The seatbelt sign illuminates to a soft ping as the pilot lowers the landing gear. It’s still dark outside while the autumn sun struggles to pull itself above the horizon; understandable, after my struggle to get out of bed two hours earlier. We finally touch down, and the doors open to a blast of frosty North East air. “At least it’s not raining” I think to myself, just before a rumble of thunder shakes the runway.
Thankfully the weather improved after that first week at uni, and 2 skydives, many skate sessions, and nowhere near enough work later, the first decent swell of the year lit up the charts. Finally, it was the South-West’s turn to drool over our forecasts: not so smug now, eh!?
Swell forecast for Tynemouth, North East England [source: www.magicseaweed.com]
We started the week by exploring a new reef break north-east of Newcastle. Durham University Surf Club’s start-of-term recruitment had gone well so two Freshers came along for the expedition; after minimal convincing to swap one of their 3:2 suits for my spare 4:3, we paddled out over the reef – passing half a broken board floating by as we went. The session was inconsistent. While it’s always good to explore new breaks, an hour waiting for a wave only to be chucked over the falls onto a shelf of rock told us it was time to move along the coast.
Perks of having a friend with a drone: you get to see exactly what’s hurting you when you hit the bottom [photo: Max Halcox]
Nonetheless, a handful of surfers on their way down from a competition in Thurso were clearly having a better time:
Yeah, we get it, you rip. Stop showing off [photo: Max Halcox]
That afternoon, we headed to Tynemouth. Despite a few mishaps – such as struggling with directions from Harry’s smashed phone screen after he sneezed in bed the night before and reflexively threw it into the wall across his room, and Elliot refusing to stop at a petrol station until the gauge was showing 0 miles remaining – we finally arrived an hour before dark. Ninety minutes later we paddled back in towards the lights on the beach and concluded a successful day.
Harry refusing to leave the water after his eighth plea for “just one more wave”
I awoke to a call from Elliot at 6:30am the next morning, “It’s gonna be firing bro, we’re driving south!”. And so we did. We arrived at a tiny fishing village about an hour-and-a-half later to the sight of Elliot’s prophecy being fulfilled.
Waves everywhere we looked; one of the best spots I’ve seen in the North East
The Kernow boys had interpreted the charts in the same way as us; surprisingly, a few Australian accents also floated around the board graveyard we were inadvertently stood in. Unfortunately, we’d just missed the tide so the main peak was starting to unload onto the dry rocky slab. A heavy, hollow right was reeling off across the bay, but a suspicious lack of surfers left us with eerie vibes of what may lie beneath. No amount of inspiration from Mason’s latest edit could convince us to risk our lives; so, after much deliberation, we made a note of the conditions required for next time and cut our losses by heading to Saltburn. The pier was a grateful shortcut to the line-up and we finished the morning with some chunky overhead waves.
The Saltburn Express – just don’t time it wrong
As the swell dropped off on Wednesday, we gave the novice club members their first taste of surfing! After a few pointers from the Club’s exec., we let the frothing freshers loose into the North Sea. Thankfully, nobody confessed they couldn’t swim while wading in this time (that eventful trip is a story for another time); what’s more, we were blessed with one of the more beautiful sunsets this coast has to offer.
Last year’s President (Will Davies) shows the ropes to new members of DU Surf
A lot of happy uni students
It was finally time to catch up on all the lectures I’d missed due to “unexpected circumstances” (trust me, it works every time). But not so long later, the inevitable happened.
Every local surfer knows all too well how fickle the North East is; as such, if a swell appears it’s essential you make every effort to catch it – even if it lasts 4 days and there’s already another low pressure developing on the long range forecast.
If you don’t have to hunt for hours to find the break, it’s either too crowded or not worth surfing
We returned to the little fishing village we’d found the month prior (location classified) and caught the perfect tide. It was well worth the wait: abundant empty A-frames with the archetypal rugged backdrop that graces this dramatic coast.
Waves on Mars. Does it get better than this?
The winds swung onshore for the rest of the week, but the following weekend showed potential. We hit Tynemouth for sunrise – a gorgeous, clean, head-high session with only a couple of seal pups for company.
The crew +1
Admittedly, the snow on the beach and completely frozen outside shower may have put others off, but beggars can’t be choosers.
The moment you ask yourself why you’re doing this – then you notice the smile etched onto your face and it all makes sense again
We decided to try a new spot for Sunday. A text to a local fount of knowledge we’d befriended returned the challenge of the day: a treasure hunt.
You didn’t think I’d actually publish a map of one of the best waves in the North East, did you?
If we’d put even half the amount of effort into our degrees as we put into this little game, we would’ve all graduated with First Class Honours. But alas, motivation is unpredictable (sometimes). After the scouring of countless internet forums and an exhaustive scrutinisation of Google Earth, we hit the jackpot on our third and final guess.
We drove for 2 hours, with the latter 30 minutes spent winding through dirt tracks, before finally arriving at the perimeter of a secluded farm. Nevertheless, a quick scan of the 10 cars littered on the verge – each with their own sponsors’ surf stickers in the back window – left no doubt that we were in the right place.
Don’t let the perfect barrels distract you from the reef ominously breaking the surface just in front [photo: Hendrik Speelmans]
Even after arriving, access to the break still involved a half-hour expedition across private farmland before scaling a cliff to reach the slab of rock over which the surge was unloading. The swell was far from off-the-scale, but the potential of the wave was indisputable.
Yet another enchanting setting in Northumberland’s catalogue
We surfed for as long as the tide would allow, then stopped at Bamburgh to enjoy the views and catch a mellow sunset session on the way home.
I like to write as if I know the North East surf scene from 4 years at Durham University, but in reality I have barely scratched the surface. One of the forerunners, however, is Sandy Kerr. Working with Chris McClean, Lewis Arnold, Matt Smith, and one of his sponsors, Finisterre, Sandy recently starred in the internationally-acclaimed North Sea Holes. This short film represents the apex of North East surfing in its purest form, so be sure to check it out!
Inspired to begin the search yourself? Have a look at these essentials for your next surf trip:
~ Will (@willdavies11)