Hardcore Highlanders: Surfing Scotland

Thoughts on surfing in Thurso, Scotland, by Laura MacDonald and Abigail Macleod.

If anyone has ever heard of Thurso in Scotland, you may know how that it is one of the coolest places to surf in Europe. Literally! Thurso is a small town located on the north coast of Scotland, and it is officially the most northerly town on mainland Britain, so it’s a pretty chilly spot. To us it feels so remote, being hundreds of miles away from everything, but that’s the beauty of it. It is so open, with endless fresh air, and you also have the benefit of having the sea right on your doorstep. Imagine, crystal barrels almost all to yourself, sharing the vast reef breaks with only the few other locals that live nearby and are hardy enough to face the chilly water temperatures!

Thurso East is picture perfect. When the waves are pumping and the air is fresh, with a bit of wind swirling your hair, the waves come crashing down onto the reef with the castle ruins in the backdrop… All these elements make Thurso stand out so much more than other surf spots, letting you feel like you are at one nature in this beautiful remote town.

Thurso East is a rather gentle surf spot when compared to the jagged reef breaks of Brims Ness. Made up of three main parts: bowl, point and cove, this rather secret and dangerous surf spot is often the location of the O’Neill Highland Open, probably providing some of the most amazing waves in Britain with top surfers from all over the world coming to take on the icy tubes.

We only started surfing back in 2007, so we haven’t been doing it that long but it feels as if our lives are becoming more revolved round the sport by the day. We have no idea really what made us start or try it out, but now we are hooked! We are always looking for new things to try and new adventures embark upon… In fact we probably have a list as long as your arm with ‘things to do before we die’.

I suppose seeing the surfers crash into our town by the hundred for the O’Neill Highland Open made us think that there must be something worthwhile on offer here. Some of the world’s top surfers were willing to travel miles, braving epic car journeys and rotten plane food, simply to sample the surf up here. It was only once we started wave-riding on the Thurso breaks that we realised the appeal. Surfing is undoubtedly the most worthwhile sport we have ever done – nothing else can compensate for the adrenaline rush or that extra buzz that surfing gives you.

In our teenage years right now, we have fallen in love with the surfing scene and we are now trying to base our future around the sport. We haven’t been surfing long, but we are trying our hardest to get out there with the boys as surfing seems to be dominated by men. It feels that we are the only teenage girls bold enough to brave the freezing water temperatures. And the first time you sample them for yourself, you soon realise why we don’t have many surfers up here!

There are about 50 surfers in Caithness, but there is a tight-knit surfing community within this group of people, and getting accepted into the fold is the hard part. One place you will definitely be accepted is the Tempest surf shop and café – a great spot to meet different people in a laid-back atmosphere with brilliant homemade cakes! A must stop if you’re ever touring the surf spots of Scotland.

The main reason why Thurso is getting so well-known is as the host of a 6-Star WQS event: The O’Neill Highland Open. The contest has only been running since 2005, but with every passing year the competition gets bigger, becomes more publicised and attracts increasing numbers of people travelling to watch the event. For us, it’s pretty funny seeing hundreds of surfer vans and TV crews in the streets just for one week of the year. When the comp is over, Thurso seems so empty and lifeless… you feel by yourself again on the north coast of nowhere.


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