Roger Cox: Tiree might be beautiful, but all I can think about is surfing
One of the problems with an all-consuming passion like surfing is its all-consumingness. It doesn’t matter how strong-willed you think you are – once you’ve caught the bug, surf-related thoughts become a constant background hum, always lurking somewhere near the edge of your consciousness, tying up legions of little grey cells that could be employed more profitably elsewhere.
For most of the year, these thoughts bubble up to the surface only sporadically, and consist either of reminiscences about the most recent surf at the local beach or plans for the next one. But every now and then the surfer will embark on a surf trip – a bit like a holiday, a holiday where the only goal is to surf good waves as often as possible. At such times of indulgent pilgrimage, the surfer’s mind will be completely taken over by wave-related musings, to the extent that he or she will be almost incapable of thinking about anything else. “Obsessed” doesn’t quite cut it.
The popular stereotype of the surfer is the spaced-out dimwit, barely able to string a sentence together, but mostly we’re not thick but thinking about other things, like wave period, swell angle, tides and wind direction, then using them to build complex equations of agony and ecstasy in our heads.
Clearly, this lack of available brain space has its drawbacks. Members of the surfing tribe are usually sociable enough – we invented the beach party for crying out loud – but try talking to us on a surf trip, mid-way through a long, frustrating flat spell with good waves on the way, and you may feel as if you’re communicating with a call centre: all our operators are busy at present, but your enquiry will be dealt with as soon as someone becomes available.
That, by the way, is more-or-less where I am now: not in a call centre, but on a surfari to the wind-whipped, sun-kissed, wave-scoured island of Tiree, “the land below the waves”. We’ve been becalmed for the last few days but salvation is on the way, thanks to a sweet westerly groundswell due to arrive sometime tomorrow from its birthplace in the middle of the Atlantic. Right now, I have all the focus of a heavyweight boxer on fight night and even less in the way of social skills.
I had a quick surf at Balevullin earlier this evening – the purple-white sand beach in the northwest corner of the island. It wasn’t crowded – just me and a couple of body surfers to begin with, then me on my own, then me and a large, inquisitive seal, bobbing around about 20ft away, scoping me out. The waves were small – only a couple of feet – but felt as if they had more punch to them than earlier in the week. As I walked back to the car at high tide, the shore break snapping and hissing at my ankles, I was already looking forward to getting back in the water the next day. If this evening was the starter, then tomorrow will be the main course.
Having said that, tomorrow might not be the main course. The promised swell might not materialise, the wind direction might shift, and a million other things might go wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it could hardly matter less either way: the world will continue to spin on its axis whether I get to surf good waves tomorrow or not. Right now this minute, though, I honestly can’t think about anything else, and when you’re in a place as magical as Tiree, this kind of tunnel vision can be a bit of a curse. As I write this, I’m sitting in the gloaming in a farmhouse on the north coast of the island, looking out over a sheep field towards a sheltered little reef. Beyond the reef is the Sea of the Hebrides, and beyond that, barely visible on the horizon, are Barra and Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray – the most southerly of the western isles. In the field are occasional interlopers – greylag geese, lapwings and hares; on the telegraph wire that runs back up the rutted track to the main road, a flock of ten or 12 quarrelsome starlings, arrange and rearrange themselves like so many feathery abacus beads. Any normal person would be transfixed and delighted by all these goings-on, but me? I try my best to enjoy the birds, hares and distant islands, but my eye keeps being drawn back to the reef. Every time a wave washes over it, I’m convinced there’s a bit more whitewater than before – a tell-tale sign that the swell’s getting bigger. Lapwings schlapwings – tomorrow’s gonna be epic.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west