As you’ve probably seen by now, much of Britain’s south and south-west coastlines just enjoyed an excellent run of solid swell. Just before it rolled over from the mid-Atlantic though, Scotland’s north coast enjoyed its own more low-key pulse from the other direction.
When the chart popped up, Thurso based Mark Boyd and photographer Thomas Horig decided to make the mission out to the infamous slab known as Number Tens.
The right-hander breaks hard and fast off a shallow flagstone shelf at the base of a cliff, with only just enough water on the reef to make it surfable on a big high tide. Rarely tackled by standups these days, the wave is considered among the trickiest and sketchiest in the region, and last week, the local boy got to experience its perils up close. He picks up the story:
“We arrived at first light, and by the time the sun was up, the tide was already going out, meaning we were sort of chasing our tails from the beginning. It wasn’t looking that great, but Tom was keen to shoot and we’d been waiting all week, so I thought I’d go in and have a crack.
I managed to find a couple early on, but then I pulled back on what turned out to be a really good one, so I was kicking myself after that. It’s so hard to be in the spot, just behind the peak where you can chip into the barrel.
Eventually, I got another good a one but could feel it was definitely getting a bit low for it. You could see boils and stuff bubbling up the face and as I was paddling back out, Tom told me it was looking pretty ropey and dry on the inside, so I said I’ll just get one more and that will be it.
After another 20 minutes or so, I spun and went on what looked like a good one. I remember pretty vividly being in a nice gaping long tube, and then I felt the spit behind me and thought eh I’m getting spat out here, this is a really good one. And then I saw a clampy, pinchy, crumbly bit up ahead and just as I hit it, everything went black.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but I imagine the clamp just pushed my head really quickly straight onto the reef and it was totally dry. I was just sparkoed!
The next thing I knew I was washed up against the cliff, just rag dolling on the rocks, but thankfully face up. When I came round all I could hear was Window Shopper by 50 Cent!
It was so weird, literally like loud music playing in my head. I was just like what the fuck, because it’s not like I’m listening to 50 Cent on the regular.
I didn’t know where I was and my face was pissing blood and my teeth felt really sore, so I initially just thought ‘I’ve lost my teeth!’ Thankfully though, they’re still intact. My nose was broken and I had a big hole through my lip, big enough to blow bubbles through, that needed a couple of stitches.
I’d only just recovered from a board to the groin! I’ve never really been very injury prone, but I’ve just had a couple in pretty quick succession recently. Board stabs and reef encounters.
You naturally shy away from surfing Tens a bit here, unless you’ve got someone to motivate you to get out there. There are days where you definitely just say ah, I’ll just surf Thurso East, instead of surfing the slabs.
But Thomas, he’s an Aussie guy and a bodyboarder and he’s checking the slabs a little bit more and wants to shoot, so it’s a good motivator to get out there for a crack.
Obviously, they are pretty dangerous places, so it’s good to have someone to go out with, because otherwise, you’re usually surfing those places with nobody else in the water, especially at the moment.
But because I don’t surf Tens loads, that was actually one of the better ones I’ve had out there really, a pretty nice wave, obviously despite what happened. And it wasn’t actually that scary, you know it wasn’t like I saw dry reef and totally shit myself, I thought I was sitting pretty in the barrel and then it just went black. So apart from waking up and getting washed against the reef a bit it wasn’t too bad.
I’m pretty keen for another bash soon. The stitches come out in a week, so hopefully, I’ll be surfing again soon after that.”
Watch Mark’s year of perfect Thurso pits here.
Follow him @markboydsurf