Thanks to the tender ministrations of Hurricane Ophelia, this year’s Tiree Wave Classic was one of the most dramatic on record. “I would think it’s at least 60 knots,” shouted pro windsurfer Adam Lewis, doing his best to make himself heard over the combined roar of wind and waves at Crossapol on the second day of the event. “It is so windy... definitely the windiest I’ve ever sailed in the UK... amazing!”
As its name suggests, the Wave Classic is supposed to be a wave sailing contest, in which competitors are awarded points for riding waves towards the beach. Conditions were so ferocious by the afternoon of 15 October, however, that head judge Mark Hosegood decided to hold an expression session for the pros, many of whom were already out in the water anyway, launching stratospheric jumps. Pro sailor James Cox summed up the concept: “It’s a case of go as fast as you can, hit a ramp, and go as high as you can.”
The spectacular photos and video footage from that afternoon will no doubt be finding their way into VisitScotland adverts for years to come. It’s hard to estimate how much air the pros were putting between themselves and the water, given how rapidly they were spinning as they flew, but 20-foot jumps seemed to be par for the course, and there may even have been a few in the 25-30-foot range. Sailors hung in mid-air for what seemed like gravity-defying lengths of time before dropping back down into the maelstrom.
“That was – I think – the windiest I’ve ever windsurfed,” said veteran competitor Andy Chambers, safely back on the beach. “I even crashed just trying to get in.”
In the days leading up to the start of this year’s Wave Classic, on 14 October, there had been much speculation about whether Ophelia would make her presence felt on Tiree, and if so, when. By 12 October, the surf forecasting service Magic Seaweed was predicting surf in the region of 10-15 feet on the morning of Day One, dropping to 6-10 feet in the afternoon.
In previous years, big swells have been forecast but failed to materialise; this year, the waves on the first day might not quite have lived up to the hype, but they weren’t far off – certainly they were solid enough to run the men’s pro wavesailing event, first at the Maze on the island’s west coast, and later on, after the wind changed direction, at the south-facing beach at Balephuil in Tiree’s south-western corner.
The fifth ranked wavesailor on the Professional Windsurfing Association (PWA) World Tour, Lewis was always going to be the man to beat, and he ended up in pole position at the end of Day One, defeating multiple Wave Classic winner Ben Proffitt. Later in the week, a double elimination round gave the rest of the field a chance to rob Lewis of his title, but in choppy surf at Balephuil he did enough in a nervy final against world number 11 Marc Paré Rico of Spain to take home the coveted Tiree Wave Classic broadsword.
Elsewhere in the Scottish waveriding firmament, there was good news for Scotland’s sail-less surfers at the European Surfing Championships at Bore Beach in Jæren, Norway earlier in the month, where Dunbar’s Josh Christopherson made history by becoming the first Scot ever to achieve a Eurosurf podium finish. His fourth place in the men’s bodyboard category, combined with Phoebe Strachan’s fifth in the women’s bodyboard (she missed out in a berth in the final by an agonising 0.2 of a point) gave Team Scotland plenty to cheer about, in a week of wet and blustery conditions that could best be described as attritional.
And if Scottish surfing’s present is looking bright, its future is looking even brighter. Last month’s Sandend Grom Comp, held at the quality Moray surf spot of the same name, showed that once the current crop of competitors starts getting too creaky to compete at international level there will be plenty of youngsters ready to take over.
Once again, Tiree super-surfer Ben Larg blew minds with his loose, fluid surfing, linking turns like a pro and winning the under-18 boys category at age 12. The following weekend he also finished second in the Under 14s category of the UK Pro Surf Tour at Thurso. Definitely one to watch.