Winter, at least here in the UK, is the season that separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to paddle surfing. For most the dark nights, freezing temperatures and often challenging conditions are enough to put their ride of choice into hibernation until the weather turns but for the faithful it becomes a calculated game of studying forecasts; cross-tabulating wind direction with swell direction and then trying to find a location that will offer the best chance of sup surfing nirvana.
As many of you will have seen on the news last week the North Sea was an unruly, angry mess with storm surge warnings in place all along the East Coast courtesy of a wild storm raging to the North Sea. With large waves sending spray 75 feet skywards and 30kts of offshore wind you’d have had to have been completely loco to venture out on a SUP last Friday. Saturday was a similar story with more wind than anticipated, 3 degree temps and talk of snow making the general consensus, no thanks.
Loco Boss Joe was already in touch with a couple of the North East’s better riders, namely Nick Graham and Simon Dunton who are both known faces on the UK’s competitive paddle surfing circuit and have the stomach for larger waves which always helps. Magic soon turned in tragic seaweed with the wind still making it’s presence felt on Sunday but with seemingly endless rain we thought the wind might not materialise. A loose plan was made for Sunday morning with Joe and Nick driving South to meet Simon at an undisclosed reef spot on the East Coast that’s known to provide the goods when everywhere else looks like death on a stick. We arrived early and looking out across the bay from an elevated vantage point it was clear to see that the wave was looking pretty meaty. As ever Simon was reliably late and after the usual car park mincing, quite a bit of perfect wave time had been wasted.
Unfortunately this particular spot isn’t a two minute paddle out, in fact its a 10 minute walk and then another 20 mins motivated paddling before you’re even at the inside shoulder! That said as we got closer the size became evident and you could see excitement coupled with a little bit of ‘you don’t want to get that wrong’ on everyone’s faces. Nick was up first to test his resolve and caught a good head and half hollow peeler which he was slashing around on connecting up with the inside reef and riding it all the way in gangnam style. Simon was up next with his distinctive style, staying close to the pocket with his focus being setting a new personal best for number of cutbacks?! Then it was Joe’s turn who prescribes to the full throttle school of paddle surfing and his opening wave was no different, vertical drop into a full speed bottom turn, roundhouse cutback to another deep carve off the bottom, a hack off the top and an attempted late smack on the inside that didn’t end well, resulting in an ice cream headache having to take five set waves on the head before an exit presented itself.
As the tide went out the waves just got squarer, but we’d all settled into our grooves by then and the usual male bravado translated into us pushing ourselves to see just how late we could take off, slowing down for a chance of brief cover up or indeed just taking one on the head for the chance of some sweet glory amongst our peers if only for a brief moment.
Sadly the wind decided to arrive as forecast so what had started as near perfection soon turned into a bobble-fest so after a few more ‘big ones’ it was decided to can it and move further South to another location that might offer some much need protection. Don’t get it wrong the waves were certainly worth the extra effort getting out there but when you’re tired and cold the last thing you need is a mile paddle back to shore and walk up a massive hill so when we got back to the car park re-hydration and getting some warm clothes on were high on the agenda.
‘Stoke-onator’ Simon was eager to get moving down the coast but Nick’s blood to booze levels were dangerously low so we were being made aware of ‘the match’ even at 2pm! Wetsuits off, quick drive-by at the supermarket on route and we were almost there for the intended double dip. When we finally got to where we were heading there were a couple of SUPers already out and the waves looked pretty soft compared to what we’d just scored and with the rain freezing cold and mist starting to come in Joe and Nick decided to can it and watch/snap Simon (well in theory) but with a pub handy it would have been rude not to have gone in for a quick pint. In fairness we did venture out into the beer garden to see if the swell had got any better but soon concluded we needed to ditch the van and continue the afternoon pints, as is often the way with these testosterone-fuelled surf meets.
It wasn’t long before everyone was back in Skelton practising their ‘surf curls’ at the nearest watering hole, interspersed with a few frames of pool, some bandit pound pumping and listening to the locals murder pretty much everything on the karaoke. It was soon pizza-o-clock before we were all thinking about bed with another full day of paddle surfing afoot.
So much for the sunshine and windless forecast, getting up we were met with fog and endless drizzle so even at a more camera-friendly beach break our aspirations of getting some mag-worthy snaps were soon laid to rest. That said there was a nice left working so Joe left the goofy-footers to it for about an hour and caught up with some local surfers he hadn’t seen for ages. The intention was to take some snaps but visibility just got worse.
The call was made to head back to Simon’s to refuel and check our emails etc while the weather sorted itself out with all eyes being on the afternoon. It was still raining when we got there so the DSLR was out and asking someone to stand in it in a balmy 6 degrees was a big ask so we set Simon’s GoPro to snaps and just all headed out hopeful that the offshore wind would ease and the wave would reset to the day before’s levels of epic.
After another arduous paddle out with glove-less hands burning in the icy wind we were back at the shoulder with high hopes of getting some GoPro gold. Props to Simon staying on the inside and taking a few on the head in an effort to get the photos. We were all soon charging around the pocket again and as the wind finally dropped scratching into them became much easier. Nick was linking up sections nicely on the 8’9” El Diablo, Joe was really showing the speed wins of the Aztec putting together some really nice waves and Simon was testing his resolve on some steeper take offs and putting some more power into his turns on his Smik custom.
We must have had about two and half hours out there with everyone cooking on gas; the advantages of a reef break making it possible to surf with real style wave after wave and giving everyone the confidence to go for new moves and perfect turns in a relatively safe environment even at double over head and beyond on the set.
Needless to say we were confident we’d have some killer snaps to circulate to the print titles but once again the GoPro photo setting showed it’s unpredictability, in fact it managed to miss 95% of the action everyone would want to see! Storm or at least aftermath chasing with the desire to get some great photos and we score grey freezing cold weather and then the tech lets us down, fuck sticks! The joys of the winter sup surfing, great waves but bloody freezing and a strong chance of rubbish light so you can’t document anything. Poor Simon having to scroll through about 10,000 images to get the few you’re seeing here!
Measured against the magazine content fail and baltic weather all three of us had stupid grins slapped all over our faces every wave we caught, everyone’s surfing came up a level and it was a great excuse for a random piss up in a town largely full of inbreds. What more could you possibly want?!
Here’s to more winter sessions or consequence with better light, equipment upgrades to keep our photo-hungry fans happy and similar levels of stoke and banter.