My weekend: Mark Warby, QC

Times Online, June 29, 2007

“Lawyers don’t surf!” says Lori Petty, the love interest to Keanu Reeves’ lawyer-turned-FBI-agent in the surf and steal movie Point Break. Perhaps not unexpectedly, Reeves proceeds to confound the stereotype, even to the extent that he can – just - empathize with the bad guys of the film, a group of miscreants who fund their search for the perfect wave by robbing banks.

The law and surfing rarely walk hand in hand, but the rare occasions when they do are not just the product of Hollywood fantasy. For one London QC, surfing has been an integral part of life ever since he first stood on a board while on holiday in North Cornwall. Mark Warby of Five Raymond Buildings is renowned in legal London for his mastery of defamation, privacy and sports law but is also more than at home riding waves on his cherished 7”4 pintail surfboard.

“I was brought up in Bristol and started surfing when I was seven,” says Warby, whose father, in the early 1960s, was one of Britain’s first surfers. “The family would make trips to North Cornwall every summer and I was absolutely impassioned about surfing as a child and teenager.” Warby’s passion even saw him once swap a typewriter for a surfboard. “I won a competition run by The Observer to find the young journalist of the year and they asked what I’d like as a prize. I asked for a surfboard but they insisted on giving me a typewriter. Pretty soon, though, I’d traded it in for a Bilbo surfboard.”

Despite various trips abroad, Warby has remained committed to the UK’s often windswept shores. “I’ve had my fair share of dismal days of rain and the complete absence of surf but I love surfing in Britain. I’d say that my best surfing memories come from surfing in North Cornwall, in the evenings in September, when the hordes have gone and there are no more than a dozen other surfers in the water.”

He has also surfed overseas in locations such as Costa Rica (“really fast waves, especially at Playa Hermosa”) and Lanzarote. Accompanying him to Lanzarote was another Five Raymond Buildings barrister and surfer, Jacob Dean. “Annoyingly, Mark was a bit good,” recalls Dean. Surfing in Barbados, though, was a highlight, not least for the cautionary words of one local surfer.

“I was surfing at Bathsheba, quite a tricky break where the wave broke over an underwater ledge. There was a danger that you could be sucked into the ledge and get stuck there. A local surfer told me that I should be OK, though – it was already full up with bodies.”

Warby makes regular weekend sorties to the south-west from chambers, and is proud to say that he is the Honorary Legal Adviser to the Crackington Haven Surf-lifesaving Club. “Fortunately, it has not proved an arduous role,” he says. He counts Gwithian, on the North Cornwall coast, as among his favorite surf spots, and owns a variety of boards from a longboard for flatter summer surf to a fish (a highly maneuverable shortboard) for juicier autumnal and winter waves. Has he, though, worked out what is so special about surfing?

“I’ve thought about this a lot,” says Warby, 48. “Surfing is the perfect blend of meditation and adrenalin. All that waiting in the ocean for the right wave is meditative and does you a huge amount of good. It’s extremely calming. As for the pleasure of riding a wave, it’s a massive rush but it’s also inexpressible. It’s like the joy of music - you can’t describe it.”

Does he ever think about work when he is surfing? “Never,” he says.