First Light: Beth Leighfield

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There's a stillness in first light. The world is asleep, roads are sparsely populated with cars as people make their way to work. Beaches are only alive with those who have set their alarm before dawn, the 4am crowd, the 'it's -1C outside but whatever' crowd – all ready to go out, no matter what, well before light ebbs over the horizon.

If you've managed to peel one eye open and check the cams in the dark, likelihood is you already know the feeling. First eyes on sets lapping to shore. First of many dozens of feet in the water. First to paddle and stand tall and have the world at your feet. Magic. Filmer Bella Bunce and 23-year-old longboarder Beth Leighfield saw a window between the rain and strong wind on Monday, packed up and scooted some 40 mins across the Duchy of Cornwall for some first light gold. Here's their experience.

Surfer: Beth Leighfield

© 2023 - Bella Bunce.

Getting there early in the morning it's the only time I can get in before I start work at 9am; my current job is working for a charity that helps tackle fuel poverty but was a surf instructor for a time before that.

Because you have that limited window, you just make the most of what you get, which makes it more special. If you know you only have an hour, hour and a half, you search for more waves – but you get a few hidden gems and probably take off on things you wouldn't if you had three hours out there. You leave feeling energised.

© 2023 - Bella Bunce.

But it's hard waking up at 5.30am, [laughs] but it is usually worth it. This day, it was just coming off low tide and super rippy, poor Bella having to swim in that, but you just can't tell how it was before we got out there. I thought it looked better down the other side of the beach. And at one point, saw this set come in, was pretty large and had to abandon Bella to spring paddle over it – there were some golden moments though.

It makes us more appreciative of the waves, when you have a bank and it all lines up on those crisp mornings. If it was pumping every day, maybe we wouldn't appreciate it? [laughs] Yeah, or maybe we'd just be over it real quick. I don't know, getting up in the cold, the dark, driving across the county to get in the water, there's something in the whole experience.

Video: Bella Bunce

Beth and I have been trying to meet up for months to shoot – we're friends out of the water but our time-tables have clashed a lot recently. This day, Beth had to work at 9am, but we said 'let's go and do it and get up really early – just go'.

It's always hard to find surfers who want to get up at that time. Leave your nice warm bed to get there in the cold, maybe rain, if you think of it like that, you won't go. But when you get in the sea, you forget about the lack of sleep and it feels like an adventure. Like, you've done something exciting in the morning already. I've never done a dawnie and felt like it's not worth it. There's stillness and quiet. There's only like-minded people out there and Beth is always keen.

We actually met at this spot. Being a female longboarder, there's not many of us in the sea. There's way more now, this year, than when I first started. A journey for most girls is like 'you must shortboard now', and a lot of people get lost down that route. But yeah, I met Beth in the sea and we shared waves without saying anything to each other. We exchanged numbers and surfed together – started hanging out while not in a wetsuit, on land. It's funny, when you meet someone in the water then spend time with them on land, it's like, 'oh, that's what you look like'. People think we are twins, it's quite funny.

Bella can shift foam too.

Bella can shift foam too.

© 2023 - Thomas Baldwin.

Dawnies, for me it's like, I want to go in the morning to avoid the crowds. You see the surf in the morning light and it's just different. You realise how much the rest of the world is missing out on at the time of day. When it's sunny, no wind, everything's pink and blue and it feels like a dream-state. Night before, I know I won't sleep. It's the knowing you have to get up early, I'll wake up every hour 'cos I know my alarm's going off whenever. But that's part of the fun.