Surfing, winter and Scotland. At first it might sound like a match made in a frozen-over hell. But for a select few the winter waves of our country offer an unorthodox surfer’s paradise.
All year round, these hardy surfers cross the 6,160 mile Scottish coastline threshold and brave the freezing ‘cauld’ conditions in the hope of catching a barrel shaped wave.
Sam Christopherson, who teaches surfing at the Coast to Coast surf school in Dunbar, outlines the joys and tribulations of surfing during a Scottish winter.
The main benefits - bigger waves and emptier beaches
In Scotland we are blessed with a beautiful coast, brutal weather and a low surfing population. When the surfing stars align this can make for perfect conditions, according to Christopherson.
“Winter surfing means there are less surfers and bigger waves due to bigger storms. In the winter on the east coast when the storm moves into the right position you can suddenly get really good waves. In the north and west the waves are just huge.”
At the time of this interview Scotland was being battered by Storm Barbara, making for enormous waves. “Today off the west coast we’ve got 60 mph winds and we could be expecting 40 ft waves. This means that on the north coast there will be 20 ft waves, and better still they will be clean.”
Good for your health?
Willingly taking a dip in the icy Scottish waters in winter might not seem particularly good for your health. However, as well as offering a cure to any hangover, surfing in cold water can improve your circulation.
While Christopherson doesn’t claim to be a health expert, he notes a couple of benefits:
“In Finland and Sweden they do the sauna treatment where they get very hot and then very cold and I think what it does is it stimulates your circulatory system, and internally exercises your body.
“My body seems to fight the cold better than most people.”
For those who suffer from stress, surfing can also act as a good form of mindfulness.
“Psychologically it’s a great sport to undertake because when you’re in the water and you’re catching great waves, you have a yogi experience where you don’t think about anything that’s happening in your life. It’s a time of complete peace and it’s all about enjoying the waves.”
What sets Scotland apart from the rest?
If the toasty temperatures in Australia, Bali and Hawaii don’t float your board, Christopherson suggests that the empty beaches and world class waves up north may appeal.
“Scotland’s surfing population versus the amount of coastline we’ve got is immense. We have so many waves per person potential. We have thousands of miles of coastline and only 10,000 to 15,000 surfers - and that’s in the summer. The amount of peoples to waves is tiny.”
Only areas like Thurso and the south east coast are particularly busy.
“You could be surfing in certain areas of the north and you wouldn’t see another soul for the whole day.”
While Thurso may be busier than other parts of Scotland, Christopherson suggests it’s worth braving the crowds - which will be smaller in winter - in order to enjoy the world class waves on offer.
“In terms of world class spots there’s Thurso East that hosts the national championships, that has frequently been marked as being in the top 20 world class waves in the world.
“The waves are phenomenal and when everything comes together it’s simply amazing.”
Interested? Here’s what you need
If braving icy waters with your surfboard, Sam Christopherson recommends wearing a six millimetre thick wetsuit with a fixed hood, gloves and a pair of boots. He insists this will keep you relatively “toasty”.
According to the surf instructor a kettle might also come in handy.
“It’s good to boil a kettle of water and then put it into your boots. This should keep your feet warm before your session.”