The Nias of the North – Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe

The idea of trekking to Everest base camp with only a fishing net and a pack of cards, or fending off a plague of flesh-eating, airborne mice in the deepest, darkest corner of the Amazon rainforest would register with most people as extremely brave, (if not ridiculously stupid). Yet how many people would relate to this? How many would switch off during the first millisecond in which you paused for breath? They need to imagine themselves there, fighting for their life alongside you, while killer mice gnawed away at your arm. Give them something a little more believable. The simplest of stories or experiences, told in the right way, can make far more of an impact.

The need for escape is a very real fixture in the lives of many in this modern world. Hope can be found in the activities of those who are prepared to say, “Hell yeah, I’ll do that and go there. Bring it on!” We seek that perfect moment that makes us realise the world is larger and more diverse than we could ever imagine. It stops us from becoming obsessed with our own little bubble of life.

Local surfer at Thurso East
Local surfer at Thurso East

Contortion of any listener’s facial muscles to form an expression of immense disbelief usually follows whenever I mention surfing on the north coast of Scotland – in winter. That’s why only those bonded by a deep addiction to surfing can comprehend the freezing waters, and even more bitter winds that have to be contended with in order to score that amazingly quiet, yet perfect day. Snow blizzards and hail storms provide the terrible visibility one would expect from an area so bleak that very few people brave the waves during the winter months. However, this is when the north-westerly swells are at their finest; they provide many peaks with perfect walls of water. Breaking over shallow reef, Thurso East (often compared to Indonesia’s mighty Nias) has recently been discovered by the WQS tour, planting its roots firmly in the ground of fame and thrusting it into official glory.

More surfing
More surfing

As with all surf spots that shoot into the international spotlight, the locals were at first divided about whether to be happy about this new direction that surfing was about to take in the area, and in Scotland as a whole. Until two years ago, it was only the hardcore few who were found gliding along the perfectly formed, right-handed barrels to watery heaven. Gone are the days of wading through sloppy farmyard muck to reach the deserted view of glassy, peeling lines. Instead, car parks have sprung up at the main spots and Cornish accents simmer high above any Scottish tones. Yet, whilst the popularity of the area has increased, the number of surf spots on Scotland’s northern coastline have not diminished; solo outings are still possible. It might take a little more time to find that inner peace of the soul session, that’s all.

It’s never a dream to be hassling for waves. Few endeavours can better those moments when the barrier between human and nature is eradicated, and a seal pops up next to you out of the deep blackness, or a school of dolphins sails past within meters.

The idea of stuffing yourself into a thin, stretchy suit and flinging yourself into bone-chillingly freezing ocean would most likely be as foreign to most people as crossing Mongolia by canoe. For us surfers though, the journey begins when our feet become wet and it finishes long after we’re back on dry land and have pictured our rides over and over every time our eyes are closed. All we can do is enjoy it and encourage others to do the same. As for the popularity of the north coast of Scotland, well, here’s hoping it will only ever attract the hardcore few in the winter months due to the fact that it’s so blooming cold!

For more information, check out The Scottish Surfing Federation website.

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