The sun doesn’t rise on the east coast. It wobbles, wavering on the slate grey sky line as if contemplating just crawling back underneath the horizon for another day. The inky blackness stretches into the distance; with only the roaring sound of a well-travelled groundswell giving any point of reference to the groups of huddles grom’s and vet’s alike. ‘Chain hill’, the street unofficially reserved for VW T4’s, campers, and other surf wagons, is filling fast.
Pictures with thanks from www.grumpyoldsurfer.co.uk
Nervous excitement is in the air, the smell of old neoprene and fresh wax accompanying the hushed whispers and grim expressions of the locals. This is the day. The day you’ve been waiting for throughout a disappointing autumn and winter, with messy windswell’s and an endless parade of photos of a firing Cornwall and Newquay to add salt to the wound. A final check of the wave buoys promised a solid 12ft, and with the lick of an easterly creasing the faces of those straining towards the horizon, today would be something special.
[pullquote]With noticeably less crowds than our Southern neighbours are forced to contend with, some truly memorable sessions go down in this sleepy sea-side resort.[/pullquote]
Despite an inconsistent and often frustrating swell window, Scarborough has a prolific and experienced surf culture. A rocky and unforgiving coast line lends itself to reef and beach breaks alike, and with noticeably less crowds than our Southern neighbours are forced to contend with, some truly memorable sessions go down in this sleepy sea-side resort. A tight knit community, each local greets the other by name and with a quick nod, eager to finally get wet for another reason than walking the dog in a rain shower. The first rays of dawn are creasing the sky as the eager kids paddle out while the tide is still high, back wash smashing them back faster than they can paddle. Too early. At full high, there’s only one way to paddle out and avoid being slammed against the looming sea wall of North bay – a furious sprint from a small set of moss covered, forgotten steps half way out. A small channel here runs directly out back, but also directly parallel to the massive formation of rock armour that frames the bay.
[pullquote]The cold will kill you this far North, and a good wettie is a valued member of the family, regardless of the amount of times we urinate in them.[/pullquote]
We suit up, pulling on stinking boots and age-worn gloves. Full winter thickness, nothing is below 5mm. The cold will kill you this far North, and a good wettie is a valued member of the family, regardless of the amount of times we urinate in them. Your vision is constricted as you shove the hood over your head; the world suddenly narrows down as your peripheral vision becomes useless. Grab your stick, keep your head down and get in the water – kook. The panorama of a stacked North Sea opens up before you, a visage of head high, glassy surf with not a soul in site. The buoys weren’t wrong, this was heavy. A smashing right barrels along the outside, it looks well over head high but from this distance it’s hard to be sure. The light is spreading, soon every man and his dog will have rocked up and this will just be another crowded surf spot in a surf starved country. But at 6am it belongs to us– this is our spot, our waves, and localism is still very much alive and well.
Leash on, last check of the fins and rails. The usual dings and scrapes, but it’s seen you through worse. The water is icy, gripping at your hands and threatening to tug you under as you sprint for the first breaker. The sound is oppressive, muted inside your neoprene hood till all you can hear is the thunder of distant breakers. Under and over. Under and over. The shock of the first submersion is like a slap to the face, a wakeup call to your body and mind. We’re in a race with the sea, before the next set starts and boards are pummelled into the sandy bottom. Someone ahead wheels round, fingers pawing furiously at the water in an effort to keep up with the solid head high wave beneath. The faster a wave is moving, the faster you need to paddle. Too slow, he drops of the back with a frustrated shout. You’re not thinking about him, the mortgage, or that rattling noise coming from the back of the van when you drop down to third. It’s one hand over the other, till there’s nothing left to fight.
Out back, gasping for air as you check the next set rolling. The line-up is clear, cars are arriving in droves and you won’t have long. The first wave rolls underneath, a black mass of water seething towards the shore. A few strokes and you’re in position, ready to pick up the edge and pull yourself in. The second swells beneath, rushing away and towards the right. Eight seconds. A quick glance back shows the third wave of the set, a head and a half high north sea breaker, clean like glass. [pullquote]Balls in your throat, stomach left somewhere behind, a few final paddles and the wave is underneath.[/pullquote]You throw the board forwards for that extra few feet of pace, paddling with long, smooth strokes, pulling faster and harder as you hear the wave rumble and roar behind. You can feel the emptiness to either side, no need to look. Balls in your throat, stomach left somewhere behind, a few final paddles and the wave is underneath. The acceleration as the tail is caught is unmistakable, just another second. The roughness of the wax grips the pads of your fingertips as you leap into a low crouch, muscles and joints working together like you’ve never been away from the sea. This has been hammered into you from childhood, throwing yourself into one foot dribblers and getting that back foot just the right amount of parallel. A quick pull in to the right and you’re in the pocket, racing along the face of the wave. The blue-grey iron shaded North sea is looming as a wall to your right, a swift dip of the hips and your racing up the head high face, salt spray and the wind spattering your eyes. The wave is pulling you back, asking, begging you turn down before you reach air. You press on, just another second and you’ll make the section… A thundering, booming noise to your right, whiteness, darkness. Closed out, shut down, under-water. Shit.
‘Yeew!’ Another local paddles past with a grin, a quick glance to make sure the board is still attached and he’s off, racing for the back. The wave thunders off ahead, sections collapsing as it hits the myriad of sandbars and trenches which infest the east coast. No time to hang around, another set is about to come down on your head and no two ways about it – you’ve just taken a pounding.
Words and pictures by Owen Edwards [email protected]
www.secretspot.co.uk is the premier surf shop on the East coast