Of all the Scottish surfers given wildcard entries to the UK Pro Surf Tour event at Thurso at the end of last month, Mark Boyd was perhaps the least well-prepared. “I’ve been working non-stop through the summer and autumn and just managed to get the time off for the contest,” he says. “Actually it felt like I was trying to re-learn how to surf wave by wave during the comp, which isn’t ideal going up against guys who have been surfing and competing all summer.”
In spite of his lack of match fitness, however, Boyd progressed to the final, where he finished fourth behind some of the top pros in the land – Reubyn Ash (ranked 2nd), Jobe Harriss (ranked 1st) and Jayce Robinson (ranked 12th). Even if he’d been camped out in front of the reef at Thurso East for the previous six months, surfing it every time it got good, making the final would still have been a huge achievement; coming off the back of a prolonged surf break, though – particularly given how quickly surfing fitness can fade – it’s a wonder he made it past the first round.
That said, Boyd did have a couple of important factors in his favour. For a start, he has clocked up enough surfing time at Thurso East over the years to be able to feel at home amongst its heaving grey walls. Plus, conditions on Day One were well-suited to his large frame and powerful surfing style – double overhead waves made choppy and unpredictable by a stiff westerly breeze.
“A lot of the guys were struggling a bit with these conditions,” he says, “but I felt really comfortable as we surf in these type of conditions often. I also wonder if this is perhaps one of the rare occasions where being a taller, heavier surfer may actually help – negotiating chop!”
Boyd didn’t exactly have an easy draw in the first round, finding himself up against current British champ and ratings leader Jobe Harriss of England. However, he had a plan and he stuck to it:
“I picked the right waves, built on each score and finished my last wave with a big turn which got me a good score,” he says. “In those conditions that was enough to place first in that heat quite convincingly, which I was pleased with, as I did see Jobe get a barrel and do a couple of turns too. It felt good, and gave me a bit of confidence to start off the event.”
By the second day of the waiting period the wind had made Thurso East all-but unsurfable, so the contest caravan decamped to the reef at Sandside, 12 miles to the west, where the junior heats were held in head-high left-handers fanned by a cross-offshore wind.
In the boys’ under-16s category, 11 year-old Ben Larg of Tiree – much talked about in these pages earlier in the year, following his heroics in the World Junior Surfing Championships in the Azores – surfed strongly and was unlucky not to make it past the first round. His compatriot Andrew Robertson of St Andrews, however, bade farewell to the junior divisions in fine style. He stormed all the way into the under-18s final before the contest was called off for the day due to the low tide exposing the reef. Then, back at pumping Thurso East the following morning, he placed third in the final, in what will be his last competition before moving up to the men’s division.
Speaking of which, the men’s division quarter finals back at Thurso almost saw Boyd eliminated. First he was involved in an altercation with fellow Scot Chris Clarke about wave priority (they made up in the car park afterwards), then his leash snapped, forcing him to swim to shore and pick up a back-up board. With just eight minutes on the clock, he finally made it back to the line-up but with no scores on the board to speak of things didn’t look good.
“I was absolutely exhausted,” he says. “But it kind of relaxed me, knowing that the odds were stacked against me. I picked off a wave straight away and managed a combination of pretty average turns but it got me back in the game and into second place [first and second place go through to the next round]. Then I got another backup score which maintained my second position until the end of the heat.”
In Boyd’s semi-final, the lead see-sawed between Boyd and England’s Liam Turner until Harriss snagged a late barrel, catapulting himself into the lead, with Boyd in second also going through.
In the final, things didn’t really come together – “I was really disappointed with myself,” says Boyd – but given all the drama earlier in the day, not to mention his lack of training, it was a minor miracle he was there at all. “I really want to try and eliminate that kind of inconsistency from my surfing,” he adds. If he manages that, he could be the man to beat at Thurso for years to come.