Thurso played host to the 2017 Scottish National Surfing Championships over the Easter bank holiday weekend, drawing surfers from across Scotland. The event continues to grow in both scale of organisation and standard of competition. This year saw 100 competitors battling it out in 42 heats across 10 separate divisions. And with places for the national squad up for grabs, the level of competition was fierce.
The event, organised by the Scottish Surfing Fedration, was a great success. Not only a huge amount of competition went down, but also the screening of Malcolm Anderson’s new Thurso based surf film “01847”, talks on the history and future of Scottish Surfing and a live band night made for an all-round cracking weekend.
While the waves did not quite deliver the renowned class that Thurso is famous for, conditions were contestable and use was made of the wide variety of back-up options in the area to maximise the swell and wind on offer.
The under-16s category was the first to hit the water and competitors in this mixed category were greeted with a small, clean swell pulsing into Thurso beach. Finn MacDonald from Tiree made his intentions clear from the start, milking the small waves to get his turns in and posting some highly impressive scores in the process, including a massive 17.60 two-wave total in his semi-final heat to advance. Fellow Tiree surfer Ben Larg has been putting in the water time of late which is paying dividends – his ability to find speed on smaller waves and fast maturing style saw him easily progress to the final. Elliot Young from Dunbar also surfed well to reach the final stage.
The final was held at 1-2ft waves at the beach break of Dunnet Bay. Conditions may have made Tiree lads Finn MacDonald and Ben Larg feel at home, as they finished 1st and 2nd respectively, followed by Elliot in 3rd and Craig in 4th.
Unanimous amongst spectators and competitors was the rapidly improving level of surfers in this category who will no doubt be giving more senior competitors a run for their money in the years to come.
The under-14s is another mixed category and saw a good turnout. There was good representation from various hotspots of Scottish surfing and the juniors showed the future of Scottish surfing is very bright indeed. It was Ben Larg who stood out in the semi-finals, using his competition experience to advance with some smooth surfing. He was joined in the final by east-coasters Elliot Young and Michael Mooney and Thurso local Craig McLachlan.
The final offered tricky conditions as a lull tested competitors’ patience, but local experience clearly paid off as Craig took down the final by catching just two waves.
Granite Reef Under 18 boys
Another hotly contested category this year was the Granite Reef under-18 boys, full of frothing groms hoping to stamp their mark on the most senior of the junior categories. The semi-finals were held at Dunnet Bay in small surf. All competitors posted high wave counts, but the higher scores proved more illusive in the challenging conditions. Nonetheless, it was an east coast vs west coast final as Tiree’s Finn McDonald and Ben Larg faced east coasters Peter Laing and Michael Wimbledon.
The final was held in onshore Thurso East, with 3ft sets coming through in the windy conditions. The boys went to work. Michael Wimbledon from Dunbar did very well showing a hard charging mentality having just competed in the bodyboard category beforehand but it was Tiree’s pint-sized ripper Ben Larg, however, who carved his way to victory on the sets.
Blackhouse Watersports Under-18s Girls
The female categories have seen a massive improvement over the past years and so the under-18s girls showcases what the junior females are up to. The straight final event saw 5 girls take on small but rippable waves at Dunnet Bay. Clover Christopherson from Dunbar linked several turns together and picked the best waves. But it was to be CBBC star Iona McLachlan who took the event down in impressive style, showing excellent wave selection and a clinical approach to riding her waves.
Coast to Coast Junior Bodyboard
The junior bodyboard event saw a straight final with 4 groms taking to the water in small Dunnet Bay. While not ideal waves for bodyboarding, the finalists showed their ability to adapt with Oisin Strachan from Dunbar drawing some clean lines and managing to get a few el rollos out. Jamie Gibson from Glasgow also showed what determination can do by bodyboarding well in the weak waves. The top 2 juniors advanced to compete in the open bodyboard category to be held at Thurso East.
Seafoam Open Womens
The open womens category is fiercely competitive with places in the Scotland squad up for grabs, with several females having already competed on the international stage. The semis were run at Thurso East in an ebbing tide, making conditions tricky. Local knowledge paid off, however, with locals Phoebe Strachan and Shoana Blackadder taking a clinical approach to their waves to progress. Diane Christopherson also took on daughter Clover in the semi-final, with Diane surfing well to advance.
Diane, Phoebe and Shoana were joined in the final by Megan MacKay from MacDuff who is currently on a roll having recently won the Nordic Surf Games in Norway. Megan’s frothy approach to surfing is clearly translating to great results, and her committed approach at Thurso East in the final was enough to take first place. She was closely followed by Phoebe Strachan into 2nd whose surfing improves each season as she puts in the water time both at home and abroad.
Y-Not Bar and Grill Masters
The masters category sees the over-35s go head-to-head to show how experience in the surf produces solid surfing. Several big names in Scottish surfing were in the mix with Chris Noble, Mark Cameron and Martin McQueenie all vying for the title.
The tricky Thurso East conditions were all about wave choice and linking turns to impress the judges and it was local legend Chris Noble who advanced to the final along with Andrew MacLeod, Mark Cameron and Thurso’s Doug McAlister.
