Highland Tales p1

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Usually we donīt write about surf contests here because the challenge of the location itself and not the challenge of who rides the waves best is our issue. But this time, weīre talking about something different.

I mean, contests are nice to watch, itīs fun seeing skilled surfers giving their best in perfect waves. But, does it happen to you too, when you watch, letīs say a WCT-contest in Fiji, that you somehow feel untouched by the action? Perfect, empty waves in warm water, under sunny skies but it feels somehow unreal, if not to say artificial? Nothing that fits into your own experiences?

When your surfing means having to deal with much less inviting weather conditions, struggling with cold water, even colder air and often unfavourable winds coming together with pouring rain. When you know the feeling of getting bombarded by hail in the lineup, when you face the nasty weather all day, never getting far away from the beach in the fear of missing the magic moments. When you never give up hope that the wind turns offshore for an hour and the mushy onshore waves turn into perfection, only to vanish again with the next incoming rain squall. When you know the pain trying to get out of a thick wetsuit with dumb frozen fingers.

If that is your regular surf challenge, donīt you sometimes think “ah those WCT or WQS guys surf well, but anybody can do that in these perfect conditions” and donīt you sometimes wonder how they would perform in your typical northern european surf?

Mister OīNeillīs company now gave us the opportunity to see how them surf heroes would perform in “real” surf conditions.

They ran a 5 star WQS contest in Thurso, Scotland, not far away from the most northern point of the british mainland. They ran this contest in april. That meant water temperatures just a little bit above 6 degree centergrade. And it meant a constant change of weather. Nice sunny hours with offshore winds turn into nasty hours with howling onshore winds with rain squalls and the odd hail shower that turn into depressive hours with dizzling rain and grey becoming the dominant colour. All that can happen within one day or even twice a day. But april is also the time of solid swells coming in from the north. And when these swells coincide with offshore winds Thurso turns into a wourld class right, often compared with Nias or J-Bay.

But still, most of the competitors wouldnīt have made that long journey to the rough scotish north coast if there wouldnīt have been a load of money and qualifying points at stake.

Most of the competitors - amongst them almost the complete surfing elite of europe together with a strong brigade of top brazilian, hawaiian and australian cometitors plus some US-boys - were getting a complete new contest experience.

County Caithness at the scottish north shore lies at the same latitude as Alaska. The landscape is vast and rough and only the Gulf Stream keeps the area from getting frozen for long months during winter.

Heavy storms beat that coast frequently, the vegetation is sparse and donīt be surprised to meet big seals in the lineup. Tidal reaches are vast and the large number of reefs around here create some powerful but fickle waves. Add to this a very thin population and you can imagine, that surfing here is an experience by its own.

To make things even more strange up here the brits had buildt an experimental nuclear reactor in Dounray in the 50ies that kept polluting the area for decades with uncontrolled dumping of nuclear waste and some some nasty accidents.

So, up here they came, the WQS warriors. Thurso, the main town and source of facilites in the area, hosted them and with spots Thurso East and Brimms Ness a good variety of breaks was on offer. Allmost from the beginning you could tell who would succeed here and who would fail.

Some of the competitors hard a hard time adopting to 5 mill wetsuits, hoods, gloves and booties, some were constantly complaining about the cold and anly had one wish, getting out of the place as soon as possible. On the other hand, there were guys who went out in a 2 mill suit for their 20 minutes heats, craved about the quality of the waves and didnīt waste a thought about air and water temps. Surprisingly itīs been many of the warm water used Hawaiians who didnīt give a shit about temperatures and grey skies and just enjoyed the powerfull reefbreaks.

Not very surprisingly, the british guys did very well here. Especially Sam Lamiroy and Russel Winter proved that they are very able to ignore bad weather. But I guess, everybody from the british isles has that ability allready in his / here genes. Aritz Aranburu from the basque country also did very well and reached the semi finals. Which again is not too surprising as the basque folks have to deal with some very rough weather during winter too.

The OīNeill Highland Open started with very nice waves at Thurso East and than moved over to Brimms Ness with deteriorating surf conditions. Brimms Ness is a wave magnet and still gets surfable swell, when the rest of the coast is flat. Its flat rock reef milks all of the remaining wave power and creates a challenging wave even during onhore conditions. After some off days the final rounds were held in perfect 4 to 6 ft barrels at Brimms Ness and good olī Russel Winter won the contest with scoring a perfect 10 points barrel.

This satisfied me a lot because Russelīs a guy who has surfing roots in climates that are very northern european - and therefore very similar to what we surf in - and never forgot where he came from. And it was interesting to see how those warm water surf heroes did in the cold.

Canīt wait to see the first WQS-contest in Norway.......

Thanks a lot to the ASP and OīNeill for live coverage and pics!