Surf Trip Report - Richie Inskip

There are some places that are sit on your bucket list for years.  Ironically, its those places that are probably the most easily accessible that sit on the back burner.  Always saying we can go next time, or its only a short drive so I can wait until the next swell.  Instead we choose to focus on time and energy on getting to more exotic destinations where we think because the journey is more complicated, the returns are going to be so much better.  For those that know, that isn’t always the case.  Your best time can literally be a stone throw away from you, but you get caught short sighted and project your vision on something way further away in the distance.


For me, Thurso was that destination.  Tucked away in the Scottish highlands Thurso offers one of the best right hand point breaks in Europe and is surrounded by a host of other world class waves and slabs.  After growing in up in newcastle and only being a 7 hours drive away, you’d think I would have taken the opportunity to visit when I was residing in the city closest to the Scottish border.  Truth be told, that was 20 years ago and my surfing would have been wasted on a wave of such quality.  Instead, of course I waited until I lived as far away as you can get.


After spending 3 months in the Maldives, a month travelling around Indo and then a couple of short autumn trips to South West France and Norther Spain, it would be easy to consider the allure of the plummeting winter temperatures the Scottish Highlands offers non enticing.  However, even after spending most of the summer months in the tropics, there is something magical about cold water surfing.  That said, the decision was made.  The next swell that forecasts near perfect conditions, we are going.


Unfortunately, as the winter rolled in we missed a couple of decent swells in November due to work commitments, then of course the festive seasons conditional family obligations kept us grounded.  So when in early February the exact report we were looking for appeared on the charts, the van was packed and we hit the road.


Now driving to Thurso from Bournemouth might not be a mammoth journey, but the 1500 mile round trip is no joke.  We set off at 6am knowing there was 12 hours of straight driving to get through and that’s not taking any breaks into consideration.  Annoyingly, the daylight drive started to run short and by the time we were north of Glasgow, so the we weren’t really able to take in the views as we drove into the country side and to the bottom of the highlands.  A quick stop at Aviemore (at the base of the cairngorms) to get some fuel and that was out last stop before heading straight to Thurso.  Aviemore even at night was a quaint snow town, it literally felt like we were driving through the alps with that traditional ski chalet feel to the place, quite surreal to be honest.  Any way, we arrived into Thurso around 9pm and headed straight to our Air BnB.  Quick visit to tesco for some essentials and then a good night sleep to see what we would be waking up to.


We awoke before first light and as the van was already loaded and ready we headed straight to the break.  It was still pretty dark but we could hear the thunder of the waves pounding the reef and could see the white water exploding in the reflection of the night sky.  Excitement levels were high and as first light approaches it was easy to see why this wave was such a jewel to cold water surfers, perfect right handers with wide open barrels.  We knew the water would be cold, around 6 degrees so there was no holding back on the rubber.  5mm wetsuits, 1mm thermal underneath and full boots, gloves and hood.  Looking like a couple of gimps we paddled out for our first experience of the most northern spot we would surf in the atlantic thus far.


The waves were cranking and it was a perfect introduction to the break.  Not too big but big enough to get the adrenaline going and big enough to snap you board, which happened to me on the third wave of the session.  It was not the most ideal start but after pulling into a decent barrel I took an absolute beating as it raced away and munched on me like fat guy on kebab after a night on the beers.  After a solid hold down I popped back up with only half a board.  So straight back to the van to grab another board.  As the tide dropped out the wave became more friendly for turns, so I opted for my favourite twin fin, which was so much fun.  A few more waves down and my hood was ripped off my head and washed down the reef, never to be seen again.  So I found myself in 6 degree water with no hood, thankfully this must have been the mildest day February could offer.  The sun was out and the air temp was into double figures.  So I was stoked to get some pics thanks to Malcom Annderson (@Malsurf), a local surf photographer that is always in the right spot.  We surfed a couple of times and headed back to the accommodation for some simple home cooking and some herbal recovery.


The next day the winds didn’t play ball so we were able to play tourist for the.  Exploring the northern most coastline was amazing, from John’o Groats to Totegan we had an absolute ball.  Although it was windy the it was dry and bright so a day of exploring was thoroughly enjoyed.


Sunday was a different kettle of fish.   We knew this was going to be the big day and we were not disappointed.  We woke as per day one, drove down before first light, but this time we were greeted with solid double overhead kegs.  Boy I was so excited and could not wait to get wet.  The thought of surfing hoodless was not going to deter me, even though the weather wasn’t playing ball this time and was back to it regular February freezing temperature.  Non the less, we paddled out greeted with another surfer hooting as he was spat out of the barrel.  It was going to be an epic session with our best waves of the trip, which set us up perfectly for the long drive home that afternoon.  Unfortunately Mal was not able to make it that day due to health reasons so you will just have to trust me….. It was Epic!  And in the spirt of Vitor, victory was ours, but we will need another visit or tow just to make sure.


Richie Inskip

December 04, 2020 — Matthew Law