Storm season is here, and at time of writing the west coast of Tiree is being hammered by a monstrous 17-foot swell following a close encounter with Hurricane Lorenzo. By Saturday, the first day of the Tiree Wave Classic’s week-long waiting period, the swell should be down in the more manageable 5-7 foot range according to the surf forecast website Magic Seaweed, but there should still be plenty of wind about, so there’s a decent chance that the contest will kick off either then or on Sunday.
Now in its 34th year, the Wave Classic is the longest-running professional windsurfing event in the world, and while there are plenty of contests in sunnier, more exotic locations, none of them has quite the same wild, woolly appeal.
Technically, Tiree is part of the Inner Hebrides, but at this time of year, as the Atlantic starts to wake up from its long summer snooze, it definitely feels more outer than inner. Thanks to its exposed location, the island picks up any Atlantic swell that’s going, and thanks to the fact that it’s almost completely flat, and has beaches facing in almost every direction, as long as there’s a reasonable swell running and a bit of a breeze it’s usually possible for the contest organisers to find the right combination of wind and waves somewhere along its convoluted coast.
The Wave Classic attracts competitors from all over the world, and when everything comes together the sight of them zipping around (and soaring above) Tiree’s aquamarine rollers can be jaw-droppingly spectacular. However, being a spectator at an event like the Wave Classic is nothing like being a spectator at a football match. On any given day, the action could be taking place at pretty much any time (during daylight hours), and at any one of the island’s numerous beaches. For first-time visitors looking to catch some of the action, it can all get a bit confusing. So, for the benefit of any Wave Classic first-timers on the island this week (and for the benefit of anyone who might be planning a visit in the future) here are some tips for enjoying one of Scotland’s most dramatic sporting events.
1. Know where you’re going (and when to be there). The Wave Classic is a mobile event with a seven day waiting period; that means it can take place pretty much anywhere on the island, and at any time, from today until Friday. The easiest way to find out if the contest is happening, and if so, where, is to check the website (see below), but if you’re having trouble accessing the internet there’s a competitors’ briefing at 9am every morning at the Lodge Hotel at Gott Bay, where the event organisers will explain what’s happening.
2. Be a patient driver. It may only be ten miles long and four miles wide, but distances can be deceptive on Tiree, and it always seems to take longer to get to places than you expect. Partly this is because the roads are almost all single-track, and much twistier than they look on a map, and partly it’s because you’ll often have to stop and wait for cattle to cross the road in front of you. But that’s all fine, because you’re in the islands now, and apart from high blood pressure there’s nothing much to be gained by acting the boy racer. Just sit back, relax and wave at the cows as they saunter past – you’ll get there eventually.
3. Wrap up warm. Tiree is one of the sunniest places in the British Isles, so it’s quite possible that you’ll find yourself basking in warm October sunshine while you’re watching the windsurfing. However, when the wind gets up it can also be brutally cold, particularly if you’re standing around doing nothing, so if in doubt, dress as if you’re going skiing. (And speaking of the wind, be careful when opening your car door - if it’s really blowing hard you could lose it.)
4. Find a good vantage point and pack some binoculars. When the waves are big, there’s not much point standing right at the water’s edge and looking out to sea, as there will more than likely be four or five large walls of whitewater between you and the action – if you’re really lucky, you might just see the top of someone’s head. Instead, try to find some high(er) ground overlooking the contest area to get an overview of what’s going on. And if you want to feel closer to the action, bring binoculars or a camera with a long lens.
5. Get inspired. If watching the pros in action gets you itching to give windsurfing a try, you’re in luck: Wild Diamond Watersports offer gear hire and tuition, and if you don’t fancy learning in giant storm surf, Loch Bhasapol offers a more benign environment for beginners.