I’m not really that into competitions,” says Dunbar-based surfer and bodyboarder Josh Christopherson. There’s nothing particularly controversial about that view – lots of people are attracted to surfing precisely because you don’t need to do it competitively in order to enjoy it. It sounds odd coming from Christopherson, though, because he recently made history by becoming the first Scot ever to reach a final in the European Surfing Championships – an event first held in Jersey way back in 1969. These days the contest is better known as Eurosurf, and the 2017 edition took place last October in the beachbreaks around the village of Bore in southern Norway. Christopherson didn’t just make it to the final in the bodyboarding category, he also picked up one of the highest individual wave scores in any category along the way. You might reasonably expect somebody competing at such a high level to relish the adrenaline of fiercely-fought 20 minute heats, but contests just aren’t Christopherson’s thing.
“In Norway there was a big competitors’ tent and there were some serious athletes there doing some amazing stretching,” he says, “I guess like you’d see in major track and field events – the same kinds of warm-ups and focus. It’s interesting to see, but from my own personal perspective when you’re going into that environment every day for a week... I dunno... I don’t really know how to put it... I’d really prefer to go away and explore and develop my skills in a slightly different way.”
Christopherson, 42, took what he describes as the “tourist route” to the later stages of the contest. Like a lot of surfing competitions, Eurosurf operates a repechage system, so, for example, surfers who fail to progress from their first round heats go into a repechage round which effectively gives them a second chance to stay in the event, and the same thing happens in round two. In theory, surfers who win all their heats at the first time of asking should be at an advantage, as they will have spent less time surfing and more time resting, but Christopherson reckons that getting to surf more actually worked in his favour.
The contest organisers, he explains, had cordoned off an area of the beach where the best waves were breaking to use for the competition “but you could never practise there because the comp was always on... so getting 20 minutes in the repechage rounds was good from my perspective – you could work out where the sections were and where the [sand]banks were working – you could get a little bit more confidence and you weren’t going in cold. The guys who had gone straight through the rounds and were progressing faster weren’t getting as much surf time in the contest zone.”
In the final, Christopherson found himself up against three serious competitors: Daniel Fonseca of Portugal, Shane Meehan of Ireland and Genesio Ludovisi of Italy. “Basically all of the surfers in the later stages [of the contest] were either heavily-sponsored and semi-pro or full-time pro,” he says, “The final went well apart from I didn’t land a couple of moves. If I’d landed some moves I think I would’ve probably come second, but I just couldn’t ride out of them – I just got rammed into the sand, and unlanded moves don’t score anything.”
The clear winner in the final was Fonseca, with a combined score of 17.66 for his best two waves. The other three were only separated by a point and a half, however, so although Christopherson finished fourth, he was probably only one completed manoeuvre away from second.
Still, fourth in Europe isn’t bad for a guy who’s not all that fussed about competing. He’ll be pulling on a contest jersey again later this month, too, for the Scottish National Surfing Championships at Thurso, which run from 30 March until 2 April. Christopherson says he mostly goes along to help out the junior surfers in his capacity as a surf instructor for Dunbar-based Coast to Coast surf school, but he and his brother Tim, 38, usually compete in the bodyboard division while they’re there and in recent years they have tended to swap the trophy between them. “We’ve got some younger guys now though who might push the old guard,” Christopherson says, referring to Max Ferguson-Hook and Oisin Strachan. Who knows? Perhaps these young challengers might help Christopherson find his competitive streak. If he does manage to locate it, the Europeans should probably watch out.
For more on this year’s Scottish Surfing Championships, visit www.thessf.com