host of its biggest annual competition.
There was easy access to Fistral Beach and it’s a gorgeous place to hang out when the sun is shining. Anyone with a pass to the festival seriously missed out if they didn’t spend at least half a day checking out the talent, tasting some local Cornish delicacies, and exploring the nearby town.
The World League Surfing events were free to watch, and the beach was speckled with spectators reclining in deckchairs, while listening to the commentary on the loudspeaker and cheering on some big names in the sport. An arena on the Headlands also provided the opportunity for some young talent to show off their skills on skateboards and BMX bikes.
With headline acts like Chase and Status and Deadmau5, along with some familiar names such as Kaiser Chiefs, Primal Scream and Craig David, this year’s Boardmasters festival was never going to disappoint in terms of music.
There were eight main stages set along the stunning Cornish coast and, regardless of who was playing, it was a pleasure to grab a cider, sit on the grass in the sunshine and take in the views. The Corona Sunsets stage manipulated most of our time for the simple reason that you could see the sea behind it, but as night fell, it was a struggle to hurry between sets and see everyone we wanted to see.
As VIP campers, we also had access to a VIP bar, which came with its own picnic tables and music tents. This was the perfect place to escape to when the crowds got too much.
Watergate Bay was really well catered for. There were plenty of stewards at all the main points, and most were pretty clued up on where things were located. Even on day one, following a busy train into Newquay, we didn’t have to queue very long for entrance and wrist bands, and subsequent entry checks were perfectly streamlined. Bag searches were carried out randomly, but with little to no impact on waiting times.
Along the road to the campsites were a few burger bars, water stations and toilets. This was also where the welfare tent was located and, throughout the festival, the volunteers did a stellar job of taking care of people. As with any festival, they seemed run off their feet, but they took it in their stride. We were lucky enough to have a friend’s mum working there who let us borrow a tent and air bed, but for anyone coming in on foot, it was a bit of a trek with huge bags and alcohol supplies.
Out of the campsite and across the road was wristband entry to the stages, and within those barriers were all the small business tents, like face painting, cute accessories and supporting brands. While limited alcohol (boxes of wine or beer/cider cans) was permitted in the campsite area, no drinks were allowed in the music arena. However, they cost a fairly reasonable £4.50/£5.00 a pint.
At this year’s Boardmasters, over 4000 people pitched their tents in fields across the road from the music stages. Our VIP passes gave us a few notable benefits. There was greater security thanks to limited access; we had plenty of ‘posh’ toilets and showers, and queues were minimal; and there was a lot more space. We also had our own campsite sausage bap breakfast van, coffee hut, bar and covered seating area filled with picnic tables and hay bales, as well as queue jumps and free parking.
While it’s not a good idea to weigh yourself down too much when you’re camping, I discovered a few useful items I’ll definitely be saving for future festivals:
⛺ Just before Boardmasters, I got myself a nifty little Moji Lamp that doubles as a charging device. By day four, our tent was a bit of a mess inside, but we could easily search for things after dark. It has a couple of hooks so you can hang it like a ceiling light, which makes it very easy to find your tent among the thousands when you go to the loos in the night, and you can even use it to charge cameras, phones and other devices while you’re away. It takes batteries as back-up power and, with festival chargers costing £20, it’s a great investment.
⛺ Even though the weather at this year’s Boardmasters Festival was almost entirely sunny during the day, it still got very cold at night. It’s a great idea to take lots of layers, both to the stages (if you plan on staying there all day), and to your tent so you can wrap up in bed. One of my favourite items, which you can pick up at Planet Camping, is the SelkBag – a sleeping bag with arms, legs and removable boots. You can wear it outside your tent and the additional flexibility means you can manoeuvre more easily inside it too.
It’s also a great idea to have sunscreen handy at all times – and to remember to apply it before the facial glitter!
Boardmasters tends to attract a younger crowd than most festivals. There was a lot of talk of school exam results and of being underage, but this wasn’t to say that, at 33, we couldn’t still have an awesome time. People of all ages were enjoying the beach and the music.
A lot of the people in our VIP camping area were in their late 20s and early 30s and we ended up hanging out with some great people from the Cornish Orchards cider promotional team – a handy bunch to know!
Families with children seemed to be more attracted to the Fistral Beach action than the music, although we did see some young faces around the camping areas and stages.
Most people arrive into Newquay by car or train. I was coming in from Bristol and returning to York, and both journeys were easy as pie. Most trains enter and exit Newquay via Plymouth and Par, and this part of the trip can get quite busy, especially if you arrive on the first day and leave on the last. At 5 pm on Wednesday afternoon, my carriage was packed with bags and tents, but it was manageable. The minibus service that ran between Fistral Beach, Newquay Centre and Watergate Bay was supposed to set off every 15 minutes between 7 am and 4 am the next day. In general, it was ok, but sometimes the queues were so large we’d have to wait up to an hour. Tickets were £4 single and £6 return, but big groups would have saved a lot of time booking a large taxi at the same price per person.
Various types of tickets were available this year, including Standard Weekend (£149), Long Weekend (£159), VIP Weekend (£225), Charger (£350), Three Day (£139), Single Day (£55) and VIP Single Day (£77). On top of those, you could buy upgrades to glamping, car parking, and entry to the Beach Sessions gigs and various after parties.
It’s definitely worth going for the whole event so you can spend time at both Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay and not feel like you’re being rushed off your feet. After all, meeting fellow campers and sharing a morning beer before the live sets get going is part of the festival experience!
For more information on anything relating to the Boardmasters Festival, check out the event website. Weekend tickets for 2017 will go on sale on August 26. For more information on Canon and their products, take a look at their coverage of Boardmasters.