The Tiree Wave Classic
Scotland’s premier windsurfing event, the Tiree Wave Classic, gets underway on 11 October, with spills, thrills and high flying windsurf acrobatics from Europe’s top competitors. We talk to Wave Classic organiser Andy Groom about what it takes to win this challenging competition, while Adam Coulson travels to Tiree to test the surf ahead of the arrival of the fleet.
Andy Groom has been organising the Tiree Wave Classic since 1986. We quiz him on what the Wave Classic means to those organising, and those taking part.
Who competes at the Wave Classic?
48 of the top European windsurfers. Last year, when we hosted the World Cup, it was the top 48 in the world. This year the field is still very strong.
What do you have to do to win?
Judges look for extreme but controlled maneouvres both in the jumping section, on the way out from the beach, and in wave riding on the way back in. They also look at the way competitors make the best use of the conditions, so points go to the guy who manages to hit the biggest wave or who ends up on the critical section of the wave. We have heats the same as any other knockout competition. Our prelimary rounds are followed by quarter finals, semis and then the final, with windsurfers competing head-tohead at every stage.
What’s your favourite memory of events gone by?
In 1994 we rushed amazing TV footage we’d filmed from a helicopter to Chick Young at the BBC and he introduced it on Sportscene as ‘the most dramatic sporting action you will ever see.’ Another great memory was last year, seeing the world’s no. 1 and no. 2 , Kauli Seadi from Brazil and Victor Fernandez from Spain, battle it out on the water to try and win the world title.
How much training needs to be put in to reach professional level?
Lots and lots and lots. You need to be very dedicated to compete as this level. For the very best, windsurfing becomes a way of life, not just a hobby or interest.
Describe the ideal weather/ water conditions?
In simple terms, windy and wavy. You want a nice ground swell (that’s a swell that has been travelling a long time across the ocean) and wind above 15 knots. Perfect conditions would be wind running across the beach so you can sail straight out through the wave, jumping as you go, then turn and ride the waves back into the shore like a surfer. Tiree is perfect as it is right on the western fringes of the UK, so it picks up all the waves bouncing off the Atlantic. Also it has beaches facing most directions so you can adapt to the wind conditions
Claire Ritchie profiles three UK windsurfing heroes hoping to beat the rest at this year’s competition.
John Skye (Sail Number K57)
Skye was born in 1977 and has been windsurfing since the age of 13. He went to Southampton College and then spent a year in the Canary Islands which proved a valuable training ground for him to develop his skills in preparation for turning pro in 2001. He has won the Wave Classic twice before (in 2003 and 2005) and finished joint first in 2007. Good form throughout the season makes him perfectly placed to capitalise on previous successes again this year: ‘I have a good chance to at least finish on the podium’ is his modest prediction for 2008. John’s inspiration comes from other top sailors, particularly Goya, Polakow and Siver, whose influence can be seen in the perfect execution of his favourite move, the onehanded back loop.
John Hibbard (Sail Number K007)
Hibbard turned full-time professional in 2002 after winning the Whiz of Wight contest. He claimed enough prize money to head to Cape Town to train, and since then his UK and World Rankings have continued to go up. He has competed in the Tiree event six times before and
loves the island and atmosphere. His best result previously has been third, but the focus is definitely to win it for the first time this year. Like most, John loves the perfect conditions that Tiree has to offer: ‘The white sand beaches and the wall-to-wall sunshine can make you think
that you are on some tropical island, although I’d have to admit it isn’t always as warm as that.’
Ben Proffit (Sail Number K800)
Proffit started windsurfing aged just nine and has been a professional for 13 years. He was selected for the pre-Olympics in 1998, but a serious back injury meant he had to pull out of the team. However, with a lot of determination and months of physiotherapy, he took up competitive sailing once again and has now competed in the Tiree Wave Classic five times, winning the event in 2005. Modestly, he says he would be happy finishing in the top three this year. Ben loves the Wave Classic, especially the weather in Tiree, which he describes as ‘the best on the tour’ and hopes that this year will be no different. He has lots of good stories from previous years but insists that none of them are publishable. ‘You’ll have to come and find out,’ he says, winking.
World class beaches and crystal clear waters? In Scotland? In autumn? Surely not. Having never windsurfed before, a visit to Tiree with its legendary watersports scene was an opportunity not to be missed for Adam Coulson
As a card-carrying outdoorsy type I didn’t have to be asked twice to go and investigate the Isle of Tiree, with its famed white sandy beaches and super-sized Atlantic swells. However, as I awoke in Oban Backpackers Lodge, at 5.30am on a Saturday morning in September, I wondered if it really was worth the effort of dragging myself from my cosy bed to hop onto the early Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Tiree. But, with a coffee in hand, the rare sighting of a basking shark off the coast of Coll en route to our destination made adjusting to the early wake up call worthwhile.
