Last week, two back-to-back North Atlantic swells rifled waves into parts of Western Europe and beyond. For the British Isles, this meant surf from the Highlands of Scotland, through to the southern shores of Wales and down into South West England (and yeah, you’ve probably already seen this barrel.)
It was early in the week that this first pulse hit, giving Scotland a decent run of it and Wales had a special day on Tuesday amidst the carnage. By the time the second swell hit on Thursday, the Celtic nations weren’t looking so hot, and ended up handing the swell mantle over to fellow Celts in Cornwall, UK. Only in secluded corners mind, this swell came with 40mph south wind – you needed a nose for it and the ability to accept a couple waves on the head for the effort. And yes! We may be missing Ireland from the great Celtic wrap up -- but that's coming tomorrow with its own little package.
Live Cam! Fistral
Let’s pick this up from top-to-bottom.
This was a complex mix of things happening up the top of the UK. A few different storms meandered around, south of Iceland and eventually moved south east into Wales. But the resulting pulse meant a couple waves up in the Highlands were fun!
Up on the ‘Norse Shore’, water temperatures are around the 11 degrees C mark at the moment, but it’s the air temp that’ll get you, a frigid 6 degrees C. Somewhere amongst all that, is a smooth, kelp-covered reef, that can convert the power of the North Atlantic (and Arctic ocean) swells into a wild-walling wave.
Siblings Iona and Craig McLachlan have been surfing here for years. “I really struggle to commit to winter waves,” said Iona. “So my goal is to just pull into anything and see how it goes. This particular session wasn’t actually going too well for me... for most of it. I was jus catching waves, pulling out, out of fear, then Boydy came up to me and said ‘you just need to stay high’.”
A few seconds later, Iona did exactly that. “Really stoked. Was a lovely day, not many people out. Craig was out, my younger bro, he was surfing circles around me [laughs], a little frustrating, I’d love to get in the flow of what he does.”
By Tuesday, the south coast of Wales was soaking up a lot of energy from that same swell. “The fraternity woke up to a solid surf that morning,” said our Welsh forecaster Jamie Bateman. “And I was one of them, checking the wind, praying that strong West wouldn’t move northwards.”
As the tide dropped though, the swell pulsed. “Surfers were putting in 3-4 hour shifts in the water, knowing this was a rare day, not unheard of, but definitely something to savour,” said Bateman. “Took me three days to recover but the local crew are still talking about it.”
“Surfing in Wales is a waiting game, and it’s all about the long game,” said Paul Gill, legendary surf photog, operating out of Wales.
“You have to be patient here and your day will come unlike most other places where it happens a lot more often and the end result is usually better. However we live here and like it. You also need to be flexible to travel around the nation in order to have a more fulfilling surfing experience and I’ve done that for decades and caught a lot of classic sessions around the country. It has meant making some life decisions that haven’t led to financial riches - but memories are better.”
If there’s one thing to take from Gill’s images, it’s that, this lil’ part of Wales feels like air town. Take Alys Barton here for example. “Yeah I’ve been trying to push it with airs, as something new to try in the water,” the Euro champ said. “Pat Langdon Dark really started it here. But you know, we see what Sierra Kerr and Caitlyn Simmers have been doing and yeah, it’s inspiring.”
As for the session on Tuesday. “There were some super fun waves, we’ve had bigger swell, which are super fun, but this swell was great. Got to surf with my brother, Elliot, he’s such a great person to surf with. I’ve been away for a while, so it’s always great to come home and surf with everyone. It’s special out there.”
Wednesday saw a short break in the action for the Celtic lands, and maybe for the better. But the North Atlantic won’t stop. The same swell that sent Nazare into a tizzy, Ireland into meltdown, the Basque into crazy mode (more on these soon) also arrived in the southern-most Celtic nation of Cornwall.
But with south wind! Argh! For those who have walked those lands for some time though, there’s little pockets of seclusion where a strong southerly will hold out ok. Harry Timson drove about an hour north: “I hadn’t surfed this spot for a few years so wasn’t too sure what to expect, all I knew is that there would definitely be waves and probably quite big ones.”
The resulting session would have suited bodyboarders more than stand up, a steep, wedgey wave that afforded a very small window for error on take-off. And even if you made that, it was likely to pinch as you set your line. “Impossible to get in the spot,” said Hazza. “Especially backside.”
Meanwhile, further south, Alan Stokes was up before first light on the barrel hunt. “I didn’t catch a wave for half hour then took a massive wave to the head, snapped my leash, swam about a mile after my board,” said Stokesy. “Then ran a couple miles from low tide around and back, by the time I was back out there, was so tired.”
The ol’ run around only inspired Stokesy though, who made a promise to himself to get one good one. “Next wave, sick barrel,” he laughs.
And then, Jayce Robinson’s insanity. The wave speaks for itself but by all accounts, and every local surfer in the area widely agrees, this is the best sand-bottomed barrel ever for this part of the UK. “You’ve captured the best barrel here to date,” said photographer James Warbey of Nigel Aird’s vid we ran on the site recently. “The best sand-bottomed tubes I’ve ever seen in the UK, so sick,” added fellow talented lensman, Luke Gartside. Another Cornish barrel hound, George Carpenter was succinct: “OMG.” Which pretty much sums this thing up.
Jayce Robinson barrel hunting at a west Cornish beachie. Vid by Nigel Aird.