On the face of it, Tiree should be a pretty straightforward place to go on a surf trip. Plugged into the gargantuan swell generator also known as the Atlantic Ocean, and with pristine white sand beaches facing almost every point of the compass, scoring those majestic, airbrushed breakers you see on all the postcards should be as easy as working out where the waves are coming from and throwing a piece of grass in the air to determine wind direction.
What I’ve found, though, over the course of many visits to the island, is that getting the optimal Tiree experience isn’t anything like as simple as you’d think. It takes a long time (and a lot of driving around in circles) to build up a good working knowledge of what all the various spots will be doing in different swell and wind conditions, and at different states of the tide. Often, the waves at what might seem like the obvious beach to go to will turn out to be smaller or mushier or weaker than you were hoping, but you can be sure that somewhere else on the island, probably at a spot you didn’t even think to check, the locals will be busy getting their fix of undiluted North Atlantic juice.
One of the surest ways of knowing you’re in the right place on a given day, then, is the presence of a few clued-up local surfers at your beach of choice – people like long-time Tiree residents Marti and Iona Larg.
I’ve known the Largs for about a decade now, having met them on my first ever visit to Tiree back in 2005, when I was sent to the island to cover the annual Wave Classic windsurfing contest for this newspaper, and to say they have an enviable life would be putting it mildly. From their home near Balemartine in the south-west corner of the island, they are within easy reach of some of the best surfing and windsurfing beaches in the British Isles, and due to Tiree’s remote location and tiny population (650, or thereabouts) they frequently have these dream-like natural playgrounds all to themselves.
This summer, though, they’re offering Joe Public an opportunity to share in their charmed existence with their new surf and yoga retreats. For two weeks in June, they’ve booked out the Duke of Argyll’s very comfortable-looking (and recently refurbished) Tiree residence, Island House, and they’ll be accommodating paying guests there as part of an all-encompassing island-style R&R package.
Meals will be prepared by Sam Lomas, a graduate of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage; yoga sessions will be led by Cornwall-based practitioner Helen Clare (Vinyasa flow style, since you ask); and surfing and windsurfing lessons will be taken by Marti, who runs Tiree’s Blackhouse Surf School, and Claire’s partner Dougie.
Iona explains what a typical day might entail: “First thing, we’ll offer a pre-breakfast yoga class and then you’ll have your breakfast cooked for you by Sam – all homemade mueslis and granolas, lovely healthy stuff.
“Then once you’ve had that we’ll take you to the beach for your surf lessons. If the weather’s good we’re going to have Sam make up big picnic baskets so we can have lunch at the beach.
“After that it’s really up to you. You can stay at the beach and have a free surf, and you’re free to use any of our equipment – we’ve got paddleboards, kayaks and bikes – and we’re going to have running trails laid out so you can go trail running if that’s your thing, or you can just relax. You can pick and choose as much or as little as you want.
“Then before dinner there will be a second yoga session. Of the two sessions, the first one will be done with surfing in mind and the second one will be a bit more to do with relaxation. Then after the evening yoga class you’ll have a big meal either at Island House or at the beach.”
Granted, the accommodation and the food and the yoga all sound very appealing, but to my mind the most valuable part of the package by far is the expertise of the surf instructors. There is simply no better way to get perfect surf on your first trip to the place they call The Land Beneath The Waves than by putting yourself in the hands of people who have years of local experience – certainly not driving around in endless circles.