I hadn't planned to surf Thurso East. It would be accurate to say I had planned not to surf it. Thurso is Viking for Thor's River, but it's really Thor's wave, a legendary reef break, regularly cited as "world class". I really didn't think I was good enough. But there's only so long you can stare at a wave before the desire to have a go takes over. And having surfed along the north coast all week, Sunday seemed to be the day: late afternoon, on the incoming tide and just over head high. Not epic conditions. But certainly just outside my comfort zone. With my heart in my mouth, I suited up and headed out to join the four surfers already surfing.
What a disaster.
Windy, choppy and way out of my league. Worse still, the four surfers (four mad but friendly Norwegians) soon headed for shore, leaving me out there alone. The moon rose over the ruined silhouette of the castle, the light faded, and the mermaid fingers of doubt started to shiver over me. I've surfed alone at dusk before, but mostly in Barceloneta. And a Mediterranean beach break lit by street lighting is very different to a renowned, slate slab in Northern Scotland. I made a couple of waves, but they were foaming and broken by the time I was on my feet, and hardly worthy of the name.
The next morning, though, was entirely different. Sunny, with not a breath of wind, and occasional overhead sets coming through.
The hordes surfed it all morning, apparently, locals and visitors alike. But by the time I got there at around one, there were just four art-school students up from Falmouth, having the absolute time of their lives. I joined them (twice their age, half their confidence, quarter of their skill). This was one of them, just before I went in. Click on the photo to see the scale.
I caught three waves. Just three. But the first was probably the most powerful wave I've caught in my life, a voracious, undying monster whose power seemed never to diminish.I caught it cleanly, taking the drop, crouching into a rail-grab on my backhand, not really sure what was happening. And suddenly I was powering along in the seething jaws of the beast, just hanging on, desperate to stay on my feet. And marvelling at the whole experience. Until finally it was all too much, and the beast lunged at me, sending me down to the rocky bottom, where a slightly grazed hand reminded me how shallow it is (and where was all that dam kelp now?)
The second was just as good, if not quite as powerful, the third an inelegant ballet of imbalance before I finally remembered that two legs good, three legs bad. After that, it turned to shit. I stayed in well past my cool-by-date, missing waves and going over the falls repeatedly thanks to a desperate combination of cold, cowardice and courtesy.
But I still got out with a smile. And I'm still smiling today!