A while back we gave the keys of the Finisterre Instagram to some of the boys as they set their sights North. Barrels and battered mars bars ensued. Noah Lane reports back from his blitz in Scotland with fellow ambassador Sandy Kerr and photographers Chris McClean and Lewis Arnold.
We came on a whim. A good chart turned sour and it was too far gone to make changes. North into the Highlands we collapse into the back of the van only 30 miles short of our destination, beyond delusion. Eight hours later the adrenaline is wearing thinner than my 4mm feels in the stiff south-westerly. I watch from close proximity, as an SUP is caught by the set of the day, three times over head and salutes his fate in Christ the Redeemer fashion. His board explodes from the back of the wave and pirouettes forty feet into the air.
In the ink blue we rise, excitement brimming. The chart reads 14ft at 17sec. Six inches of snow has fallen and everything is blanketed in a high hush. It's soft, the kind you get in alpine regions, laying a blanket of false comfort. The wind is light and it feels beautiful. First spot check is all too quick; part amateur, part purpose. It's big.
Sandy and I dash through the small channel and are ripped towards the edge of the shelf. We last ten minutes, tops. The first set catches Sandy inside and the last I see he is being washed in through a minefield. I catch a wave, ride it to the end and kick out. Glimpse black. Panic. Dive. I feel my leash break. Guttural fear. I dive under two more. The third seems twice the size and breaks six feet in front of me. I don't dive. The flotation vest I laughed at on the beach pinballs me straight towards shore. The rip against the eastern edge of the bay is vicious. I swim, spot my board bobbing just shy of a cave and aim for the dry shelf. A seal eyes me from a distance suspiciously.
Instagram is a strange place to find wisdom but all that's swirling through my head is Albee Layer's post from the night before regarding water safety and a far heavier Hawaiian wave. Two bucks a short distance from the North Sea and Atlantic butting heads, laughably underprepared. I see the fluorescent of a farmer's jacket waving me furiously towards shore and it feels like my tail couldn't get further between my legs. Soup and snow angels have never been so thoroughly enjoyed. I buy a piece of clothing to celebrate. Seal Skinz socks in memory of my friend in the bay.
Industrial surrounds and we're chasing the complete opposite. It spins and spins. Running the 40 minutes only brings an increased chance of ankle damage. We race along walls gazing beyond to the deserted remnants of Stroma and the pressure waves passing between the islands and the mainland. The sea rages and it reminds me of little known John Rae, Orcadian and Arctic explorer. First to discover the fate of Franklin and the North West passage; you can see why. Highland Park celebrations that night and despite its haunting a comforting warmth that glows hot down the neck. Lewis is made of stronger stuff than me.
Johnstons bakery breakfast and I test my New Year's resolution. The old women purvey warmth beyond the walls of the heated room and assure me the bacon and cheese tart is vegetarian. Croissants and coffee. We hunt storms beyond the edge of Scrabster and out past number 10. Explosions on flagstones. Flat shelves warping and wind sending waterfalls backwards.
Three below on the temperature gauge as we kick the Eisbacher to attention. There's a certain warmth beyond body heat when sleeping in a van with one of your best mates. Consecutive 24 hour days in someone's company and you see what they're made of. Chris has never looked better. Coffee and croissants again. A slow start. Caught halfway down a frozen waterfall speeds the process of arousal. Dart from reeling left to throaty right before the spring tide kills our chances. We contemplate packing it in, hitting the road early and getting some daylight hours behind the wheel but just as we're done, the old faithful lures us back.
Thurso East is head high and as dreamy as you can imagine. Chris finally suits up and races away, Roma Bonzer under arm. I steal his Russ Short; mine in 2 pieces, sheathed in board bag having dragged the corpse halfway around Europe in despair. We trade speed lines, hooting into the frigid air. It doesn't breach zero the whole time we're in the North. We bid Thurso farewell and make roads south. The best chipper in Scotland is in Helmsdale. Grease and Cola.
Alpine-like snow greets us in Aviemore. A breathless morning and clear skies. Brief exchange in the ski hire shop and we're in front of the best of the crowds. Six hours queues at Glen Coe- we've nailed it. Cairngorms is as good as Avoriaz. Knee-deep powder and the bindings replace boards. One wrong turn, and it's our best line of the trip through a bowl as good as any on the north coast. The friendliest scalding of my life: "Snow Patrol said under no circumstances to let anyone down there." A 30 minute hike out but we're grinning like idiots. We squeeze four hours then dash west towards our ferry. While headlines throw weather warnings, we've just won Scottish board-sports champions 2018, and it's only January.
Sometimes a whim pays off.
Words by Noah Lane