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Ross Williams heads to the highlands for a Scottish strike mission, scoring solid surf and wind, but the trip ends with a sting in the tale!



It has been a few years since I have been on a trip off the Isle of Wight due to Covid and starting up my café. I think it may have even been the PWA world cup racing event in Noumea back in 2019! My sailing has been restricted to home due to busy summers in the café and my work for Gaastra and Tabou. I was itching to get away finally once things had settled down. I had seen a few crew posting about trips to Ireland and Scotland, and I felt the urge to get away for some quality time on the water. I wanted to do some exploring like the old days. I knew fellow Isle of Wighters Tom Court and Sam Scadgell were planning a trip up to Thurso in October and I just decided to throw my hat into the ring and go along with them. I had good memories of previous missions to the highlands and was hungry for those Scottish waves before it got too cold up there.

I drove by myself all through the night for about seventeen hours with a stop when I got tired. I slept about an hour out from Thurso and knew I was within striking distance the next morning if there were waves. I arrived the morning before Sam and Tom flew up to Inverness and met them in the afternoon. We scored an evening surf in Dunnet Bay, which was actually pretty good. The wind was just picking up, but there was a point break working and the sun came out for the last twenty minutes.

Big Monday

Everything was pointing towards the Monday for windsurfing with a six-metre swell forecast along with 30-40 knot west winds, with a classic Scottish mixture of sun and heavy showers thrown into the mix. I had hardly windsurfed through the summer so I wasn’t what I would call sailing fit. It was very humbling to see how my body had become so unfit for sailing in these types of conditions. It wasn’t that I had lost my sailing ability, but more I was totally knackered much earlier than I would have been a few years ago. I’ve had a lot of things going on in my life, so I have not had the time to keep as fit as I used to.


We found a point break that looked to be firing with huge sets on the outside wrapping around a reef with a nice flat water launch spot. Up on the north coast of Scotland the conditions can be pretty intimidating. You are on your own if you get in trouble there. You can’t expect anyone to come and rescue you. We were at the beach early just in case the weather closed in and the sun disappeared. You can never trust the forecast up there and the weather can change every ten minutes with rain squalls and wind strength.

It was good to have Tom Court on the trip. Even though he is a kiter, it is good to have someone out there riding with you! We were egging each other on and screaming at each other from the channel. It’s cool that he is another guy from the Isle of Wight. I see myself doing a bit more with Tom and the other guys on the island now. We all have the same interests in surfing and foiling. Tom is a kiter and I am a windsurfer, but we both love surfing, winging and foiling. There are plenty of opportunities to get some fun stories by travelling together.

Long sessions

I managed to score two long sessions at the break we found. I started on the 4.8m and thought I was going to be underpowered, but as soon as I hit the water it was way too much. I dropped down to a 4.4m, but I was still hanging on for dear life. Each time I went out I felt I needed a smaller sail than the one I had just rigged. That is standard for Scotland as well. It was logo high and over mast on the sets. Further up the point it was huge and pretty intense. I wasn’t prepared to break all my new gear, as it was pretty gnarly up there. The wave kind of bent in as it wrapped around the reef. On the inside the wind swings really offshore so that part was not rideable. There was a sweet section in the middle of the wave that I was trying to ride. I was kicking out before the end section as that was also getting pretty shallow and there was a lot of kelp in the water.


The wind was fluctuating with the squalls. Every time the sun pinged out it was blowing over 30 knots and then in the squalls it would be super light and I was bogging around. In general, the wind increased through the day which was making it hard work as I was tired already. It was a great forecast, but as always in Scotland, the weather never stayed the same. I was either underpowered or overpowered within a spectrum of about ten minutes.

What you don’t see in the photos is the rolling swell out the back. We were getting just a taster of what was happening out there on the water. I saw some massive lumps out back and one set that was maybe treble mast high. Tom had gone in and I let that one go. I could have turned and gone, but I felt like the big ones were breaking a little bit wide and it was better to ride the medium swells that hugged the reef and were wrapping in, as they had more opportunity for nicer turns.


We rented a nice house that had a view overlooking Thurso. You could not quite see the break at Thurso East, but we could see the water to find out what the wind and waves were doing. We didn’t surf Thurso East, as it is the most crowded spot. It looked really good one morning, but it was crowded so we went and found another spot and surfed with just three of us out. We surfed a spot called Sandsides where you could see the Dounreay nuclear reactor. We knew that pro surfer Nathan Florence was up in Thurso so went to watch him surf a spot called Tens, which is the tenth windmill up from the reactor. It is a heavy slab and it just looked pretty big and nasty. I heard he got a few good ones. I looked at it and there was no way I would surf it. It was just insane.


For the rest of the trip, we surfed and wing foiled every day. I was only up there for four days, as I had to get back to the café. After the full-on windsurfing day, we actually went wing foiling on the outside reef near Sandsides. Then we scored another few days of really epic surf. We looked around and surfed some of the less gnarly slab waves, which were still pretty heavy. I have never really surfed a slab style wave before and it was all down to how brave you wanted to be. We had a good few sessions and explored around the coast. It was a classic boys surf and windsurf trip. I was amazed at all the different spots and activities you could do there. Wing foiling opens up more possibilities for spots and there is all great surfing for all levels of surfer.


On my last day, we were looking at a surf break at midday and I decided that I was going to start driving home, as it wasn’t epic. I had my credit card in my pocket and when I got to my van, I realized I had lost it somewhere on the beach. I was exhausted and already running on fumes by this stage. Kindly Sam lent me his debit card to get home. So everything was fine until after driving all through the night, my van broke down! I was on a roundabout coming off the M40 onto the A34 at about 5 a.m. It was as it was starting to get busy and I just conked out. I think the gearbox had gone. Luckily, I was able to get the van onto the outside lane, but I was in the middle of a roundabout! I was knackered and now had to deal with this! Luckily, I had breakdown cover and I also rang the emergency services to control the traffic as I was causing chaos. By the time I was off the roundabout it was rush hour. It was an unexpected nightmare ending to, until that point, had been a great trip. If it weren’t for the breakdown it would have been a really successful strike mission! I ended up getting a tiny courtesy car and finally made it home late in the afternoon. My van came back four days later!

So was it all worth it? I usually weigh up my trips by the amount they cost, divided by how good the conditions were, how many waves I scored, what sports I did and how much fun I had. I did a sum for this one and the price tag was quite heavy, as the van repair didn’t leave much change out of £5000! Should I have stayed at home? I think I would still go again, but probably but take someone else’s van!

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