The final saw low tide offering up tricky conditions and renowned tube monger Chris Noble was unable to get inside his favourite place so finishing 2nd. Competition maestro Mark Cameron who has claimed the open mens category 7 times once again showed his competitive prowess with some clinical turns to finish on the top spot.
Granite Reef Longboard
The longboard category is always a fun one with this year being no exception, with 16 keen loggers vying for the title of Scotland’s number one. While last year saw competitors driving their 9 foot logs through spitting barrels at Thurso, this year saw knee high waves allowing for more classic longboard moves.
Current Scottish and Lowland champion Sam Christopherson showed why he dominates this category with some stylish cross-stepping and cutbacks, staying in the wave’s power pocket. Small waves encourage party moves, particularly on the longboard, which the judges ignore following ISA judging rules. The small waves favoured the east coasters as several big names such as Chris Clarke and Scott Main bowed out in the early rounds.
The finals were held at waist high, onshore Thurso East with reigning champ Sam Christopherson alongside fellow east-coaster Jamie Marshall, Fraserburgh local Iain Masson and Scottish surf legend Malcolm Findlay, who was one of the pioneers of Scottish surfing.
The waist high peelers allowed for classic longboard manouevres and all finalists showed their ability to mix style with funcionality. It naturally came down to the wire with just 0.43 separating Sam Christopherson who came in second from first placed Malcolm Findlay whose years of experience shone through with some classic drop-knee turns and all round style.
Pentland Hotel Open Mens
The Open mens category sees the largest number of entrants all eager to take away the title. A great standard of surfing was displayed by all competitors in the early rounds, as windy Thurso East served up both rights and lefts.
Tricky conditions took out Andrew Robertson and Sam Christopherson in the early stages, but several other favourites such as Chris Noble, Mark Boyd and Mark Cameron remained in contention showing their ability to compete regardless of conditions.
A stand-out through the early rounds was Fraserburgh’s George Watt, returning to competition after injury, who showed a powerful and controlled approach to the choppy conditions. Kieren Cameron was solid through early rounds and progressed as far as the semis along with the usual suspects but a Quarter final second place finish for Mark ‘Scratch’ Cameron meant that Semi 2 was a stacked heat with favourites Mark Boyd, last years champ Mark Cameron and past champ Chris Noble had to fight it out early for a place in the final. Boydie came out on top as he had done in all his previous heats with Scratch bowing out before the final for the first time since the 90’s.
The waves didn’t allow for massive scores, but the men battled it out to link together their turns with Allyn Harper pulling some great floaters to make it over the sections at the peeling right-hander. He was joined in the final by Thurso locals Mark Boyd and Chris Noble along with George Watt.
The final kept spectators on the edge of their seats and the surfers milked what was on offer as the tide dropped and played the waiting game for the bigger sets. An interference decision went the wrong way for Chris Noble, “predominant” being the key word in the rulebook when George Watt took off on a left. Chris Noble knows the wave better than most but was unable to find a back-up score in the windy conditions to finish in 4th. Allyn Harper, who had made his first nationals final, continued his floater and top turn campaign with a solid performance to come in 3rd.
Meanwhile, both Mark Boyd and George Watt made full use of their waves and showed the variety of their repertoires by drifting the fins in George’s case and hacking off the top in Mark’s case.
In the end, however, George Watt won the day with some great surfing, catching a left-hander and linking several turns before drifting the tail into the closeout section, giving him a combined two wave score of 14.00. Mark Boyd was close behind with a combined wave total of 12.87 placing 2nd for the second consecutive year.
George Watt (BSC)
Mark Boyd (NSSC)
Allyn Harper (MFSR)
Chris Noble (NSSC)
Coast to Coast Bodyboard
Bodyboarding in Scotland has a core hardcore crew and the category saw 8 frothing spongers do their best in challenging cross shore Thurso-East. While the waves did not allow for more radical manouevres, stand-outs included the old guard of Tim and Josh Christopherson who posted high scores through spin and roll combos to advance to the final. Hot on their heels was Max Ferguson-Hook who has progressed enormously over the last year and will no doubt break the Christopherson deadlock on the category soon.
These three riders were joined in the final by east-coaster Michael Wimbledon whose enthusiasm is evident in his hard-charging approach in both sponge and stand-up categories. Definitely one to watch out for!
The final saw Josh run away with the win, reclaiming it from brother Tim just eking into second place in the dying moments, putting Max into 3rd and young Michael as runner-up in 4th.
1st Josh Christopherson
2nd Tim Christopherson
3rd Max Ferguson-Hook
4th Michael Wimbledon
Results from #ScotChamps2017 will be used to select the Scotland Team for EuroSurf 2017 due to take place in Norway in September/October.
Overall, the event was a huge success and thanks must be given to all the organisers and sponsors. Huge thanks to Scottish Surfing Federation volunteers, Sally Harris, Martin McQueenie and the other lifeguards, the North Shore Surf Club and the local surfers. Also many thanks to our additional Event Sponsors – Great Venture Surf Company, Staunch Industries, Spice Tandoori, Wavegarden Scotland, Dounreay Communities Fund, Highland Council.