‘We stay in till our arms don’t work anymore’: Meet the North Sea surfers
‘I’ve been out in hail, fog and snow’
Fancy spending your weekends in ice-cold water for just five seconds of ride on a foam board?
Meet the Windsurfing and Surfing club, the hardcore, laid-back die hards who spend their free time riding the waves in every kind of condition — they even prefer winter for the better waves.
We joined them for a session at the end of their season, just as the weather was starting to turn.
It was still only eight degrees in the water.
Pease Bay is one of the preferred spots used by the Edinburgh surfers.
The conditions “weren’t Christmas”, but the waves were “clean”, meaning they broke consistently. Occasional high peaks had attracted locals to the water, some more welcoming than others.
Nathan, a fresher doing Spanish and Politics, has been bodyboarding for six years. To him, much like to the rest of the group, surfing in Scotland is not unusual.
Three degree water during the winter does not detract from the appeal of surfing. In fact, they say winter conditions are the best.
He once forgot to bring one insulating glove during the winter.
“My hand went completely numb. I just accepted the fact I wouldn’t be able to use it anymore, but feeling slowly came back by the evening.”
The dedication these guys had for surfing would become more apparent throughout the day.
Having just found out what a bodyboard was, they gave me a spare and sent me into the sea.
One foot in the North Sea and the though struck: “what have I got myself in to?”
Not only was I expected to fully submerge myself in the freezing ocean in front of their hopeful faces, but also attempt to learn how to ride.
I was in the water for about 25 minutes, constantly battered by the waves, wondering why I was here. Conditions improved and finally I had the chance to catch my first one.
Reach the crest of a wave, you immediately understanding why these people travel miles to wade around in freezing water for the chance of catching a wave. You feel accomplished, and you want to do it again.
Stephen, a club veteran, describing what surfing in the Scottish winter is like.
“I’ve been out in hail, fog and snow. Once you’re in your wetsuit it’s fine. I usually surf till my arms don’t work anymore.
“You don’t look at the weather, just the waves and the wind. Storms in the Atlantic create bigger waves during the winter, so November to March is the optimum time to surf.”
You have to admire Stephen’s devotion. Today was eight degrees, which was comparatively warmer waters than he was used to.
Oscar, a Business and Geography fresher, drives out weekly to the beach.
“In a good week I’ll go out four times, but there have been weeks on end where the swell isn’t worth going out for. It allows me to get out of Edinburgh and explore the surrounding coastline where each session is different.
“Surfing is definitely more appealing than locking myself in my room and engrossing myself in Netflix for hours on end.”
Matt, the incoming president of the club, promises more training for beginners next year.
Membership is £30 a year, which gives access to the university’s collection of 30 surfboards and 20 wetsuits. Socials are weekly, and subsidised trips to the Scottish coast take place three times a year.
Initially, we expected to meet a group of grizzled hard cases who thought they were tougher than everyone else, but they turned out to be some of the most modest blokes we’ve ever meet.
Nathan explained: “There’s no macho bullshit or anything like that in the club. It’s a bit more intense than surfing in Southern California or something, but you get out as much as you put in.”
Although they’re not your stereotypical longhaired Californian surfer, they maintain an aura of chill.
Nathan shared a surfer saying: “At the end of the day, the best surfer isn’t the one who is the most technically gifted or athletic, but the one who is having the most fun.”
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