When Steve Thorp sees a great forecast, nothing will stop him getting there, where ever it is. And last week was no different. Steve was joined by Rich Potter and Mark Bell on an epic road trip to windsurf the far-flung isles of Orkney, and here he tells the story of the journey from first thoughts to christening a break.
WEDNESDAY 12th SEPT
1200 It's looking very likely that ex Hurricane Leslie is on a path across the top of Scotland for Friday Saturday, bringing some Westerly wind and big long period swell. A road trip could be on!
0900 Answering the last minute call are Robin Hood team riders Rich Potter and Mark Bell. We also get a message from Andrew Heighton-Jackson, a Fanatic/North/Ion rider, saying he's heading up Friday night and has a surfing friend who's living on Orkney. Last minute plan coming together nicely!
1700 We all finish work. Mark drives an hour to mine in Leicester, then we drive the 40minutes to Rich in Nottingham.
2100 We leave Nottingham bound for Thurso.
0600 Arrive at Sandside bay on the North Coast of Scotland, just in time for first light. It looks fairly rubbish! Not a whole lot of swell yet.. sleep.
0900 Coffee and Bacon rolls at Tesco Cafe in Thurso
1000 Murkle point. It's nuking. Too much for the smallest kit we bought (which is limited with three in a van) but do able. Tide is high and at this exposed spot the swells coming in at mast high, much more like the 20ft @ 17second forecast.
1300 Wind has eased back a bit finally. I stay on 4.2. Mark and Rich change up a size.
1400 I need a break, and the waves have dropped back in size at low tide so its a good time to stop. I get the camera out and take these shots. Not such good timing for that! It's a mid-high tide spot and now it's low the waves have gone very sectiony and halved in size, but theres still the odd sweet one rolling through.
1600 We decide to go check out Sandside again for the push up to high. We book into Sandras Backpackers in Thurso on the way (a bargain at £16 each with free tea/coffee/wifi and a four bunk room). Andrew arrives.
It's still only head high at Sandside, so we surf until dark, but wonder if we should have rigged up as it's still pretty blowy or stayed at Murkle for more of the same.
2200 Go for curry, then crash out.
0900 Not much happening at sea. The swell has dropped and the 20mph offshore wind isn't really enough anywhere.
1300 We get the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness which comes in at a slightly pricey £200 for the three of us in Richs van. I get some earache about my maths skills, still only £67 each though, and theres plenty of swell out here! We take in the view including the 'Old man of Hoy', whilst Rich turns green.
1430 Arrive at Stromness, which is surprisingly large and pretty. It's blowing it's socks off over here and the swell must be pumping on exposed coasts! Wish we'd been here yesterday, this is now only 11ft at 12seconds! Apparently Pro surfer Oli Adams was up and towing in, worth giving him a google for some sick vids from these parts!
1500 We drive up the West coast, it's big and blown out. We stop at Skara Brae where there's an epic wave and some very old neolithic settlements. It's £7 to get in, we don't even get a pic before we're off..
1600 We find the local surfers, including Andrews mate Oli. They're surfing a sheltered head high wave. We spot something much chunkier and exposed up the coast, but it's going to involve some hiking and a long sail upwind in a pretty strong offshore. Throw in a hideous looking tidal race half a mile out and it's looking a bit sketchy. It's hard to tell just how cross shore it is at the break, which leads to a bit of heated debate, during which time most of us have rigged up and are on our way!
It turns out to be 45 degrees and pretty epic with the odd set coming in at mast high as it winds down the coast, powered just right on the 75 and 4.7. Really clean and hollow waves, which have some real raw power to them. (I know, it looks like a sunny head high day at Daymer bay on the vid, but its pretty full on honest!) Three of us enjoy ripping this to bits for a couple of hours, until our fourth member finally decides to launch and sail up, at which point the wind drops and swings more offshore! We all wobble back in, feeling slightly relieved to be back on dry land with kit intact.
Apparently the local surfers very rarely tackle this spot, and we're almost certainly the first to windsurf it. It's definitely a quality reef and I'd love to go back. As Mark was first to ride it, we're going to christen it 'Bell point'.
1900 We go for a quick surf at another nearby reef which involves knocking on a farmers door for permission and surfing until dark with the seals.
2200 Andrews friend Oli has Spag Bol waiting for us at his place in Kirkwall and puts us all up for the night. Thanks guys, epic hospitality! We hit the town for a few beers and watch a 17 year old Mark Angulo ripping on the pub telly, is this a dream?!
0600 We're getting the 0900 ferry so that we can be back for work in a fit state Monday morning. This means the alarm goes off at 0530 so we can squeeze another surf in. It doesn't really look great anywhere, though with a very full spring tide and not enough time to drive around checking everywhere or go windsurfing in the wind we have, we decide on a bit of reconnaissance for those pro surfer spots, time well spent!
0900 Board ferry back to Thurso.
1130 Thurso East is looking very surfable, but no-ones keen on my idea of a quick surf. I hate the drive home without a morning surf under my belt, but will have to go without this time. Two days soon flies by but it was well worth heading up. Three tanks of fuel and £200 for the Orkney ferry between three isn't so bad for two days of full on waveriding. Can't wait for the next trip.
2100 Arrive back in Nottingham thankful to be alive after nine of Potters driving!
The Orkneys have an enormous amount of potential for windsurfing and pretty much everything any windsurfer could want, from flat water speed and freestyle to heavy pro surfer tow slabs and long winding windy point breaks. They clearly scoop up a lot more wind and swell than the mainland also, and also have a lot more options for wind and swell direction. My new favourite place :)