Surf’s up for autumn

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Forget about the cold – autumn is a great time to grab yourself a board and take to the waves at any of Scotland’s many fine surf spots

Scotland’s coast is amazingly beautiful and sometimes warm – but as the nights draw in, chillier temperatures will send many of the summer-time watersports fans indoors. Not so the surfers. According to some of Scotland’s best wave riders, this time of year is “just swell” for surfing.

A former champion Scottish surfer, Sam Christopherson, who is now an instructor at the Coast to Coast Surf School in East Lothian, the autumn and winter can boast bigger and better waves.

Sam says: “Sure, the summer is warmer, but there is less chance of good swell and powerful waves. In autumn and even winter, the surf is clean and consistent and so much easier to ride. Increasingly, Scotland is being recognised as a great place to surf all year round.”

Newbie surfing in autumn

I’m not convinced. Despite my thick wetsuit, gloves, boots and hood the conditions on Belhaven beach, Dunbar, are bitter. The sea looks cold and menacing. “It’s not that bad once you’re in,” says Sam. “While the air temperature is only three degrees, the water is eight degrees warmer. Plus today’s wetsuits really do keep you warm.”

Surfing is tiring work but does have the advantage of warming me up. First you have to wade out to sea through crashing waves while holding the surfboard steady under one arm. This is tough on the legs, upper body and core muscles. Then, holding the board flat and steady, you must climb on top. My method makes me look like a sand-slapping seal but it works.

Gripping either side of the board halfway along its length I launch myself up, belly first. Hauling my bum over next and splashing my legs hard against the surface of the sea I achieve a face-down position on top of the wobbling board. Now I wait for a wave.

When a promising wave approaches I get ready to swim with the current. I do four hard and fast crawl-like strokes with both arms and then four smaller strokes. At this point, I hope I’m riding the wave. If not, the board sinks and I return out to sea to await another wave.

When I do catch the crest correctly I whoosh with huge excitement towards the beach, although at this early stage I’m still lying flat. Then the whole process is repeated again and again.

By the time our group of 15 beginners are called back into the beach to learn the next step towards proper surfing we’re all looking weary – but we’re warm and  smiling. Now comes the hard bit. Lying the surfboards down on the sand we are shown how to get from lying flat to the upright surfing stance – in one quick move. The process appears to combine a full-blown push-up with a squat thrust.

With the benefit of solid land beneath my board I can just about pull off the move. It’s not pretty but it’s reasonably effective. Back in the water and the whole thing is near hopeless.

If I’m lucky enough to catch a wave, and that only happens one in three times, I have barely enough time to launch myself into a semi-crouched position. Within seconds I capsize, diving headfirst into shallow water and seaweed.

The wading out, waiting for a wave, half standing, falling off process continues for at least an hour.  Twice I achieve a kind of Neanderthal-style upright position and whoop in delight. When I get it right it feels awesome. It’s very fast and I want more of it.

It will take many hours of practice to stay upright for more than a few seconds but if Sam is right there will be plenty of opportunities this autumn – and next spring and summer – to go out surfing in Scotland’s epic waves.

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