A friendship built over many years, and many miles of distance. At the tail end of 2022, Ambassador Mike Lay set out to the Western Isles to link up with an old friend of Finisterre, Colin Macleod. Greeted with true Hebridean hospitality, they shared stories, drank whiskey and rode waves together at Sgarasta, many years after Mike's first visit.
The Many Steps To Sgarasta
The first time I spoke to Colin was via text. Demi Taylor had passed me his number when she heard I was heading to the Western Isles. We had piled into my Mum's VW campervan, a green T4 with a pop top, and trundled up from Cornwall to try to surf at midnight during the summer solstice. That trip was a slow burner, we didn't find waves where we thought we might and we missed waves by dint of pushing tides. We were perpetually one step behind. Colin was off island, he guided us through the occasional text message, positive yet vague, welcome but not overly helpful. It was then that I passed Sgarasta for the first time, first drove along the foot of the weathered hills and looked west across the swathe of beach.
My second trip to the island was on two wheels, an expedition with Chris Maclean, Kepa Acero and Lee-Anne Curran. I met Colin for the first time and found his vague positivity to be a very real positivity, one which sat neatly with him wherever he went. He fed us whiskey and let us sleep in his bus. Drove us to surf when our aching legs wouldn't allow us to cycle. He brought us orange juice and croissants one morning on the beach at Dalmore. Our surfs were infrequent and joyful. We rode past Sgarasta, on our way from the ferry at Leverburgh to Tarbert, the wind was light but a fat rain fell and I counted from one to a hundred over and over in my head. I may have glanced across at the beach but my focus was certainly on the road ahead, on keeping going. We pitched our tents on a patch of grass outside the hardwear shop in Tarbert, we were flooded in the night.
My third trip was during November with my friends Harry and Toby, we stayed in Colin and his wife Kathryn's spare room. He fed us some more, this time sheep reared on his croft and wild venison shot by his friend Angus. We drank cans of Tennent's and drove around the island. We saw a golden eagle, who watched us for half a minute from a rock on the western coast road. His dog Sparky curled in beside us during the long evenings. We surfed good waves, and watched frightening waves from the shoulder. I sometimes regret not trying harder to ride the frightening waves. We surfed some truly spectacular waves on our final day.
My most recent visit was alongside my friends Seth and Luke. We planned the trip months in advance, it was intended to be more of a writing trip, a time to focus on a collaborative project that Colin and I had been discussing for a while. But the insistence of groomed wave over boulder, of groomed wave over sand, had a different idea. The forecast was superb, a seven day run of swell and favourable wind. We surfed the west coast delights of Lewis. Gorged on longboard waves which few others wanted. Spent the long evenings surf doped and happy, slept heavily after water and whiskey. On the day the swell faded we went down to Harris to take in the sights. We gawped at the beauty of Luskintyre, stood transfixed at the mirror smooth lochs. We stretched our surf-weary legs past the golf course to Sgarasta, a fair few tired steps, to see a tiny left and a tiny right crumbling in front of Taransay.
By the time we'd been to the van and back to fetch our stuff, the wind had dropped and the tide had inched in. In a trip of many wonderful steps, of fortune above and beyond, of sea eagles, golden eagles and falcons, we stepped out from the Sgarasta dunes and into an hour of absolute beauty.
Snow fell, a rainbow arced across the Harris Hills, the world was drenched in setting sunshine. Colin and I shared waves at Sgarasta.