With its child-friendly attractions, breathtaking beaches and ideal waves, the Channel Island quickly wins over GREG SWIFT and his family
THE burning sun sinks over the horizon as an ink-blue, speeding wall of water takes shape and rises in front of me.
Slowly I turn the 9ft board to face the shoreline, lie down and start paddling as Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy drifts across the bay from the only bar on the beach.
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A surge of water lifts the board's tail and I make three sweeping, powerful strokes before leaping up, knees bent, feet apart, arms outstretched and carving a long, graceful arc down the breaking wave towards shore.
As the wave loses power I step casually off the board and head up to the beach bar for a well-deserved pint.
I am surfing at sunset just off jaw-droppingly beautiful St Ouen's Bay on the Channel Island of Jersey and almost all of the above is true. The less-embellished story sees me wobbling on to the board, standing bolt upright and running a straight line down the wave before falling in spectacularly clumsy fashion.
However, surfing is addictive and no sooner have I fallen off than I'm paddling to the point beyond where the waves break, known to surfers as the "back door". Here, I rejoin my instructor Matt Seymour of Jersey Surf School, which is said to be one of the oldest in the British Isles.
With his deep tan, mop of tousled, sun-bleached hair and gleaming teeth, Matt, 23, should be the kind of person a pale-faced, 41-year-old with a thinning top (that's me) takes an instant dislike to. Blessed with an easy-going charm and infectious enthusiasm, though, he is immensely likeable. He is also an outstanding coach who has me riding a wave by the end of my first lesson.
When the surfing goes right it feels sensational. There is a real sense of serenity in standing on a board with the sound of water rushing around me as I head to the bay, a gently curving, five-mile beach backed by towering dunes.
However, there is so much more to Jersey than surfing and, after a week on the island with my wife Kate and our three impossible-to-exhaust boys Harry, six, Jack, four, and Alfie, two, I don't think we'll ever want to holiday anywhere else.
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Measuring just nine miles by five, the island is compact enough to make travelling around its narrow, wooded lanes nothing but a joy, while also leaving you with a marvellous sense of space.
Jersey has two superb family-friendly attractions. With gorillas, pythons, poisonous frogs, lizards, exotic birds and cute meerkats, I defy any child not to love Trinity-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, set up 50 years ago by the late naturalist Gerald Durrell. After several hours of animal spotting it takes the promise of (yet another) Jersey ice cream to drag my boys out of there.
I also need all my powers of persuasion to convince them to leave the brilliant aMaizin! Adventure Park at St Peter.
Children are spoilt for choice. They can race go-karts and slide down a mountainous slope on a plastic tray, play crazy golf, take tractor rides, milk cows and, in summer, explore the maze which is set over nine acres.
For wide-open space, perfect sand, gentle azure waters and safe swimming, you can't beat St Brelade's Bay with its south-facing, horseshoe beach.
Feeling famished after spending the morning bodyboarding and sandcastle building, we head to the Crab Shack, a laid-back café with bleached wood floors and stunning views over the bay. I tuck into Jersey chancre crab accompanied by a wooden mallet to crack its shell, while the kids have yet more Jersey ice cream on home-made waffles.
We drive back to our bolthole, the family-friendly Hotel de France in the capital St Helier, via the coast road fringed by St Aubin's Bay. The sea views are just as good from our large, stylish room.
The friendly staff are amazing, always genuinely delighted to see our boys in whatever state of filthiness they have achieved.
The food is excellent too, from children's staples in Café Aroma to more grown-up dining in the contemporary interior of Saffrons, which combines fresh seafood with Asian spices. To dine here, we take advantage of the hotel's babysitting service. The indoor pool provides hours of fun while the Ayush Wellness Spa with Ayurvedic treatments has Mrs S reaching for the credit card.
Never tired of water, we visit the indoor AquaSplash at the impressive waterfront development in St Helier.
From there we go on to Jersey Bowl, a Fifties-style bowling alley.
After seven days we are hooked on Jersey and I am dreaming about Matt's job. Standing outside the school, he tells me how he became a surf instructor. "I did a degree in sports marketing and was looking at an office job, " he says. "Then this came up. It must be the best office in the world." Then he insists I buy him a pint. How can I refuse?
Hotel de France (01534 614100/www.defrance.co.uk) offers doubles from £150 per night (two sharing), B&B or three nights (Friday to Monday) from £330 (two sharing), B&B. There is a £20 supplement per child per night (two to 11 years) if they share their parents' room.
Jersey Surf School (01534 484005/www.jerseysurfschool.co.uk) offers coaching sessions from £40pp per hour (maximum two people per session). Jersey Tourism: 01534 448800/www.jersey.com