Alys Barton used to play the clarinet – but the 18-year-old from Swansea is now hitting all the right notes as one of Britain’s best ever surfing prospects.
After honing her board skills on the waves at Llangennith and Langland on the Gower, ‘Pocket Rocket’ Barton is now spending her time competing and training in California, Barbados, Morocco and Portugal.
And after a spectacular 2022 that saw her win the GB women’s open as well as the U18 and European U18 titles, the tantalising possibility of being the country’s first surfer at the Olympics is looming much larger.
Most events for the 2024 Games will be taking place in Paris. But not the surfing, which will be heading almost 10,000 miles away to Tahiti and the notorious Teahupo’o wave in the French overseas territory of Polynesia.
Barton has already enjoyed a major success this season, winning the Porsche Cold Wave competition in Poland. And there has been plenty of training in extra-thick wetsuits in the cold, rain and even snow back home – a far cry from surfing’s regular image of blue skies, sunshine and white sand.
But competing still at the QS level below the top-tier World Surf League tour, the Olympics equation is relatively simple. Barton must finish as the top European woman in the ISA World Surfing Games event in El Salvador in May.
That is her ticket to Tahiti, and the infamous break known as ‘The Place of Broken Skulls’.
Barton says: “There were no British surfers qualifying in Tokyo, where the sport appeared for the first time at the Olympics. And the only way for me is via a European qualifier, the one coming up in May in El Salvador.
“I will have to be the top-placed European in that event to get there. Because surfing is relatively new they haven’t allocated places for all individual teams yet – they may well in the future.
“For that El Salvador qualifier Yolanda Hopkins will be a rival as well as a very good friend, she has already surfed at the first Olympics for Portugal. The Portuguese women are very strong, as well as the French and Spanish girls.
“But everyone is beatable on the day. It will come down to 20 minutes to show what you have got. It is all about strategy and wave choice. It would be absolutely amazing to qualify and get to surf in Tahiti. I would have never thought I would have a chance of getting to that place in my life.
“It would be a proper dream, it is a beautiful place and the wave is fantastic. If there was a British surfer at the Olympics the impact on the sport in this country could be spectacular.
“There are a lot of young girls all over the UK that are really getting into surfing and it would be inspiring for them and others. It would change the UK’s view point on surfing. Either to give it a try, or if they are more serious, to compete at a higher level.”
It can be a tough sport from which to earn a decent living, but a switched-on Barton is already an ambassador for premier surfwear brand Rip Curl, and numbers board manufacturers JP, energising drink Tenzing and headphones company Beats by Dre among other sponsors.
Barton is clear about her own style on the waves, the other surfers she admires, and the best breaks and waves visited to date.
And if the Olympics is the short to medium-term ambition, there is a longer-term goal – to eventually have a big-wave crack at the huge and awe-inspiring spectacle of Nazare in Portugal.
She adds: “My style is fast and whippy – I was called Pocket Rocket for a while. I attack it, attack the wave.
“I really like watching one of the Brazilian guys called Filipe Toledo, he has an awesome style – it’s very dance or gymnastic related.
“Also people like John John Florence, another amazing surfer. Among the women Carissa Moore who has an amazing image and pushes it to the limit, and Caitlin Simmers and Alyssa Spencer.
“I love surfing Anchor Point in Morocco, it is such an awesome wave with so much potential, and you can push your surfing so much on it.
“Barbados is great, like Morocco the culture is incredible and the waves there are magical. And Llangennith and Langland at home.
“I have friends that have surfed Nazare recently. It is something that I would probably like to achieve in my surfing career, further down the line.
“It is awesome to see people pushing themselves in dangerous conditions, and incredible to see what humans are capable of achieving.
“The waves there can get up to 100 foot. My friends surfed it about a month ago at 20-30 foot - and that is scary enough.
“2023 will be my busiest year. I am going to California for GB training soon with Lukas Skinner, a very good upcoming surfer from Cornwall. We’ll train with the Americans.
“Then I’ll head to Portugal for about a month and the next event, training and competing. Then it will be France for a GB training camp and selection process for the ISA Worlds.
“And then in May the ISA Worlds in El Salvador. Then after a break I’ll be at Fistral Beach in Newquay, and a series ending in the Azores.”