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When the first major swell of 2023 pounded the UK in early January, Ross Williams hit the ground running and scored an epic winter session at his favourite break!

Words John Carter and Ross Williams.

Photos: John Carter.


The months of January and February in 2023 were one of the wettest on record in the UK and it was quite rare to even catch a glimpse of sunshine. Day after day of cloudy mizzle seemed to be the norm. In a word it was miserable! On the bright side, we had plenty of windy days over Christmas and New Year, so it wasn’t such a dreary time of year for the windsurfing fraternity who don’t mind sailing through all the seasons in all weather.

Although we are usually not short of wind and waves at this time of year, the real quality days can be few and far between. Many south coast beaches are exposed to the wind generated swell and can be horrifically choppy when the wind is howling. Unless you are James Cox who loves the gnarly side onshore heavy waves at Southbourne, most folk are looking for something more manageable. Ideally, we need one of those epic long period swells along with a spot that can hold those waves, with some form of shelter and a more forgiving wind direction. At least that is the theory, finding those conditions can be tricky depending on where you live.


It did not take long into 2023 when the surf forecasts were highlighting the first major swell of year courtesy of a giant low pressure gathering pace in the Atlantic about halfway between Iceland and the Azores. Open ocean wave heights of 40 feet were forecast with the brunt of the swell set to hit Ireland, southwest of the UK, France and Portugal over the weekend.  What caught my eye with this forecast was the aftermath of the main event on Monday with clearing winds and solid swell still feeding up the English Channel. With north westerly winds and a big swell inbound my first thought was the Bench at Kimmeridge but during the weekdays, the break is usually closed due the military shooting range. So, with that in mind as well as the recent run of travel disruption on the railways, I decided to stay at home for this one and hook up with Ross Williams. There was even sunshine on the forecast which was definitely an added bonus.

Down on the southern tip of the Island there are a few spots that could be perfect for this forecast although northwest winds were possibly going to be too offshore. The other obstacle to factor in were the tides in the English Channel. When the wind is blowing with the tide, many south coast breaks can be quite messy. Just our luck high tide was forecast for midday, so we were going to have to be patient and wait for conditions to clean up. You can rock up at Niton, at the very southern tip of the Island when the tide is pushing and the sea state is usually a mess with a huge current flowing eastward. The moment the tide turns however, the break becomes a whole new playing field, with the current flowing back out of the channel which totally cleans up the waves.


Ross was hungry to score his first windsurf session of 2023 and was down at the break by 10am but it was way too early! The positive message that he did relay was the fact the surf was pretty huge and he reckoned it was going to be an epic windsurfing day later. He wanted to check the west side of the island in the meantime which would be side shore and possibly breaking on some of the outer reefs.

By 10.45am we were both in the carpark at Compton, on the west coast, looking out on an angry sea state with mast high plus waves and a solid 30 knots of wind blowing west-north westerly. It looked pretty wild and epic to me, from a photography point of view but Ross was not looking so keen. He was looking for that classic combo of clean waves and more offshore winds, so we made the decision to head back to the bottom of the island and wait for the tide to turn. My patience was wearing thin.

Back at Niton, we were greeted with logo high sets peeling down the point as we made our way down the bumpy lane into the parking area. When you see it like this from this vantage point you know it is going to be a good day. I remember many years ago Dave White bringing his giant van down the track and then meeting a bunch of vans heading back out the other way. Somehow this remote bumpy lane ended in gridlock as Whitey was unable to reverse or turn his van in the tiny turning space when he finally made it down the hill. Those were the days! Today, Ross has a similar sized juggernaut of a van and always has to make sure he is at Niton early to blag a parking space, before all the surfers rock up and battle for the few spots available.

Down in front of the caravans, we had a much clearer picture of the set up and although the tide was still high, it had turned and the waves were cleaning up by the minute. With a northwest wind, there was a bit of a wind shadow, but out in the wave zone, it was clear there was plenty of breeze. Ross was frothing and headed straight to the van to rig his trusty 4.5m Gaastra IQ and the 2023, Tabou, Dave Curve 88 litre board.


With the perfect side offshore direction and clean waves reeling down the point, the set up really did look awesome considering this was the south coast in the midst of winter. After rigging up, Ross threw his kit off the rocks and swam his gear out to the wind line. A few walkers who were passing, commented ‘is that guy crazy or what!’.

Once out into the waves Ross was well powered on his 4.5m and sailing alone he was able to pick and choose whatever set wave he wanted. I decided to move into the field towards the St Catherine’s lighthouse to where I could be closer to the action but as I was crossing an area where a small stream was running into the sea, I sank like quicksand into the mud. The mud went straight over my wellington boots and I had to crawl out through the thick mud in my socks, put my camera gear down and then go back to rescue the boots which were now full of muddy brown gunge…fantastic! I knew Ross would not accept this as an excuse for missing all the shots, so I had to plug on regardless in my soaking socks and sodden wellies. You really had to be there to witness what a mess I was in.

Despite the swamp incident the conditions were firing and Ross scored a few epic waves all to himself before heading back in to refuel. There is normally a window between high and low tide where it is really good for surfing and Ross was debating whether to snag a few waves on his foil board before hitting the water for the late session on the windsurf. Somehow while all this procrastination was going on, he managed to lock his keys in his van. The only spare set were over half hours’ drive away at his café in Shanklin. JC, to the rescue with a screwdriver and some other tools that just happened to be on the back seat of my car. With a mixture of leverage, a few broken hinges on a small side window and a stick to somehow snag the keys that were on the dashboard we were back in action within thirty minutes.


The surf was now pumping and the wind had died under a rain shower, so Ross hit the water to grab a few waves prone foiling. By the time he was back on dry land the wind was now back up, all the surfers had cleared the water and it was looking like epic wave sailing with some beautiful light after the clouds had passed. The low sun was shining onto the sea with a beautiful warm light as Ross headed out for the late session. This time round I managed to avoid the swamp in the field next to the lighthouse and managed to snag a few nice shots of Ross ripping up the waves further up the point. Ross sailed right until the sun disappeared behind the clouds wrapping up a glorious winter wave session. With a few magical moments to look back on this was not a bad way to kick off 2023!

Of course, it had been a thirsty day and an obligatory stop at the Spyglass Inn in Ventnor on the way home was a mandatory requirement after such an awesome mission.


First of all, it was awesome to be sailing in the new year and it wasn’t too cold. I did not get those heat burns on my hands which was a bonus. It wasn’t massive as the angle of the swell didn’t really get up the channel. We still scored some amazing clean waves with a decent shape to them. The wind was an ideal direction too. If it was a little bit bigger it would have been insane. I rarely look for that stormy windsurfing anymore. I am into the wave riding and finding clean waves. I feel if I can just pull off one really nice turn then that can make a session for me. That is what I am looking for, I want to get into the right pocket and right section of a wave and then complete a turn. It is all about that one epic turn that explains the whole feeling of surfing and windsurfing combined. I need to have speed, dig in the rail and complete the turn. It does not need to be vertical. You know when you have done it because it feels complete. I did not sail a lot in 2022 so I am just trying to make sure now that I am available to hit the water when we have epic conditions.  I want to be able to get my fitness back up and be able to score those magical moments. At the moment I feel like I am not as fit as I used to be so I am looking for that one moment that will encourage me to go back for the next session. One decent turn or one magical moment will do it for me. That one magic moment is the one that is going to stick in your mind, so that is what I am after. It is also beautiful to be able to sail so close to home, sunny not too cold and awesome waves…what more can you want!”


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