Roger Cox: Swell time on Tiree for gathering of Clans surfers

The last major competition held by the Scottish Surfing Federation was the Scottish Open at Thurso East and Brims Ness back in April, and on that occasion Mother Ocean proved herself the hostess with the mostest, serving up a veritable feast of waves.
Tiree is sometimes known as the land beneath the waves . Picture: ContributedTiree is sometimes known as the land beneath the waves . Picture: Contributed
Tiree is sometimes known as the land beneath the waves . Picture: Contributed

Those who were still in bed when the first heats hit the water early on Day One would have missed reigning champ Chris Noble rocketing through a mirror-smooth drainpipe following a ferocious hook under the lip, but fortunately his wave was captured on video and quickly posted online, so anyone wanting an object lesson in how to ride the tube at Thurso could analyse the key moments over and over again – the lightning-fast double-pump for speed, the nimble duck under the curtain as the wave began to hollow out, and the perfectly timed exit. Even on finals day at Brims when the wind came up (and up, and up, and then up some more) the waves were still of a standard that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a World Surf League event.

Surf forecasts can be fickle things, and a lot could change in the few days between this magazine going to press and the weekend, when it eventually hits the newsstands, but at time of writing it’s looking as if the SSF’s next big competition – the Gathering of the Clans team event, scheduled to take place at Ballevulin on the island of Tiree today and tomorrow – will be treated less favourably by Mother O.

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The forecast for today isn’t too bad, with surf in the two-to-three foot range and light winds predicted, but by the standards of the island also known as “the land beneath the waves” that counts as less than inspiring. And tomorrow’s looking even worse, with a one-foot swell forecast. They might be able to get some longboard heats run in waves that size, but only the most light-footed of the shortboarders will be able to get any sort of momentum going.

Still, things can change fast out there on the edge of the Atlantic, so hopefully by the time you read this all the numbers above will have at least doubled. (And even if they haven’t, Jen from Jenny Rose Yoga will be running free yoga classes on the beach, so at least Scotland’s top surfers will be guaranteed some good stretching, even if they don’t get much surfing).

As mentioned in this slot a few weeks back, when Final Words last spent time on Tiree, the island is currently home to three of the best young surfers in Scotland: Finn MacDonald, Ben Larg and (for this summer, at least) Andrew Robertson. They were surfing with style to spare when I was on the island in June, but judging by a batch of photos that landed in my inbox recently, taken just around the corner from Ballevulin at Balephuil by Ben’s granddad, they’ve got even sharper over the summer. One shot of Ben swooping off the top of a wave at full-stretch, arms and legs fully extended, is even reminiscent of Tom Carroll’s famous snap at the 1991 Pipe Masters (although, to be fair, Ben’s wave was more like four-foot than 12.) Still, whatever the waves end up doing this weekend, if I were a betting man I’d have my money on Team Tiree.

The case of the proposed Stronelairg windfarm in the Monadhliath mountains, chewed over at length in this column, appears to have taken an interesting turn this week, with the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Conservatives – not exactly natural bedfellows – both calling on the Scottish Government not to pursue the wild land charity the John Muir Trust over costs it incurred during the recent judicial review of the matter.

Having initially succeeded in stopping this industrial-scale windfarm in its tracks when it precipitated the review last year, the JMT then saw the original decision reversed in July following an appeal, and now faces having to pay the legal fees incurred by both the Scottish Government and SSE.

Highland MSP John Finnie, on behalf of the Scottish Green Party, and Maurice Golden, environment spokesperson for the Scottish Conservative Party, have both written to Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse and to SSE CEO Alistair Phillips-Davies, making the point that, in the public interest, both should waive their right to pursue legal costs against the Trust. Or, to put it another way, they both recognise the JMT is now just about the only thing standing between Big Energy and the few remaining wilderness landscapes we have left, and crippling it financially won’t work out well for anyone.