Surfing: Think longboarding is for old folks? Meet Scottish champion Ansel Parkin, 15

In order to win this year’s Scottish National Longboard Championships, Dunbar teenager Ansel Parkin had to beat his coach and mentor in the final. Interview by Roger Cox

It’s mid-afternoon on Saturday 27 April, and the Scottish National Longboard Championships are under way at Pease Bay in the Scottish Borders. The spring sun may be shining down from an almost cloudless sky, but the icy wind knifing in off the North Sea is making things feel distinctly wintry. The waves are small, perhaps only a couple of feet at most, and crumbling unpredictably thanks to the onshore wind. It’s surfable – just – but these are by no means the conditions the event organisers would have been hoping for.

Still, longboards (boards over nine feet in length) are designed to work in small surf, and in spite of the lacklustre waves on offer, 15-year-old Ansel Parkin is turning his Round One heat in the Men’s division into something of a masterclass in how to generate speed from almost nothing. Even from a distance, he’s obviously a good bit smaller than the two surfers he’s up against, Joe Rodger and Robbie Lawson. But while the other two are understandably struggling to find rideable waves in the blown-out chaos, Parkin seems able to pick up every ripple that comes his way and turn it into something beautiful.

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He paddles for a knee-high lump as it approaches the contest zone, hops to his feet and has cross-stepped half-way to the nose of his board before the wave has even had a chance to think about breaking. For a moment he stalls, considers going left (travelling across the wave from surfer’s right to left) but then thinks better of it and opts to go right. A couple more cross-steps and he’s almost at the nose. He balances there for a few seconds and then, just before the wave whumps against the shore, scuttles back to the tail of his board to absorb the impact.

Ansel Parkin, surfing in the final of the Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay PIC: Malcolm AndersonAnsel Parkin, surfing in the final of the Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay PIC: Malcolm Anderson
Ansel Parkin, surfing in the final of the Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay PIC: Malcolm Anderson

His next wave is a left, but he doesn’t get far before it closes out in front of him. Never mind, he’s straight back out and onto another long right, this one finished off with a stylish floater into the shorebreak. Next, he’s setting up yet another left, cross-stepping all the way to the nose and hanging five toes over for a gravity-defying hang five. With a few minutes of the heat still to go, his combined score for his best two rides is so convincing that the other surfers have started cheering his waves instead of trying to overhaul him.

“The way I’ve been taught to surf competitions,” says Parkin, over the phone from his home in Dunbar, “is to build yourself a house. At the start you get two or three waves to get yourself a solid foundation, and then you want to start being a bit more picky. I surfed a little bit differently to that in my first heat, though, as I had to adapt to the conditions. In that heat, you couldn’t really tell what the waves were going to do. You’d see one that you’d think is going to be amazing, but then it closes out or it’s too fast or too slow; then you’d see one you think is pretty mediocre but somehow it works out perfectly.” His approach, then, was to minimise the chances of missing a good wave by catching as many as he could – an exhausting strategy, perhaps, but as it turned out, the right one.

In addition to that, he had the laws of physics on his side: a smaller surfer paddling a big surfboard will typically catch waves more easily than a larger surfer paddling a big surfboard. “I suppose I did have the upper hand,” he says. “I’m pretty light and I was on a big board, so those waves were bigger to me than they were to them.”

Studying the surf carefully in advance also helped. “I had surfed that [sand]bank at the same tide the day before,” he says, “and I’d been watching the waves a lot before my heat. Just as I got in that left that I was catching started to work.”

Ansel Parkin, 15, from Dunbar, on his way to winning the 2024 Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay in the Scottish Borders PIC: Roger Cox / The ScotsmanAnsel Parkin, 15, from Dunbar, on his way to winning the 2024 Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay in the Scottish Borders PIC: Roger Cox / The Scotsman
Ansel Parkin, 15, from Dunbar, on his way to winning the 2024 Scottish National Longboard Championships at Pease Bay in the Scottish Borders PIC: Roger Cox / The Scotsman

Fast-forward to Day Two of the contest, and, in a building swell, Parkin surfs through the quarters and semis and into the Men’s final, alongside his coach and 2022 national champion Sam Christopherson. Conditions are stormy earlier in the day, but by the time the four finalists paddle out the wind has dropped and there are beautiful, glassy shoulder-to-head-high waves rolling through the contest zone. Parkin takes full advantage, showing himself to be just as comfortable flying across powerful, hollow faces as in the previous day’s ankle-slappers. In the end, it’s yet another noseride on yet another left that gives him the win over Christopherson. So – was it weird surfing against his mentor?

“Yeah, he’s taught me pretty much everything,” Parkin says. “He’s given me all my knowledge about where I surf, how to read the conditions, all that. In contests though, it comes down to a bit of luck, in the end, and not mucking up on that one wave that might come to you.”

Remarkably, although Parkin has previous as a shortboard competitor, winning both the Under-14 and Under-16 national titles in Thurso last year, he has only been riding a longboard for around 12 months, after buying a second-hand board crafted by veteran east coast shaper Martin McQueenie.

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What is it in particular that he likes about longboarding? “I love getting to the nose,” he says, “that feeling of getting right to the nose and getting in the pocket, I love that. When I go out on a shortboard I’m only really thinking about my progression and I just run heats in my head the whole time, but when I’m out on the longboard it’s a lot chiller, a lot calmer. It’s not that I like it more, I just like it in different ways.”