The ferry set off from Oban. The three of us took up the front row of the top deck, staring intensely at the ocean, searching for signs of dolphin.
Mirjam, a school teacher who works with children with special needs. Nicky, a promoter who can tell you about every band in Scotland, and Me, a programmer who spends most of my time typing to a black terminal. This impromptu trip was one of our many attempts to disconnect from the world we are used to.
Our paths crossed at Belhaven Bay, a local surf spot that is just 40 minutes drive away from Edinburgh. We were all kooks and happened to be surfing on our own. A few scrambles and nose-dives later, we discovered that we share the same gratitude towards the freezing Scottish water and the same addiction to adrenaline that can only be acquired in woods and sea.
We joked about how we only recognize each other in gym gears. Surfing, munro bagging, mountain biking and marathon are the sort of events that can fit into our agenda. We are the type of people who save money on food for a plane ticket, who check wave forecast more often than Instagram, who, when confronted with challenges in life, turn to nature for sense of clarity.
After 4 hours of ferry ride, a small island emerged from the horizon. Tiree, the inner Hebridean island that lies along the west coast of Scotland. It is called the sunshine island, basking in more hours of sunlight than any other place in the British Isle. Framed by miles of crescent shaped white sand beaches, Tiree have surfing spots facing all directions.
After setting up our ‘tent village’. We headed out to the ‘Maze’, which is, according to the locals, a beach without too much offshore wind, making for an ideal spot for semi-beginners.
Surfing in Scotland isn’t the same as the tropical surfing you are thinking of. You won’t see boys and gals with glowing tan strolling around in their bathing suits, you also won’t find outdoor parties, music and alcohol that go along with the stereotypical surfing theme. In Belhaven, you see people of all ages rolling into the car park in their thick rainproof parkas. They change into a 5mm thick wetsuits in their cars, put on fixed hoods, a pair of boots and gloves, then trek through a muddy field just to get to the beach.
For a lot of Scottish surfers, surfing is as common as your morning run, almost routinely. They come and go without speaking a word, and they don’t talk much about it to others either. It is not until you stumble over a beach in a winter morning and you see a crowd in black bobbing up and down between waves that you start to believe that surfing in Scotland isn’t just another highland myth.
The best season to surf is Scotland is winter. You can get a group of peeling 4 footers consistently on a good day, though you also get only a small window of daylight. People look at me slightly worried when I mentioned I was going surfing by bus on a dark stormy day two weeks before Christmas. I shrugged and decided not to explain how I have learned to make peace with things I have no control over. Rain or shine, rip current or undertow, onshore wind or offshore wind, approval or denial, if my mind is set I can make the most out of any condition.
‘Is it hailing? ’ At Maze, I asked my fellow surf girls after feeling like being hit by a mini meteor shower. They laughed and pointed to a gleam of sunshine hidden behind a net of dark clouds. True, a nice ‘private’ beach all to ourselves, occasional sunbreaks, what else could I ask for?
As someone who had once lost a front tooth from surfing in another continent, I was never afraid of the waves in the North Sea. The swells can be high but they break gently, plus the uncrowded waves, friendly people and a small chance of getting into rip current, all help putting my mind at ease.
To me, the North Sea in a way resembles the characteristics of Scottish people, passionate but reserved, sociable whilst embracing solitude. They love this magical land deeply but never try to advertise it to the outside world. Little did the world know, Scotland is one of few places where you can find the uncharted wilderness that immerses you in nature and reconnect you with yourself.
Surfing requires patience and mindfulness. It induces a meditative state as you need to engage in the water with your full attention. I look at the swell as look at my own mind, watching it rise high and drop low, searching for patterns but riding it as it is. I then realized, chasing high or escaping was never the solution, the true happiness only comes after you reach the calmness by accepting yourself and staying in tune with how you feel. Two year ago I moved to Scotland in hopes of finding something that was missing in me, and today I think I found it.