On arrival on Tiree, it didn’t take long to settle into the relaxed island way of life and we were warmly greeted by islander Catriona MacLennan who explained that Tiree boasts the most sunshine hours of anywhere in the UK - hard to dispute as we seemed to have arrived during something of an Indian summer. ‘Our position here at the outermost point of the Inner Hebrides means we see plenty of sun throughout the year’, Catriona explained, ‘and as it’s so flat here it can get very breezy, there’s nothing to stop the gusts of wind, we only have three low lying hills’. For windsurfers, this certainly isn’t a bad thing, and for the islanders, of whom there are 750 scattered across the diminuitive ten mile isle, the low lying terrain creates an endless sky-view and seascape, panions and I decided to take ourselves on a whistlestop tour to get a feel for island life. First port of call was a cafe in the village of Scarinish for a bite to eat and a chance encounter with one of the many UK mainland visitors who come to enjoy the sands at the famous Gott Bay and Cornaigbeg beach. Bill McLeish, an Edinburgh native, told us he had been travelling to the island for years to enjoy the natural beauty on great place to come and experience windsurfing, kiteboarding and buggying, as the beaches here are unrivalled throughout the rest of Scotland. Once you come and see how good it is, you won’t want to leave. I’ve been coming back for years.’
After a tip off from one of the locals we drove out to the north west coast in search of a renowned beach, allegedly worth the mile-and-a-half walk off the beaten track to get there. The treat in store was named The Maze, a pure white stretch of sand unspoilt by the majority of the adrenaline junkies in need of road access for their endless amounts of kit. After a short trek over some impressive sand dunes, we spent the afternoon happily swimming in crystal clear turquoise waters and basking in the delightful rays of the late West Coast summer. As the sun set over the Atlantic horizon we made the short journey back to Scarinish where we pitched our tent before enjoying a whisky night cap and a spot of stargazing under a clear sky.
On Sunday morning, in the bright sunshine, we managed a quick visit to Hynish in the south west of the island - an imposing stretch of coastline where rock formations have been created over centuries by a combination of human excavation and the battering of the wild Atlantic swells. Then, after a short drive north to the Wild Diamond Wind Surf School, I was all set to try my hand at a sport which could have been invented with Tiree in mind. We arrived at the inshore loch for my first tentative steps (and slips) on the surfboard. The shallow waters and breezy location, just inland from the beach, made it an ideal spot for beginners, and the glorious sunshine was an added bonus.
Willy MacLean of Wild Diamond greeted us with the friendly and relaxed demeanor befitting a man who spends his life teaching watersports on some of Scotland’s most stunning beaches. Once I had donned my wetsuit and lifejacket, we got straight into the nuts and bolts of board, mast, boom and daggerboard, pointed out to me as Willy went through the session plan.
It made me a little nervous when he assured me that I’d be doing runs and tacks by the end of the hour, but I was keen to give it my best shot. After some initial wobbling, and with much coaching from Willy, I was making slow progress, traversing the loch while attempting to remember where to put my hands, feet, arms and head, not necessarily in that order. I was almost getting the hang of it when a tack (turning the board 180 degrees) went awry and I was dumped into the loch head first. However, a few splashes later and I was successfully making runs and tacking back and forth under the watchful eye of the Wild Diamond team. A few more slips and my time was up. I felt delighted that I’d spent more time on the board than in the water, but I decided I’d stick to the shallow end for now and leave the Atlantic swells to the pros.
Tiree is an ideal location to learn watersports whether you’re a novice like me, or an experienced sailor. The abundance of beaches available around the isle’s beautiful coastline allows snap decisions to be made regarding suitability, as Willy explains. ‘The loch and multitude of beaches mean we can react to whatever conditions are thrown up each day, and tailor each session to both the weather, wind direction, and each student’s level of experience.’ I left with a smile and a definite taste for island life. So there you have it - a surfer’s paradise right here in Scotland. Well worth the effort after all.
Adam stayed at Oban Backpackers Lodge, Breadalbane Street, Oban, 01631 562 107, www.obanbackpackers.com, £13.50 per person a night. He travelled with Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries from Oban to Tiree via Coll: 08000 66 5000, www.calmac.co.uk, car ferry return £36, foot passenger return £3.55. MacLennan Motors at Scarinish provided car hire whilst on Tiree: Pierhead, Scarinish, 01879 220 555, www.maclennanmotors.com, £35 per day inc. VAT. Many thanks to Willy and Kirsty at the Wild Diamond Surf School. Visit www.wilddiamond.co.uk or contact Willy Angus MacLean on 01879 220 399 for booking and information.