I am standing in the freshly swept stable block of the world's only "extreme riding" school. It's a cold sunny morning -- out in the yard, water tanks are iced over, the sand in the paddock is solid -- and 26-year-old Daniel Fowler-Prime is about to give his first horse-surfing lesson.
Fowler-Prime is a horse stuntman and the only thing I know about him so far is that he has a world-class repu-tation among film and TV companies for falling off. His company's recent credits include The Da Vinci Code, Kingdom of Heaven and Spooks, and he's just got back from a jousting-and-falling job in Dubai. "I forget the last time someone asked me to get on a horse and stay on it," he says.
But Fowler-Prime has diversified. Last year, he and some friends invented a new extreme sport, combining the classic thrill of riding through the surf, with the booming new sport of wakeboarding (where a surfer performs stunts as they are towed behind a speedboat).
"It's exhilarating -- like environmentally friendly wakeboarding," said Denzil Williams, one of Fowler-Prime's collaborators. "You're harnessing two of nature's powers: the power of the horse and the motion of the sea. It's great not to have a loud, noisy engine, and horses bring an unpredictability to the sport. I did it with one horse that was steady, but the next was like a wild stallion."
In November the local television station captured Fowler-Prime and Williams practising, speeding at 40kph across the flats of Watergate Bay in Cornwall in south-west England. The footage was so compelling it prompted inquiries from as far away as South Africa. So great was the interest that this spring, Independent Horse, Fowler-Prime's company, is launching week-long courses to learn the sport. Soon horse-surfing could be the latest must-try beach sport for young thrill-seekers.
The courses start next month, with one per month through the summer, but I'm getting a preview. So far only two people in the world have horse-surfed, so it's with some trepidation that I begin the training to become number three. It starts nowhere near the sea, but in a cold stableyard in Uxbridge. Instead of a surfboard, there's a skateboard with soversized wheels (properly known as a mountainboard).
First, out comes Rohan, a handsome gray who stands at 16 hands (about my head height). Next Fowler-Prime gives me a black, padded body protector, a confusing web of netting and pads. He tells me to climb into it "like a straitjacket" and I deduce I'm the only one of us who's not well acquainted with straitjackets. I blow up Rohan's nose in greeting, then shake hands with, Fowler-Prime's business partner Samantha Hilton-Jones, who's riding. "There are three people in the team," says Fowler-Prime, "you, Rohan and Sam." I already have an inkling who he might be most fond of.
"He's a professional, Rohan, that's the only way of describing him," says Fowler-Prime proudly, as we walk to the paddock. "We do a lot of jobs together, just me and him. I trust that he is not going to make a mistake, and he trusts me. He's very level-headed but he's still a horse. He gets excited when he knows he's going to be doing some running."
It soon becomes apparent that Rohan is not going to be doing much running this morning. In the sandy 20 meters by seven meters paddock I wedge my feet under the board straps, hold the rope and prepare for my first HMB (horse mountain board) experience. Rohan moves and we're off: jolting over the bumpy sand.
"Lean, lean, lean!!" says Fowler-Prime with increasing urgency as we near the corner. Too late: with my weight on the back foot, I try to edge the board but career straight into the fence and fall in the sand. "Let go of the rope," I hear too late.
"Ok, let's try again." So we do. Quite a few times. With my fingers curled around the not particularly fat rope, my short nails dig into my palms. I have to hold the rope so that in the event of an accident it will slip through my fingers. The problem is that however hard I grip it slips through my fingers at all times, taking skin with it. Each jolt, each jerky burst of acceleration, bye, bye skin.
Fowler-Prime goes to find some riding gloves. With my grip now firm, we jolt off. "Lean, lean, lean!" he says -- I'm leaning so hard my right buttock has cramp -- and success! I'm round the corner! I've barely time to feel pleased before I career into a wall.
I continue to try and do two corners consecutively while they tell stories. "Remember that time when you got whiplash?" asks Hilton-Jones, fondly. "When the board got stuck in a rut and you head-butted the ground."
"I don't remember that one," Fowler-Prime says, looking lost. Hilton-Jones busies herself with the rope. I look ahead. We press on.
And then, hands clamped, forearms pumped, I finally get around two corners at once. There's some general whooping and with pink cheeks and cold feet we go in for lunch.
Over fried-egg sandwiches, we discuss Fowler-Prime's brainchild. It came about when he was in Cornwall with a friend, feeling bored. The friend tied a mountainboard to the back of a car. Then they tied it to a motor bike. "And he had horses as well, so I said, `Let's try it.'"
The weeklong courses will involve two days of "horse mountain-boarding," two days getting used to wakeboarding on the lakes of Thorpe Park in Surrey and one day of putting it all together horse-surfing on a beach.
By the end of the afternoon I've mastered the corners and we've cantered our way right round the paddock. I let go, forearms exhausted. As a sport, horse-surfing sounds daft, but while I haven't been to the beach yet I can see it has all the ingredients to make it addictive: balance, speed and the edge of being slightly out of control. Add in close proximity to such powerful, spirited animals and I'm not surprised that by the time I leave I feel truly happy, and eager for the next part of my training -- on the water.
So when was Fowler-Prime last in a straitjacket, I ask as we leave. "Actually I've never worn one," he says, pleadingly. And then, walking off: "But some people think that I should."
Earlier this month, Vice President William Lai (賴清德) was elected unopposed to the chairmanship of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As the chair, Lai is now the presumptive presidential candidate for next year’s election. Even as he became chairman, the global media was sending out signals about the coming fight we face to redefine Lai. As he accepted his new role, he made a statement on independence. He said that he “pragmatically considers Taiwan as already a sovereign, independent country, therefore there is no need for a separate declaration of Taiwanese independence.” This calm statement, DPP boilerplate now for over