Chasing the Waves
A new Gaelic documentary debuted this week on BBC Alba entitled Tarraing nan Tonn, or Chasing the Waves (available on iPlayer with subtitles). This was a bit of a departure from the more traditional style associated with the channel and instead was a fascinating look at the culture of surfing in the Outer Hebrides. Although the attractions of the island beaches have been championed for decades, surfing has continued to steadily rise in popularity while still being somewhat under the radar. It’s a minority sport for sure and not often visible as its best enjoyed in the off season when the water is cold and the swells much bigger, but this can mean splendid isolation and serenity you would struggle to find in Hawaii! Surfing has its roots in the counterculture so perhaps it’s no surprise that as it has enjoyed a new level of global popularity, driven in part by fashionable apparel and fizzy drink sponsorship, enthusiasts have retreated from the crowded hotspots to rediscover the essence of what the sport is about. If you are inspired to experience some genuinely world class waves then wax your board and head to Scotland this autumn to check out some of these top spots.
One of the beaches featured in the above documentary was Dalbeg on Lewis. Most visitors head to the much larger Dalmore beach, just down the coast, so even in the height of summer you can have the place to yourself. Winter is when the swells are more challenging but with some experience and a decent wetsuit you can play in the Atlantic rollers all year. In some parts of the world the idea of walking from your holiday home to an empty beach for a surf is the ultimate dream but here it is very much a reality. Beach Cottage is a luxurious new build just a short stroll from the water but accessible enough for you to be able to drive to all the rest of the islands top surf spots with ease. For beginners there are also two surf schools in Stornoway.
When most people think of Machrihanish Beach on Mull of Kintyre it conjures up images of pipers marching on the white sands. It is however one of the top surf spots on the west coast. There are consistent waves year round and the beach is also accessible with parking just atop the dunes and five miles of surf to choose from. The south end is naturally protected so lends itself to beginners, while the nearby West Port beach often sees rollers of up to 8 foot, a huge draw for the more experienced. Kirkland House is half way up the peninsula and so perfectly located for all the attractions of Kintyre north and south. Whisky, fine dining and cycling are all on the doorstep when you feel the need to dry off.
The coastline around North Berwick is more famous for golf than water sports but for those wishing to take a break from pitch and putt the reliable surf is incredibly inviting. Belhaven Bay, beside Dunbar is one of the best beginner’s spots in the country. It has easy access, gentle reliable waves and a well-regarded surf school with equipment rental. A short drive down the coast from here is Pease Bay, which has a fantastic beach break and a more challenging reef for better wave riders. Denfind House at North Berwick has traditionally catered for groups of golfers but could equally make a stunning retreat for a group of surfers. The traditional image of surfers as dirtbags camping at the side of the road is slowly changing as the sport diversifies and also the allure of luxuries such as the hot tub at Denfind House is enough to tempt anyway away from a rusty old VW campervan.
In addition to the above, Scotland boasts world famous spots at Thurso and Tiree as well as dozens of hidden breaks, secret spots known only to a select few and yet to be discovered gems. You could argue that despite the commercialisation of the sport its original ethos is still largely intact here with a healthy emphasis on appreciating nature as well as the spirit of adventure. Book your holiday today and discover what all the fuss is about.