“It was a struggle to find somewhere that wasn’t pumping.”
UK surfer Harry Timson is trying to hide a smile. “It was perfect,” he beamed. “And we had sun, in November and December. Forgot what it was like to surf without wind and rain, that’s unheard of for this time of year.”
Last week, surf spots across the UK and Ireland had back-to-back days of crisp, easterly wind and a lined up, long-period swell, the ideal conditions for a wonderful, wintery session.
Live cam: Fistral
“The waves were just, the best I’ve seen in a while. But I think most people will also remember the sunsets and sun rises these past few days,” said Timson. Yeah last week was good, but the back end of November saw a couple other back-to-back swells for the British Isles and Ireland.
The first signs of this swell filled in on Wednesday evening last week, around 3pm, offering a few hours of rippable conditions before last light, and a day blanketed in relatively comfortable air temperatures. It followed a few days of southerly wind, which is not ideal for west facing beachies. “By Thursday though, December 1, the temperature went from ‘ok’ to like, 5 degrees C,” said Timson. “It was a real start to winter.”
Around that time, MSW’s UK forecaster Jamie Bateman was in a forecast frenzy. The usually stoic Welshman was crunching data, looking at reports, and slinging out multiple Slack messages as each model run looked more and more promising. Until finally, the conditions forced his hand.
“For some parts of the UK, we dropped a rare Epic rating,” he said. “That’s not just rare for the UK, but rare across the globe too. It’s the first time since August 2021 that we’ve done that for south west UK.”
This swell filled in to spots from the deepest western reaches of Cornwall, and then punted up the Bristol Channel, reaching the World Surf Reserve of North Devon and parts of southern Wales.
Port Talbot, aka, Steel Town, is an industrial area towards the east side of Swansea Bay. Strangely, it has been home to Hollywood A-listers like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Sheen and even Sir Anthony Hopkins. All of whom were likely wildly unaware of the A-frames within throwing distance of their front doors.
“The sun may not have been shining up here,” said legendary lensperson Paul Gill, “but a few stars came out to play anyway.” The likes of Alys and Eliot Barton, James Jones, son of one of Wales’ finest surfers PJ, stuck it out in one of the UK’s more under-rated surf spots.
“November’s actually been really great for Wales,” said Alys, who was recently crowned U18 European Champion.
“We had a swell a couple days before this one which was fun to see people in the water we hadn’t seen for a while. But this one, it was just a good time. You couldn’t really see people in the line up because of the fog and the banter was classic, three foot or so but lots of opportunity for manoeuvres.”
Meanwhile, in the south west of England, Rosie O’Neill travelled from North Cornwall’s Polzeath down to west Cornwall beauty spot, Gwithian, a locale that offers a whole bunch of different peaks across three miles of golden-sand beach.
“We were going to head a bit further east, to the next part of the beach called Godrevy,” she said. “But that easterly wind was creating a little bit of a bump on the wave. So we surfed in front of the cliffs, which had just enough protection to make it all clean up.”
“Surfed in the morning and evening on Thursday. What was clear was the first waves of the set were closing out,” Rosie added, knowing full-well the curse of mixing long-period swells and beach breaks. “But the second, third waves, those were the ones you wanted, you needed a decent bank really. But we had blue skies, which was unreal.”
For Rosie, it was a return to the ocean after having surfers on her back. “I was diagnosed with a pars defect in my lower spine. It took me out of the water for two years, but in June, had three pars injections. Five months of physio later and surfing has never felt so good, as cliché as that sounds.”
Perhaps one of England and maybe even Europe’s finest young surfers Lukas Skinner, ended up surfing a grom’s ransom in waves over the past few weeks. “Surfed Fistral in the morning then went further west for the afternoon,” he said, of Thursday’s peak day. “The surf was so good all day. There was an hour of light left and the tide just got low enough for my favourite beach in Cornwall.”
And can you imagine punting an air right in front of your pops, who just so happens to be 11 times European longboard champion, Ben Skinner. “That was on my second wave,” said Lukas. “Saw the section and as I hit it, the backwash pushed me into the flats and I landed it. Dad was paddling over the wave and hooting, I was stoked.”
Further up the coast, and the UK’s premier beach break at Croyde was shapely. “Two-to-four foot, a proper day of beautiful waves,” said lensperson, Alan Danby. “From first light, Croyde had a characteristic buzz about it, the tide low enough for a couple of cover ups, the pre-work crowd enjoying relative peace in the line-up.” By the afternoon, Big ol’ Jamie Bateman slammed the Epic rating on there.
“With that favourable SE/E wind direction, conditions at exposed beaches were very good,” said Bateman. “Had to put the rating all the way up for Devon and Cornwall. In fact, the latter was a lucky recipient of two reinforcing WNW swells Friday and Saturday which kept the run of excellent surf going, until it finally ran out of steam by Sunday.”
And how could we forget about Ireland! “A few got in at the Cliffs and Riley’s, the swell was big enough to have fun, enough for a few pounding moments anyway,” said Megan Gayda, photographer who swam out at both those locations, which are two of the meanest slabs in the Emerald Isle.
That’s not all, Ireland’s seen a hyper-active November. Remember when Riley’s went off earlier this month? That was just the tip of the swell iceberg. When big swells roll out of the North Atlantic and zip into Ireland, it’s more than just those crazy slabs that make your hair stand on end. The points across the west coast can be world-class — just make sure to check in with the local safety crew before whipping on a 6mm wetsuit and paddling out.
Breaking down last week’s swell origin, Bateman concluded: “The North Atlantic’s storm track put Ireland and the UK under the knife of a seemingly endless procession of storms in November. There were few fleeting moments of settled conditions sprinkled in, though.
“Last week and into December was different. High pressure over Scandinavia expanded across Ireland and the UK. This blocked the normal west-to-east progression of North Atlantic storms and brought in favourable, light to moderate SE/E wind as an ideal west swell moved in.
“Satellites confirmed 40-foot seas in the swell began to filter into exposed western regions of the south west UK and Ireland on Wednesday afternoon. Sets hit the two-to-three foot overhead range by sundown with bigger, inconsistent sets at deepwater reefs.”
How’s it looking next week? We’re keeping an eye on more decent December surf for the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe.