It started in Scotland.
Three storms blasted their way across the North Atlantic last week, first a one-two punch, then another late week. This was special because the UK and Ireland hasn’t had back-to-back-to-back swells all winter. Not to mention clear skies, beautiful conditions, and a surf forecast that would make anyone chase this thing around.
And that was the thing last week: the chase. Long-period swell isn’t so good for beachbreaks. It needs a reef or a point to chop it all up and stop the closeouts.
View Live: Lahinch
At the top of Scotland, wave heights were forecast to be double-overhead from Sunday the 5th onwards along the beautiful Norse Shore. The swell peaked midday at 12.5 feet at 15 seconds, filling in from the WSW, with a light offshore wind. That’s the kind of combo that makes for back-to-back barrels in Thurso.
“Its been good to finally have a run of swell like this at home, we’ve had a slow season so far,” said Scottish champ Mark Boyd. “Everyone was chomping at the bit and lineups were fairly crowded, as you’d expect. Temperatures were unseasonably mild, too, which made full days in a wetsuit a bit easier.”
“It was pumping,” said Phoebe Strachan, a regular in the lineup at Thurso, “but what made it even better was the craic in the lineup. Just me and my pals having a laugh and sharing sick waves. The chart looks good for the next wee while. Think I might have to come down with a sickness bug or something. It’s looking too good to miss.”
“I’m claiming it; one day I got 20 plus tubes,” says 17-year-old frother Craig McClachlan. “The swell’s been awesome. I’ve surfed from morning till dark everyday for the past week. I was lucky enough to get out for the full swell. Some super fun days for turns then some long drawn out barrels. The vibes were really good. No one was hassling and it felt like everyone was getting their waves.”
“It’s been a super fun couple of weeks,” added Iona McClachlan. “Some proper swells hitting with the odd, reasonably warm and sunny day, too. It’s been great getting in the water every day.”
Then the swell began drifting south, landing on the Atlantic coastline of Ireland. The Emerald Island’s been nonstop this winter, evidenced by all the traveling pro surfers who’ve holed up here: Russ Bierke, Mikey Wright, Lowey, Tom Butler, Sebastian Steudtner, Nathan Florence.
Conor Maguire’s mega barrel, though, was one of the standout moments of this swell. This wave was ten years in the making. “I didn’t think it was going to be as crazy as it was,” said Maguire. “I’ve been watching my friends push the limits out there and that’s made me want to hang up the tow board and focus solely on paddling a big barrel out there. It’s where the progression is going and I’ve had enough tow waves out there in my lifetime, so I’m happy to sacrifice a few days now and then.”
“The last 7-10 days was probably one of the most intense few days of surfing back-to-back I’ve ever had,” said Gearoid McDaid.
“I think we surfed four days in a row which doesn’t happen too often. A lot of the time the tides don’t line up with charts but luckily this one did. I think we did three days of four hour paddle sessions at and then on the last day it got bigger than expected and we got to whip a couple on the ski — which was nice because I don’t think I could’ve paddled for much longer.
“Was pretty epic few days out there having the craic with all the lads and watching everyone get crazy waves. It’s pretty inspiring out there every time someone gets a sick one, it pushes me to want to go bigger and better. Looking forward to the next few swells to try push myself again out there.”
Once it wrapped up in Ireland, the swell moved on to hit Devon and Cornwall. But it was the second swell from the next storm, which filtered on Tuesday, when things really got cooking.
England’s first and only World Surf Reserve, Croyde, was pumping at low tide in the afternoon, while further west, it was a tale of two coasts. A solid W swell managed to wrap into both the north and south Cornish coastlines, the north bombing in the morning and the south lapping up all that energy as the wind swung offshore.
