Adventure Seekers: Coldwater Surfing

Scotland might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of surfing, but with some of the best waves in the world, it’s little wonder that there is a surf scene – and it’s thriving! To get a better picture we caught up with Scottish skateboard legend and surf pioneer, Jamie Blair.

Islay, surfing, map, Machir, beach

People normally associate surfing with warmer locations like Australia Hawaii or California. Is there much of a surfing scene in Scotland?
The origins of the Scottish surf scene go back to the mid sixties when travelling surfers from the West Country ventured north to try and discover new waves. At the same time Scots were travelling south to Cornwall and Devon for their holidays and a few of them came home with surfboards. It steadily grew in each successive decade and is now a very popular activity with its own Scottish surfing federation and a competition and blossoming scene.

Is it year round or just a summer activity in Scotland?Jamie Blair, surfing, Islay, cold water, Scotland, Clan Skates It’s an all year round activity for the hardcore. Winter times bring bigger and more challenging waves.For the beginner or intermediate its usually practised in late spring/summer and autumn but the new wetsuit technologys really make the cold water a piece of cake to “endure.” With wetsuit boots, gloves and a cap you can ensure that the only part of your body that is exposed to the elements is your face!

Surfers are notoriously precious about protecting their spots. Without giving exact locations where are the best places in Scotland?
There are so many great places, some well known, many less so. Over on the west coast, down the Kintyre peninsula near Campbeltown, you’ve got Westport. Over on the east coast, the more familiar spots are Pease Bay and Dunbar. Such is the quality of wave at Thurso, the UK Pro Surf Competition was hosted there last year. There have also been international competitions, like the O’Neill Coldwater Classic.

To get a feel for the Scottish surf spots and for swell forecasts, try Magic Seaweed, the online surf bible.

Aside from its whisky, Islay also has a reputation for great waves. What makes it so special?
Islay is very remote and has beautiful empty waves. Generally speaking Scotland is uncrowded but most surfers love to get a beach or point to themselves and Islay definitely offers that. There is nothing westwards of Islay until Newfoundland, so the island picks up heaps of swell due to its location, exposed to the mighty Atlantic ocean.

Jamie Blair, surfer, Scotland, Islay, ClanAre there good places on the island for beginners to try it out, or is it best left to more experienced surfers
There are two main beginner spots on the island Laggan Bay and Machir Bay further out west. Saligo Bay is also surf able, but given that it is known by surfers as ‘Psycho Bay’, you’ll appreciate that it is only for the most experienced hardcore of wave-riders.

All surf spots should be treated with caution and you should never surf alone. Rips and tides can be extreme and a sound knowledge of surfing conditions should be a requisite.


Jamie Blair is the owner of one of Scotland’s longest established skateboard and surf shops, Clan –


Leave a comment