Any golfers planning to squeeze in 18 holes at Wick Golf Club on Easter Saturday would have been surprised to find the car park teeming with wetsuit-clad surfers. Traditionally the annual Scottish Surfing Championships are held at the better-known spots along the north coast of Caithness – usually either Thurso East or Brimms Ness – but when this year’s contest began, on 31 March, the best conditions in the area were to be found on the east coast, at Sinclair’s Bay, so that’s where the majority of the event took place.
“Wick Golf Club were very kind and allowed competitors and spectators to use their toilets and changing rooms,” says eventual Men’s Open winner Mark Boyd. “Sinclair’s Bay is a fantastic contest site. I’ve surfed over there a lot – it’s kind of the forgotten coast in Caithness with the north coast being so famous, so it was pretty cool having an event there.”
Boyd, 31, is based in Thurso and has long been one of Scotland’s best competitive surfers, finishing runner-up in the Men’s Open division of the Scottish Championships in 2016 and 2017 and regularly making the top three since 2009. “It feels great to finally get my name on the trophy after coming so close so many times,” he says. “I definitely feel like I’ve got the monkey off my back.” Boyd also ended Fraserburgh’s (very) long-standing domination of the Men’s Open category – before he broke his own personal hoodoo the title had been won by a Broch surfer every year since 1995.
In a nod to the past, this year the trophies were awarded by three of Scotland’s great surfing pioneers of the 1960s and 70s: Bill Batten, Ian Wishart and Andy Bennetts. “It was an honour to receive the trophy from Bill himself,” says Boyd, “the first ever Scottish national surfing champion.”
The majority of the contest took place over the weekend at Sinclair’s Bay with the bodyboard, longboard and junior divisions all decided in sunny waist to chest-high waves. Young Michael Wimbledon-Hall from Dunbar, identified as one to watch in this column not so long ago, took out both the Junior and Senior Bodyboard titles while Chris Clarke won the longboard title. Clover Christopherson won the Under-18 Girls, while in the boys’ divisions Craig McLachlan won the Under-14s and Under-18s and Ben Larg won the Under-16s – both of those surfers are still just 12, and look set to dominate the junior divisions for years to come.
On Monday there was enough swell coming through to make Thurso East contestable, so the event moved back to its spiritual home for the final rounds of the Men’s and Women’s Open divisions and also the Masters final. In the latter category, Craig “Suds” Sutherland faced a seemingly impossible task, with a final that also featured two multiple Men’s Open winners: Mark Cameron and Chris Noble. Cameron held the lead until late on, when Sutherland found a rare fast left-hander and put in a stylish ride to take top spot. This was Sutherland’s first Masters title – and there was another maiden victory for Phoebe Strachan who beat Shoana Blackadder into second place to win the Women’s Open, after finishing runner-up in 2017.
In the final of the Men’s Open, Boyd found himself up against Sutherland, Andrew MacLeod and last year’s winner George Watt. “Georgie got off to a decent start with a good score that really put the pressure on,” says Boyd. “In the past I may have let that affect me and I’d have lost my cool a bit but I stayed confident right through.”
Going into the last five minutes of the heat, Boyd found himself with a marginal lead and first priority (that is, as the surfer with first refusal on any good waves that come through.)
“I knew all I had to do at this point was choose a good wave, not only to improve my lead but also to keep my competitors from getting it,” he says.
“There was a bit of a lull and then a set finally came – the pressure was really on at this point for me to make the right decisions. I looked at the first one but didn’t paddle for it, maintaining my priority. Then the second one came – it was a good wave with good shape and I knew this was the one but my friend Andrew MacLeod got a bit confused with the priority situation and also took off on my wave which meant I couldn’t surf. This was a worrying time for me, because I didn’t know if Georgie had done anything to increase his lead in those dying minutes, but fortunately the situation didn’t change and I was still in the lead and won the title.
“I was a bit frustrated not to get the opportunity to really hit the lip like I wanted to and win more convincingly but I’m delighted to be the 2018 Scottish National Champion.”