Roger Cox: The waveriders with sails are coming to Tiree

Roger Cox. Picture: Neil Hanna
Roger Cox. Picture: Neil Hanna
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I HAVE a huge amount of respect for the brave souls who organise surfing and windsurfing contests.

Not only do they face the same challenges as the people running traditional, lines-on-the-ground sporting events, they also have to contend with the fact that their playing surface might not be useable for days on end. Or, indeed, the possibility that said playing surface might suddenly decide to threaten the lives of the participants. When rain stops play at Wimbledon, they simply pull the covers over the courts and wait for the sun to come out again; but what do you do if, say, you’re running the annual Tiree Wave Classic windsurfing competition and you’re becalmed for the best part of a week?

That’s more-or-less what happened at the start of last year’s event, which kicked off during an unseasonable four-day flat spell on the usually wave-rich Hebridean island. Fortunately, contestable conditions finally materialised half-way through the waiting period, so there was still time enough for Tiree veteran Phil Horrocks to be crowned champion ahead of hotly-tipped young Cornishman Aleksy Gayda, having pretty much exhausted his bag of aerial tricks in the final. Still, waiting for Mother Nature to get her act together and deliver wind and waves can be an agonising experience for all concerned, and these days there’s a limit to how many alcohol-fuelled surf-sacrifice rituals you can reasonably expect professional athletes to take part in.

This year’s Wave Classic begins today and runs until 17 October, and at time of writing it looks like it should get off to a strong start with no need for hangovers. A long interval westerly swell in the region of 1.5m is forecast for today and tomorrow, and there should be south-easterly winds in the 15-20mph range, too, perhaps even a little stronger than that tomorrow morning.

All of which will hopefully take the pressure off Willy Angus MacLean and the team at Wild Diamond Watersports on Tiree, who are running the event for the first time this year. If the wind and waves show up as forecast, they’ll be able to get plenty of heats run over the weekend, and then they’ll be in the luxurious position of being able to wait for optimal conditions for the final rounds, rather than having to take whatever they can get.

The Wave Classic is the oldest windsurfing contest anywhere in the world, having first been held all the way back in 1986, but this is the first time in its history that it will have been run by people based on Tiree. MacLean says he’s keen to see “much more participation from local businesses and community groups on the island” under his stewardship, and this year’s programme promises live music throughout the week – particularly at the opening and closing night parties – plus a whisky tasting evening hosted by Kilkerran Distillery and meals at local restaurants. He’s scored a major coup, too, by securing the appearance of Canary Islands-based pro Corky Kirkham, who is flying out from Fuerteventura to do battle in somewhat chillier waters than he’s used to. Kirkham, who has a reputation for huge, complex aerial manoeuvres, has said he has a few new moves in the bag to try out while he’s on Tiree, so if you’re on the island today and tomorrow, swing by the 2015 Event HQ building (previously Kirkapol Church) on Gott Bay, find out which beach the contest’s being held at and head on down for a feast of state-of-the-art wave riding. And if you’re not lucky enough to be on Tiree this week (I’m somewhat gutted to be on neighbouring Mull – no offence to Mull) you can still keep up with all the action via the Wave Classic website, http://tireewaveclassic.co.uk, and the @TireeClassic Twitter feed.

In other surf-related news – boards without sails this time – the Gathering of the Clans competition, which was postponed last month due to lack of waves, will now be held on 24 and 25 October at Belhaven Bay near Dunbar. The event is usually held in either Thurso or Fraserburgh, and it’s been more than ten years since the Scottish Surfing Championships has been hosted by the South-East of Scotland, so this should be a rare opportunity for Central Belt surfers to watch the best wave-riders in the country – including members of the Scottish national team, recently returned from Eurosurf in Morocco –competing in a team format. Anyone can enter a team, though, as long as they’re all members of the Scottish Surfing Federation.

See www.thessf.com for details.