Laura Crane surfed England’s big wave the Cribbar on Tuesday, the first woman to do so. “We saw this swell coming and a couple of people were talking about the Cribbar,” said Laura. “Seth Woolley called my bro, saying they’re going out . And we thought, “why not. Let’s go”. We drove down, left here at 5am and I was feeling pretty nervous. I don’t want to get down there, paddle out, then if I am the only girl that’s ever done this, I really need to pull it through for the girls here. That thought inspired me to really paddle my heart out and give it everything I have.”
“We’ve been blessed with great waves of all sizes, something for everyone to get stoked off of,” said Falmouth’s Sophie Bennett, who surfed both coasts. “Post-work surfs are finally back, with some unreal sunsets, and we had some leaping dolphins.”
“The waves were really good for carving, super clean and glassy,” said St Ives grom Teddy Nichols, who surfed right out front his house. “Really friendly vibe in the water, everyone sharing waves. The waves are meant to be perfect all week, so I’m going to get in every day. I only live two minutes up the hill.”
Faces of the swell. Top left: Sam Pontin recently moved to the area. “Didn’t fancy drowning at the heavier beachie down the road,” he said. Top right: Teddy Nichols. “Waves were really super clean and glassy. I only live two minutes up the hill so going to be getting in all week.” Bottom left: Simon Barbour. “I came down for the swell from Forest Row, sleeping in the car. Waves looking fun, got to get in!” Bottom right: Jake Easton. “Dad had to carry on working but I wasn’t going to miss out on this swell.”
By Tuesday, the swell made its way up the English Channel to Dorset. Photographer Bella Bunce and partner Tom Baldwin had time to kill and managed to find a cruisy setup for the single-fin. Northern France thumped with surf, though, coupled with light offshores and super clean conditions. Photographer Romuald Pliquet couldn’t have asked for more.
“This week, the waves were absolutely insane,” he says. “All spots worked for all levels. The 16 second long period swell with offshore winds made for awesome conditions. Waves up to 8 feet for the major spots and a good swell direction. After all the windy conditions during this winter, this was like a gift for all surfers — and the cherry on cake, the wonderful light at sunset. Just perfect.”
“A weekend warm-up, followed by a solid pulse of NATL juice mid-week treated Southwest UK’s surfers with a run of surf ranging from fun-size to big-wave testers this past week,” said UK forecaster Jamie Bateman. “The first swell came from a fast-moving system, which set up the first pulse of short-to-mid-period W/WNW swell building into exposed beaches in the Southwest UK and Scotland through Saturday, February 4th before slowly easing on Sunday, February 5th.”
“Saturday was decent with light, variable wind providing doable conditions. But Sunday was the money. The surf peaked in the double overhead range in Scotland, and there was still well-overhead surf in the Southwest UK. Once the wind switched offshore, it set up a day of excellent surf.
“Through the weekend a second, more powerful storm moved off the coast of Nova Scotia, setting up a series of mid-to-long-period W/WNW swells moving to Southwest UK’s western exposures late Monday, peaking Tuesday, and slowly easing through Wednesday. At its peak this swell was too much for most exposed beaches further south, but the select beachbreaks and big-wave spots rolled to life with overhead surf, double-overhead sets, favourable offshore wind, and perfect conditions.
“Onshore wind took hold as the swell faded away Wednesday and Thursday, but there was still plenty of swell in the water at the more sheltered locations for those wanting more.”
“The 3rd of our NATL swells pulsed over the weekend, Feb 11 and 12 — courtesy of a small but hurricane force low pressure system that moved off New England early last week. The system provided the east coast of the USA and the Caribbean with a decent shot of NE, N swell before it shifted on an ENE track to the south of Nova Scotia through Wed.
“That favourable track, towards the UK and Ireland set up a mid-period, W, WNW swell that began to filter in western extremes in Ireland and Cornwall through Saturday afternoon. The best exposed beaches saw 2-3ft overhead sets by sundown. The swell slowly faded through Sunday and Monday but with those offshores, albeit fairly breezy at exposed beaches, there were good conditions throughout.”
Check the cams: Fistral | Croyde | Watergate Bay | Bournemouth | Lahinch |