Beads of salt water slowly form at the tips of Jessica’s still-wet hair, a mug of coffee steams gently, her shivering hands clutched tightly around it, desperately trying to leech what heat they can to regain their warmth. Fresh from the early Winter’s morning waves, she is cold but filled with that unmistakable vitality that only a surfer could know.
It has been said by many, felt by a few but truly meant by a precious handful: surfing can change your life, and she is one of that handful.
Jessica grew up in Cornwall – the very south-west tip of the UK – last footfall before the great Atlantic Ocean and, somewhere far distant, the Americas. Always motivated to surf, opportunity, rather than desire, is what held her from the waves. Some are too lazy, others geographically challenged, but for Jessica it was more personal, and more painful.
“When I was a kid, I had a pretty hard upbringing,” recalls Jessica of her youth. “I started getting into a lot of trouble at school. I found surfing when I was pretty young, but I had lots of barriers; I was a girl, I came from a not-so-well-off family and I didn’t have any parental support.”
Though looking at her today – positive, healthy and sparkly-eyed – you couldn’t imagine it, Jessica spent her younger years wandering far from the tracks of life. Derailed by challenging circumstances at home and at school, she was a bit of a wild one, directionless and careless.
But somehow, against the will of these challenges, she got herself a board and a wetsuit and paddled out into a new life in the less than temperate waves off the Kernow coastline.
“Because I’m a strong-willed person, I managed to get myself a board, set myself up and get out there and yeah, it changed my life. I was dyslexic, so I wasn’t able to learn very well by just sitting in class and I had all this energy and I needed to outlet it somewhere, but I was outletting it in the wrong places. You can express it through destruction or creativity. I think surfing is very creative, but not only that, it’s also challenging and I think I really needed that challenge.”
Jessica fought hard, grit and determination bringing about a pivotal shift and, against the odds, she got herself back on track, strong, motivated and with an entirely new outlook on life.
Her passion for the waves drew her to surf coaching through which she could spend time in her newfound sanctuary of the ocean and get paid for it. But in England, unlike here in Australia, surf coaching isn’t a full time position, let alone a year-round profession. Keen to help other underprivileged kids and help them through her own success story, Jessica also ventured into youth work and it wasn’t very long before the connections were made and her two jobs united.
“When I was coaching surfing and in the youth working, the girls often orientated themselves around me and it felt like there needed to be a space for the two to work together. Teenage girls are often the hardest to reach – many of them have been through a lot. I put in a proposal, local organisations loved the idea and together we put in a funding bid.”
This was the birth of Sirens Surf, a place where the troubles of terra firma can be left behind, all pretense and judgement washed away by the ocean’s waves to create a family and support network back on dry land for those struggling to find their place or make their mark on the world.
But with such a short-lived Summer season in the UK, it was challenging for Jessica establish the charity. What she needed was somewhere that offered year-round waves and weather to allow Sirens Surf to flourish – and where better than Byron Bay.
“It’s hard in England,” says Jessica. “It’s cold, it’s a short summer and so on. Here, it’s so much easier for the girls to just get in the ocean. I think people over here are just a lot more open to the idea of it.”
Surfing is such a part of our culture. The vast majority of us are raised around the ocean, on regular holidays if not right on our front doorsteps, and we recognise the significant benefits of this connection upon both our physical and mental wellbeing. With organisations such as Disabled Surfers Association and the Surfrider Foundation paving the way, Sirens Surf holds great potential in an area of need that is sadly so overlooked.
‘Empowering and inspiring women and girls through the ocean and each other,’ Sirens Surf is the caring family some may never have known.
“Having everyone linked in a network is so important. So even if Sirens isn’t there, they may have met another girl and they can go surfing together or make friends, catch up. It works online as well, so they can connect, share words of inspiration and never have to feel alone.”
It is often the hardest times in our life that make us who we are. For Jessica Cox, those times were incredibly hard, but who she has become is beyond her former self’s wildest dreams – and an inspiration to us all.
This weekend, Sunday 25th of May, Sirens Surf and Mojo Surf will be hosting a charity fundraiser event. Yoga, surf instruction, meditation, guest speakers and tasty treats are just some of the wonderful things on offer for girls of all ages at Byron’s Main Beach. A swathe of prizes and raffles and a very reasonable $15 donation for the day, running from 11am to 3pm, will be donated to the Assist A Sista Foundation, helping victims of domestic violence find a safe and secure home for themselves and their children.
All Photos: ©Ming Nomchong