Neil Erskine, Surfer Image: Mark Leary

The grassy headland overlooking Constantine beach is rich with the smell of rain on the dusty path. A lone figure sits out in the clear blue, hugging the line of speckled foam, fingerprints left by passing peelers as they taper down the point. He strokes his home crafted single fin into a rising peak and ambles to his feet, crouching low through a flat spot, then rising to trim through a funnel of steep face, before gliding into the end section and pulling out into the rip. Neil Erskine has a casual, relaxed style and ability to make the small waves look deceptively appealing; the kind of rhythmic wave-catching that stirs onlookers into a hurried change for even the most uninviting conditions.

Walking back to the tiny car park Neil pauses to admire a 4wd Mercedes ice cream van, mentally converting it into the perfect camper, with off-road capability for exploring hidden breaks in Galicia and beyond. “For me you need a vehicle that you can live in, so I’m not just burning fuel in a little bubble that gets me from A to B,” he says. “At least once I get to B, if I want to stay I can park up and live.” This is no hyperbolic daydream but rather the code by which Neil lives, pared back, treading lightly, working with his surroundings. For him possessions are peripheral, not something that should limit or define the parameters of life.

Neil’s dad was a shipwright with access to fibreglass. “He started South Coast Surfboards, so Friday ‘til Sunday night was spent at the beach. I became one of those water people,” he says smiling. “But to me a board’s just a board. It’s more about being in the ocean. That’s the bottom line; everyday, get to the beach, make the most of what’s on offer.” It was this appetite that saw his surfing evolve into bodyboarding and back again. “There’s a connection in the way I look to surf on a wave,” he explains. “It’s kind of relative to the way a bodyboard would work, you don’t generate so much speed, you use the wave’s energy. When I went back to stand-up surfing, I was drawn to the unconventional for there’s an inherent difference between something you can manipulate and generates drive, as opposed to something that’s naturally responsive to what’s happening with the surf – like single fins, longboards and twin-fins.”

Watching the lines someone makes in the water can tell you a lot about the path they follow in life. Neil’s creative drive extends its arc onto dry land. “I make something everyday,” says Neil. “Draw something, build something. I think it’s important. I sell it if anyone is interested, but it’s never contrived that way. I don’t push it, I don’t even have any Internet space.” But space is something that Neil revels in – the fringe, that place where the land meets the sea. The cliff top walks, the dune backed beach and white-flecked margins, the zone that cannot be tamed, where nature still rules. The zone of perpetual fluid motion.

Words: Chris Nelson, Image: Mark Leary

This article was originally published on Finisterre as part of a series on British cold water surfers.