The North Coast of Scotland has been deemed by the surfing world as a ‘Coldwater Surfing Mecca’ and has been instrumental to the development of the sport both within Scotland and the UK as a whole. Surfers first started visiting the North Coast of Scotland over 40 years ago and in 1973 the first Scottish Championships were held at Bettyhill near Thurso. Since the first Scottish Surfing Championships there has been numerous surf competitions focused in the Thurso area both at local and national level. The area has also seen a plethora of international events such as the Eurosurf competitions which were held at Thurso in 1981 and 1993. The UK Pro Surf Tour (formally known as the British Professional Surfing Association) has held annual events in the region over the last 10 years. Between 2006 and 2011 O’Neill sponsored huge mainstream surfing events as part of the World Qualifying Series (WQS) for the World Circuit Tour (WCT). The competitions were amongst the biggest surfing events in the world and saw many of the current top professionals within surfing from across the world flock to the area. It is also noted that since 1984, the Scottish Canoe Association (SCA) has held their National Surfing Championships in Caithness each year since the mid 1980s along with the International Canoe Championships and European Wave Ski Championships in 1987 and 1991 respectively as well as the World Kayak Championship held in 1991 and 1997.
The area is home to the loosely formed Caithness Boardriders, there is a small surf shop at present ‘Surf Wrath’ along with a dedicated surf school ‘Thurso Surf’. Throughout its 40 year history surf media has been attracted to the area with frequent features in surf magazines but it has been the last 10 years that have really put the area on the world surfing map with advances in internet media technology combined with the international surfing competition publicity. As a result there has been a direct increase in the number of new participants as well as the number of surfers visiting the region. In some cases families have been inspired to relocate and choose surfing on the North coast of Scotland as a way of life. As has been the case with many other surfing destinations across the world there are the early signs of friction developing at some spots due to a bolstering water population over a limited area tainting which once was deemed an empty surf wilderness. Many ‘soul surfers’ are now more frequently spreading their search further afield to the western fringes of the North Coast and the Scottish Isles.
Orkney and Shetland Archipelagos
The Orkney and Shetland islands may be battered frequently with waves and swells but are often also over exposed to wind and harsh weather conditions. Beach/ break access, road networks, tidal currents and reduced winter daylight all play a significant factor in the surfing environment on these islands with many breaks requiring significant effort to reach. It takes years of local knowledge to understand the interaction of such conditions which has meant the small but tight knit dedicated surf population within these islands are some of the most dedicated and committed throughout the world. The islands may have no surf shops at present but do get the occasional surf tourists and in island communities of a declining population trend the lifestyle commitment made by some of the surfers within the area goes well beyond that of the traditional surfer.