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FOUR SEASONS: THURSO’S MAIN STAGE GOES DARK FOR A YEAR

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 21 April 2012

“IT WAS just so windy, man. The windchill factor was incredible.” Fraserburgh surfer Mark “Scratch” Cameron is recalling the less-than-perfect conditions that graced this year’s Scottish Surfing Championships at Thurso: lumpy 3-5ft waves harried by an icy north-westerly knifing in off the Pentland Firth. At 34 years old, Cameron is getting on a bit in surfing terms, but he’s still able to beat young whippersnappers ten years his junior, and this year he picked up his sixth Scottish Championships title, putting him within touching distance of his friend Iain Masson’s all-time record of seven. “It was really blowing onshore so it was taking five or six minutes to paddle out the back,” Cameron says. “That only gave you time to get two, maybe three waves in a heat, so you had to make sure they were good ones.”

At almost any other surf spot in the country, a howling onshore wind means it’s time to go to the pub, but Thurso East, the reef just below Thurso Castle, is special. The shape of the reef, and the angle at which it meets oncoming lines of swell, means that even when it’s blowing a hoolie the waves always have perfect shape, peeling with machine-like regularity for hundreds of yards before finally exploding on to barnacle-encrusted rocks.

In the final, Cameron was run knuckle-chewingly close by Thurso local Chris Noble, who impressed the judges with some majestic, powerful turns, but in the end he hung on to win by a fraction of a point. “Me and Chris have pretty much slugged it out for the last ten years,” Cameron says of their ongoing rivalry. “I think there was about half a point in it this time – it was absolutely touch and go.”

Until recently, winning the Scottish Championships would have meant an automatic wildcard entry into round one of the O’Neill Coldwater Classic – a professional surfing contest that started coming to Thurso in 2006. This year, however, the Classic has been cancelled to allow the sponsors to focus on an event in their hometown of Santa Cruz, California. Cameron says Thurso will feel the effects.

“When the contest comes to town every hotel’s booked out, every pub’s full for the week, the place is just bustling, but now we’ve got nothing happening at all. But I’m very, very confident that there’ll be more pro contests there again. Most really good waves on the planet are policed by locals who want the waves to themselves, but Thurso is unique – it’s such a good wave and the locals are pretty welcoming.”

The welcoming nature of Thurso surfers and the quality of the waves at Thurso East are both highlighted in a forthcoming feature film about British surfing entitled The Endless Winter. Directed by Matt Crocker and James Dean, it follows two Cornish surfers, Mark “Egor” Harris and Mitch Corbett as they tour the UK, visiting the various surfing communities and charting the history of the sport, which has grown from cult pastime to global megabusiness. The filmmakers are releasing extracts from the film one surf zone at a time, and the Thurso teaser is now online at www.theendlesswinter.co.uk

Not only does it show Thurso East at its thumping best, it also features a soundbite from Andy Bain, owner of Thurso Surf School, giving his reaction to seeing travelling surfers in the water at his home break. “To see them so stoked, surfing in my backyard… it makes me happy,” he says. Aggro locals the world over: please take note.

There are plenty of reasons to get excited about this weekend’s Outdoor Pursuits trade show at the Royal Highland Centre, organised by The Scotsman, but top of the list is surely a talk by the incredible Dean Dunbar. Despite losing his sight in his 20s, the Perthshire-based 43-year-old has taken part in a huge range of extreme sports, from whitewater sledging to bungee jumping, and achieved several world firsts for someone registered blind. His latest challenge? Swimming the English Channel in aid of the Perth & Kinross Society for the Blind and the armed forces charity SSAFA. Inspiring stuff. Dunbar is on at 11am tomorrow.

For more on Dean Dunbar’s exploits, see www.extremedreams.co.uk ; for more on Outdoor Pursuits, see www.scottishoutdoorpursuits.co.uk

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