The Shahnameh legend has it that the Sasanian king Bahram V asked the king of India to send him ten thousand expert lute players, to play for the poor in his kingdom. When the Romani band, the Roma, arrived, the king presented them each an ox, a donkey and wheat to live off. But they became greedy and ate everything and went back to the king hungry. Bahram was having none of this, so he banished the Roma people from his kingdom, destined to roam the world on their donkeys, never to settle. This is how Roma came to be.
First light was over thirty minutes ago, but the sun was still not choosing to show its face yet. A grey haze envelopes the cliffs and the surrounding area, the winding road leading up from the beach disappears into the morning. Standing in the empty car park overlooking the sheltered bay, desolate aside from a blue Citreon Berlingo perched alone, Rob, founder of Roma Surf, is peering through the morning mist at the small yet uniformed lines rolling in from the horizon. “Not really what the forecast said.” An all too familiar sentence in Cornwall. Unless you are one of the lucky ones who reside next to a north coast beach, a roll of the dice and a forty-minute drive in the dark is standard practice for the average Cornish surfer. To beat the ever-growing crowd and to allow a pre-work surf, dawnies are always a necessity. “At least it’s still warm.” Rob turns to me as I stifle a shiver and wholeheartedly agree.
Rob slides a maroon single fin from the van, a 9’4 Merlo, and gets ready. Another face joins us in the dim light; “How’s it looking?” he asks from his shiny new T5, squinting across the bay, “pretty shit” he answers himself as he turns round and drives off. This small insight into two contrasting local surfers says everything about Cornwall and probably the entire world of surfing.
Roma was born out of the dream almost every surfer has had at some point in their life; owning a surf shop. But this isn’t the 60s anymore, surf shops are dying by the day, its nigh-on impossible to even open one, let alone run one successfully. If Windansea decide to shut shop, what hope does anyone else have. Like all good ventures though, Roma was started out the back of a van, and the idea has always been to keep it moving, without too many ties to brick and mortar.
The wind a gentle offshore and an empty lineup of shoulder-high peelers, Rob is stoked and I’m eager to get out there. Paddling out, I turn towards the coast and notice a few more turning up in the car park as the sun starts to rise. Rob, clad in a faded red long john wetsuit, is already out back before swinging effortlessly into a growing right hander off the corner. Flying past me with the steely faced determination of a young David Crosby, he calmly navigates the sections and milks every ounce of the wave before kicking out and starts the paddle back. Watching Rob surf and looking at the shapes of Roma, it’s clear that the 60s and early 70s are still alive and kicking. The likes of Southern California’s Tyler Hatzikian and his continuation of the classic longboard designs, along with Mike Black and his cult classic Invasion! From Planet C, Roma continues that modern approach to classic surfing, and not caring too much what everyone else is doing.
By bringing onboard established and well-respected North Coast shapers Chris ‘Bro’ Diplock and Paul Fluin, Roma had an established factory at hand. It all started with a lot of down-rail single fins based on the 70s boards Rob had at home, a far cry from what most surfers in the south west of England were riding at the time, but Rob insisted on keeping the classic shapes. Early experiments with channel bottoms based off Hot Stuff templates went down well with the rest of the Roma crew, but the shape that really resonated with everyone and anyone was the Clyde.
With a low rocker, pinched rails and a subtle roll from nose to tail, Clyde is the classic shape that flies down the line and works from 9’0 down to 6’0 but it’s the 8’0 that Rob gives a glowing recommendation. The expectation of the surfer and what they hope to get from their board has always been on the exaggerated side, watching good surfers surf mechanical waves on the extreme end of a design curve is great but we can’t all surf like that. Roma is all about dispensing with the unrealistic high performance aspirations and instead finding what you love and pairing it with some function, so you can get back to actually enjoying your surfing.
More and more enter the lineup, but no hostility is shown here. There is something about the smaller, relaxed days, it only attracts the relaxed type. I didn’t know anyone here, and by the looks of things, not many outsiders surf here. I attract all kinds of looks but the mood was calm, I felt like I had stumbled into some close-knit society, I had. Roma has a strong local presence and Rob is well known and well liked with most who encounter him. His uncanny ability to make you immediately feel welcome is a rare quality amongst most of the surf world.
Based out of Falmouth, a south coast spot starved of waves for most of the year, it might seem a strange spot for Roma to plant its flag. But the melting pot of different groups and a mellow, chilled out vibe solidify the reasoning behind Roma’s HQ, not to mention the several good joints to throw a party at any given moment.
“At the heart of it, we are a shop. I like the interaction with people and Roma is the umbrella under which everything comes together.”
The variation of crafts in the water at this spot was as varied as the people. Logs to fish to midlengths, and even a few wooden boards thrown in complete this eclectic menagerie. Party waves all round and good times, this was the perfect (re)introduction to Cornish surfing. The sun was high and the tide was pushing in, it was time to head on in. The car park was full, the lineup emptying as quickly as it filled, with Rob stopping to chat with almost everyone before packing up and heading out to start the day.
There may well be a traditional shop down the line, but for now, the transient nature of the shop, its organic growth and little restraint on the direction, suits Roma and Cornwall pretty well. Until then, Roma will continue roaming the earth until they find their place and settle, or not.
Roma Surf – @romasurf