A PRIEST has said that he is the first person to walk the historic Camino Way pilgrimage route across northern Spain packing a two-metre surfboard on his back.
The Revd Richard Ellerington completed the 550-mile trek from his home in the French surfing hotspot of Hossegor, near Biarritz, to Santiago de Compostela, on the north-western corner of Spain, to promote his Surf Church. He now plans to plant more churches worldwide, bringing faith to surfing communities.
Last weekend, he celebrated completing his 33-day journey by riding the Atlantic breakers off Cape Finisterre.
“It’s been unbelievably hard,” he said. “Your body starts to struggle with it, then it starts to adapt, and then it’s an emotional and mental battle: you think ‘Man alive! I’m never going to walk again.’ But there is so much time for personal reflection and considered thought. Prayer is wonderful, and you meet amazing people on the journey, everyone is very open, sharing who they are and why they are on the walk. The camaraderie is fantastic.
“I can truly say that the Camino is transformational. It is the slow pace of life, the deep conversations, the wonder of the landscape, the total commitment to a single cause that brings you to a place of deep appreciation for the gift of life. It was much harder than I ever imagined, but much better than I ever dreamed.”
Mr Ellerington, who is 45, is an Elim pastor who worked for 15 years in a church in Weston-Super-Mare run by his father. He began surfing when he was 11, and, as a young man, spent his holidays in surfing resorts in Europe, talking about the gospel with fellow surfers. Then, in 2012, he took his family to Hossegor to found his Surf Church.
Earlier this year, he decided that he wanted to expand his mission internationally. “I wanted to do a prayer journey that would really centre me for the season of church-planting globally, and I wanted to do something that would also help the profile of Surf Church.”
At 3 a.m. one morning, he woke up and said, “I will walk the Camino with my surfboard.” Seven days later, he was on his way to the Spanish border.
“Crossing the Pyrenees was an absolute nightmare,” he said “There were 40-mile-an-hour winds, and my board acted like a big sail. I got blown over numerous times. . . For nine hours, I had to crawl my way across the hills.”
Already known on the internet as the “Ginger Vicar”, there are videos of his adventures from around the world, from wing-walking and bull-riding to being set on fire by film stuntmen. He also records a daily vlog on YouTube.
He said that there had been a tremendous response to his walk. “Every place I get [to], they have already heard that there is some dude coming with a surfboard. . . Whenever I got the chance of explaining the concept of a church for surfers, people loved the idea. They see it as something fresh and exciting. . . It’s just a means by which we are reaching a group of people who would find it hard to connect with a traditional church.”