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The Silver Lining of the North Sea Storm

by on Sunday 8th December, 2013   51196 Visits   Comments

A North Sea storm surge wreaked carnage last week, flooding homes and forcing evacuations along the UK coastline. In a silver lining of sorts, offshore winds were forecast and a hardy group of surfers took to the water, scoring barrels at spots which seldom show their faces. Surfer and photographer, James Cummings, was on hand to photograph and surf this rare swell event.

Take a jagged coastline strewn with shapely sandstone reefs and curved sandy beaches, introduce a swell which statistically bears a resemblance to an Indian Ocean classic, and watch as perfection rolls in… right?

The North Sea is an incredible place to be a surfer. It frequently puts the reasons one might choose to be a surfer under the microscope, not least because the majority of quality swell comes in the winter months.

Siberian winds, as the weather forecasters like to call them, drive swell from the small gap between Greenland and Norway through what is effectively a bottleneck of water. This in turn means that every exposed rocky outcrop up and down the coast enjoys a surprising degree of quality, from what might seem like relatively small, short period swells.

Last week, word of the swell event of the year sent a whisper of excitement through this community. Isobars stacked up in favourable lines. Pressure charts from previous legendary swells were compared and bigger boards were sought.

The character of its surfing populous is a match for the low temperatures, both on land and in the water. Pick up a sports section of any national newspaper to hear the mainstream media talking about the ‘steadfast fans’ of the area’s famed Football clubs. And ‘steadfastness’ is what every North East surfer needs in order to cope with the prolonged flat spells. All are driven to the edge of reason as they stare in vain at perpetually lacklustre forecasts, to the inevitable breaking point of climbing in their vans and driving the eight hours North to take on Thurso, armed with a bottomless flask of tea and an acceptance that wetsuits are permanently wet, and sometimes even frozen. 

Last week, word of the swell event of the year sent a whisper of excitement through this community. Isobars stacked up in favourable lines. Pressure charts from previous legendary swells were compared. Bigger boards were sought. The BBC even ran headline news stories on the predicted high seas, and the effects of the storm surge that would precede it.

Large areas of low lying coastal regions were evacuated, and otherwise moderate spring high tides were bolstered with several feet of extra wind driven water. Every home and business with a doorstep less than 8 meters above chart datum started buying sand bags. The tide duly rose and, as forecast, rivers swelled, towns were flooded, bridges became submerged and sand dunes were silently washed away amidst a digital deluge of twitter ‘iphonography’ covering the carnage.

Meanwhile, the eyes of the nation’s surf community began widening in expectant disbelief, including those of your author, who knew that this two day swell event was going to comprise 200+ miles of driving, coinciding with two consecutive nights working late as a DJ.

So with diesel bought, batteries charged, multiple wetsuits at the ready and favours called in, was this it? 

Words: James Cummings

Photos: James Cummings and assistant photographer Chris Ibbotson.

Thanks to Northcore, all the surfers and bystanders we saw along the way spreading good vibes, and also to the ‘other halves’ who let us boys go off and do our own thing.

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