Local Heroes is a new series casting the spotlight on those who thrive in their community; the main-stays, the individuals you can bet that when it's on, they're on it -- all while giving something back to their home turf.
For decades, the frigid waters of England's North East have bound together a hardy, tight-knit local community. After all, if you're pulling on a wetsuit during the winter months amidst snow and -2, -3, minus whatever degree weather, you're going to form a few connections with anyone else doing the same thing.
For local hero Louis Thomas-Hudson, surfer and heads up the mainstay community hub Tynemouth Surf Co, this was the life from gromhood, as it was for most of the other legends who claim the area as home.
Louis' name is one you may know, this ripper's usually out amongst it no matter what, as well as continuing the work of the family business in the surf shop and surf school, as well as hosting a surf comp in memory of his father, Stephen, who tragically died in 2017. Stephen is largely credited as being the person who put surfing on the map for the north east.
“I think just growing up around the surf shop and being surrounded by it from birth made me want to get involved,” said Louis.
“My mum and dad both surfed too so that definitely helped get me into it. I don’t think I actually had much of a choice [laughs]. When I was a grom, there was only really myself and my mate Harry in the area so we used to surf a lot with the older crew. I've always loved surfing and still do.”
Louis grew up Tynemouth, his surfing sculpted by the main beach up that way. “I could just run down to surf,” he added.
And with that, we got into it, talking through cold water, the community, the importance of bricks and mortar surf shops and much more.
Surfing in colder climates, did you ever wish for warmer water – or was this more about, this is home and it’s better than anywhere else?
Yes, definitely. Although I love it at home in winter, after a while I think it's always good to mix it up with some warm water. I've been super lucky to be able to travel a lot growing up and we often used to head to the North Shore, Hawaii in January.
I also got to travel a fair bit for contests which is always fun. I’d still never trade home for anywhere on its day though. Nothing can beat trading barrels in the cold with your mates at home.
What’s the surfing community like in the north? And how has it changed in recent years, we’re hearing communities all over the world have exploded with new surfers.
The North East community is pretty tight and closed-knit community. Everybody knows everybody and always looks out for each other in and out of the water.
The beginner surfers have definitely increased along the North East coast line, as well as the rest of he UK. I think a lot of people have realised what a good sport it is physically and mentally and that they don’t need to travel abroad to do it.
How would you describe the UK north east as a part of the world, and how would you describe it in terms of surfing?
I would describe it as a friendly place. It also has some very scenic places and coastline around which often gets overlooked due to a lot of people just thinking it's a city.
In terms of surfing, I think it has only become recognised as a good surf destination over the last few years. Its not too consistent but it pumps when it’s on.
For people who don’t surf, what’s normal life like?
I think the guys that don’t surf will probably spend a bit more time in the city. Newcastle is a very cultural place and there are loads of art galleries, music venues, cinemas, restaurants and bars. It’s very well know for a mad night out [laughs].
And you have a shop and surf school with Tynemouth Surf Co, how have things been now that places are open up again?
Yeah, myself and my mum now run Tynemouth Surf Co. We are lucky to have a big team of family members and friends who surf. We have a surf shop, surf school and online shop. Business is currently going great and we have definitely seen an increase in activity over the last few years with the surf boom.
It was set up purely for the passion of surfing rather than the money and is still today is a family business
When the surf shop was set up in 1995 surfing was a countercultural sport which helps add a cool factor to the surf co. It was set up purely for the passion of surfing rather than the money and is still today is a family business.
I took over the surf shop in 2017 after my dad tragically passed away. He is a legend in the area and was certainly one of the main people that initially put surfing in the North East on the Map. The original surf crew back in the day lived hardcore lifestyles. I’d describe him as a surfing rockstar.
Brick and mortar shops are so important to that sense of community in a surf region, you put on a comp each year, right? Tell us a bit about that.
I think it’s important to have bricks and mortar shops in communities as it keeps it real and doesn’t slide too commercial.
We run a surf comp each year in memory of my dad, Stephen Hudson, to highlight the surfing on the North East coast while raising money for charity. It's a great event and is growing each year. I think the main challenge for all surf shops over the coming years is online competition and big online surf shops. It’s good to encourage people to shop locally. Surfers can help to mitigate the challenges by shopping locally.
I think there’s a bit of a movement in surfing right now, where people really are taking things way too seriously. Like, you MUST surf this board, or you MUST surf these waves, as if everyone’s trying to bottle up their experience of surfing and make everyone see it the same way. But the truth is, surfing is so vast and means so much to so many different people, that you can’t really have a one-size fits all approach. Would you say there’s elements of that in the north east?
I think in the North East people are starting to surf, like longboards, maybe a fish or funboards a lot more, especially in the summer, which is kinda cool.
I personally surf longboards a lot in the summer and I always come out happy as it's pretty rare you have a bad surf if you're catching lots of waves
I personally surf longboards a lot in the summer and I always come out happy as it's pretty rare you have a bad surf if you're catching lots of waves.
In winter time I'll get back on the shortboard though, more when we’re shooting on the reefs. I think just surf what you enjoy and don’t worry what people think.
My mum, Mel brought the Wave Project to the North East last year. This is now established within the community so many people are benefiting from surfing as a form of therapy.
I think it’s always been a community that bounces to its own beat, though, could that be down to the types of waves there? Things are colder, harder, but that can band people together too, right?
We are definitely a resilient community of surfers in the North East which is due to numerous tragedies that have taken place but also the cold water and weather has hardened us and made us stick together. I’ll always be proud to be a Geordie.
Anything you’d like to add?
I think I’ve covered most things there. As for me I’m going to be surfing all winter, in between work [laughs] and trying to get some good shots with top surf photographer Lewis Arnold. I think I’ll head to Ireland for a bit to try get some bigger waves then maybe head to Hawaii in January.
Thanks legend! Long-live the north east! Follow Louis, HERE.