Homage to Caledonia
By Nathan Lockwood.
Alba Gu Bràth (Scotland Forever)
“It’s pretty damn cold up Scotland way, but is well worth the adventure” Jase Finlay (The Bodyboard Travel Guide).
Scotland is an ancient land of rugged extremes. From the raw beauty of the east, to the sprawling metropolises at each end of the central belt, to the white sand, Caribbean-esque beaches of the west, up the spine of the Highlands and mountain ranges to the frontier wilderness and flat bottom reefs of the north coast, it is a place unlike any I have ever encountered.
Isolated in the North Atlantic, this most northerly nation of the British Isles has been shaped for millennia by harsh winters, powerful swells, and weather patterns. The result is what Rough Guide dubbed the most beautiful country in the world.
It also possesses a coastline as well distilled as a fine Scotch whisky.
The first recorded wave-riding in Scotland was practised by the Macdonald-Haig siblings who took to the ocean on the western Mull of Kintyre in the mid-1930s using rudimentary surfboards made by the local undertaker.
Our stand up brethren began regularly surfing and exploring the coast in small pockets around Edinburgh, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen in the mid to late 1960’s, led by pioneers like Sandy Waters, George Law, Ian Wishart, Bill Batten and Andy Bennetts (who I can personally confirm is still surfing the east coast to this day).
Fast forward to the present day and half a century of wetsuit technology later and wave-riding in Scotland is flourishing, with its own Surfing Federation and many dedicated practitioners.
Bodyboarders in Scotland are a minority, but you wouldn’t glean that from surf so well suited to our craft.
The widely varied and diverse coastline yields pitching slabs, reefs, points, beachies and rivermouths which can fire at any time of year although autumn and winter are by far the most consistent months. The sparsely populated north shore of the country encompassing the counties of Caithness and Sutherland is a wild and unforgiving place where stags and deer congregate on the roads and where dolphins, seals and even orca frequent the line-ups.
Heavy amounts of rubber are essential. Average sea temperatures can drop down to 6°C and after factoring in wind chill and sometimes runoff from snow and ice things can feel a great deal chillier.
There is a dedicated and hardy local crew who humbly take on everything the North Atlantic has to offer season after season and are a long way from anywhere should things go wrong.
Living there year-round requires sacrifice and dedication so show some respect and patience and it will be reciprocated.
Witnessing the mechanically perfect rights of Thurso East pitching over the kelp covered reef for the first time is a mesmeric experience and just a taste of what the area has to offer.
The east and west coasts along with the many islands also have their own unique charms, local contingents of wave riders and super fun setups. As with anywhere crack a smile and respect the locals and all will be grand.
Being based in Edinburgh I had the privilege of experiencing all these shores had to offer from one-foot mush burgers to heaving six-foot slabs and everything in between. I could talk about this country all day, but I am afraid of karma and drop-ins so will leave it at that.
The four and a half years I spent chasing swells in this country will stick in my mind forever as will the people I met along the way, you know who you are. To be a bodyboarder in Scotland requires perseverance, patience and determination but seek and ye shall find.