We've been waiting for a day like this. The kind of swell that brings people together, and offers waves for all abilities and sizes. Luckily for the south west UK and Ireland, that's just what happened on a sunny autumn Sunday last weekend.
With a swell that peaked at 12.5ft@14 seconds in the morning for some places, this session meant; seek shelter. But with a light offshore breeze in the morning, some of the more popular beachies began to stir to life. For some, it meant seeking a bit further, driving a bit longer, and if you didn’t mind that, you’d have found a little licking somewhere.
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And that’s the thing about this session. By the late afternoon, it was kind of done. Before that, you couldn’t drive anywhere without passing someone you know, or turn up to the same spot and see people you haven’t seen in a while. All looking to figure out what a meaty forecast like this would do to the beachies of the south west UK.
There was camaraderie and questions or statements like 'hey, let’s paddle out here’, ‘there’s a channel there’ – which ended up with some people getting the waves of their lives. Talk about blowing out the small wave summer mush, and straight into a rip-roarer of a day. You could feel this thing, in the ocean and on land.
“It definitely felt like the start of the winter swells arriving yesterday,” said Cornwall-based longboarder Steph Rogers.
“After a summer of surfing 2ft waves or smaller, it felt good to be slightly out of my comfort zone. I got a couple of nice long lefts but they were few and far between.”
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Steph’s partner, Charlie Russell, a surf instructor, said: “It seemed like everyone out there was frothing for some action, just sending it into close-out oblivion!”
Photographer Clare James had her lens trained further north towards Newquay.
"The swell arrived early but the wind took ages to swing around," said Clare.
"I spent a couple of hours watching the flags until finally the wind turned offshore and the waves cleaned up."
UK big wave warrior Tom Butler was also knocking around the Newquay area, even with one good foot: "I dropped some wood on my big toe last weekend. Thought it was broke so I was just stoked to paddle out and be popping up! Some heavy waves about.
"North Fistral was cranking. There were long waits, but there were flurries of gold for sure. We also managed to sneak a couple of sunny drainers yesterday afternoon too, to top it all off."
Harry Timson going big, the only way he knows how. Vid by Robert Blackett.
While Tom was looking for big, stand up barrels (and let’s be honest, who isn’t), Mr Harry Timson was sending it skywards a touch further west in Porthtowan.
"The swell was sick! Stoked the winter has started showing its teeth," he says.
"There were definitely a few fun ones if you know where to look. The vibe in the water is always good when there's swell. Everyone has a smile on their face when we all share."
MSW forecaster Tony Butt talks us through the origins of this swell.
"The swell originated from a centre of low pressure that started deepening just south of Cape Farewell on Wednesday 12th. Over the following 24 hours it moved northwest, intensified and stalled about 400 miles south of Iceland, becoming a powerful system by late Thursday 13th. The main centre then suddenly moved south, and the storm transformed into a complex system with additional centres off Scotland and the Faeroe Island.
"The area of strong northwest winds on the southwest flank of the main centre generated a pulse of largish swell into mid areas and then further south. The movement of the windfield itself affectively extended the distance over which the swell-generating wind could blow (the fetch), making the swell more solid.
"As the main centre weakened during the weekend, yet another centre formed west of Galicia, and moved north towards Ireland. This kept local winds from the south or southeast, meaning clean conditions coinciding with the peak of the swell for north and northwest-facing spots.
"In mid areas such as Cornwall, the swell increased late Saturday, but with strong southwest winds. Wave heights peaked early Sunday at around six to eight feet, as winds backed around to the southeast."
And did you know this same swell awakened Portugal’s powerhouse of a wave at Nazare? See HERE.
Cover image, Adam 'Bearman' Griffiths by Jonathan Snook.