Writing about competitive surfing in Scotland for the last decade or so, I’ve found myself conducting a lot of interviews with two men: Thurso’s Chris Noble and Fraserburgh’s Mark “Scratch” Cameron. Why? Because between them they’ve won pretty much everything going, including six Scottish Surfing Championships apiece. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve enjoyed chatting to both of them over the years, gradually getting a handle on their amicable-yet-still-competitive relationship, but latterly I’ve also started to wonder if a new generation of Scottish surfers is ever going to break through, or if I’ll still be congratulating Scratch and Chris on their latest victories when the three of us are drawing our pensions.
As Noble proved back in April, when he won his sixth Scottish title, the old guard have no intention of shuffling off quietly into the sunset, but following last weekend’s Gathering of the Clans event at Thurso, there is now at least a sense that the surfers of Generation Next are firmly in the ascendant.
As its name suggests, the Clans is a team event. The 2015 edition was originally scheduled to take place at Belhaven Bay near Dunbar, but a lack of surf meant that it had to be moved to the north coast, where an exceptionally long-interval swell and offshore winds made for contestable, if somewhat fickle, conditions. This year there were four teams: Dunbar, Moray, North Coast and the geographically mixed “Random Rippers”, and five categories: open men, open women, longboard, masters and juniors.
Sam Christopherson of Coast to Coast surf school in Dunbar was responsible for organising the contest, in conjunction with the North Shore Surf Club, and he says he was particularly delighted by the turnout of 13 surfers for the junior division.
“It was an amazing entry from the kids,” he says, “it was actually the biggest category this year, and I think the biggest [junior] entry we’ve ever seen in a national competition.”
The successes of the junior surfers weren’t confined to the junior division, either. Andrew Robertson may still only be 17-years-old, but he’s already a fixture in the Scottish National team and he showed why here, first winning the junior title for Team Dunbar and then taking the men’s open title as well.
“There weren’t a lot of waves coming through,” he says of the open final, which saw him pitted against fellow national team members Mark Boyd and Chris Clarke at Thurso East, “but the ones that sneaked through did have some scoring potential.”
Boyd, however, refuses to put Robertson’s win down to the flukey conditions.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Andrew,” he says. “Obviously he had a good heat plan and decided to stick to his guns and sit where he did. When a set wave with some scoring potential came through he was on it.”
Robertson’s two wins and Christopherson’s strong showing in the longboard and masters divisions, in which he finished second and third respectively, were almost enough to give Team Dunbar the overall win – but not quite. Team Moray, led by Tiree transplant Craig “Suds” Sutherland, who won the masters division, took the team title by the narrowest of margins, with the North Coast in third.
Like Christopherson, Boyd, who has now captained the Scottish national team to two International Surfing Association (ISA) World Games, was delighted to see so many juniors taking part in the Clans event.
“For the last few years there’s always been a bit of a lack of numbers in the juniors,” he says, “so it was fantastic to see so many. And the talent of some of the kids as well – some of them were as young as ten years old but some of the surfing was really impressive, and from all corners of Scotland too.”
And there are exciting times ahead for Scotland’s junior surfers, too, as we head into the New Year.
“We’ve kinda dubbed next year ‘the year of the groms,’” says Boyd. “There will be the Euro Juniors in Morocco in September and the ISA World Juniors is in Portugal, although the date’s still to be confirmed, so we’ll hopefully have a full team of juniors going to both.”
It’s hard to think of a time when the future of Scottish surfing has looked so bright – at least, not since Messrs Noble and Cameron first paddled out to do battle in a competitive heat.
• For full results from the Gathering of the Clans or to find out more about a surf club near you, visit thessf.com