Forget Waikiki: the surf's up in Scotland

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The Independent Online

For Jason Burnett there was just one catch to his exhilarating surf to shore on 12ft waves yesterday. "I got so cold running to and from the sea," the 31-year-old from Edinburgh admitted after emerging from the slate grey waters.

Little wonder. Mr Burnett was one of eight top surfers who braved the North Sea at Dunbar, Scotland, where air temperatures plummeted to 2C.

He was joined by some of the UK's hardiest surfers in the first round of competitions which supporters hope will help to put Scotland alongside more exotic destinations such as Waikiki in Hawaii and Australia's Bondi Beach on the global surfing map.

They will have some selling to do: with a water temperature of about 10C compared with an air temperature of about 2C, most of the competitors were glad to get into the sea. "Once I was in it was OK, but it was a good deal warmer in the water than it was standing on the beach," said Mr Burnett, who went on to win the competition.

"We have some of the best surfing beaches in Europe, if not the world. We were getting rides of up to 15 seconds on the waves as they came in over the reef at the entrance to the bay ... 100-metre rides at times. We have really good waves here, it's just that not too many people are aware of it yet. The only difference between here and Hawaii is it is not quite so warm and there aren't any semi-naked girls lying on the beaches."

Yesterday's two-hour Big Wave Challenge event attracted about 30 spectators. Skateraw beach, a few miles south of Dunbar, is an almost deserted strip of sand on the exposed east coast, under the shadow of Torness nuclear power station.

The organiser, Sam Christopherson, 32, a professional surfing instructor, believes the waters off East Lothian provide a tough, and potentially dangerous, challenge for some of the best surfers in the country. "The waves were about 12ft high and some of the most powerful in the area," he said. "The sea comes in over a rock break, so there is plenty of danger. If a competitor makes a mistake or is unlucky they could get hurt, that's why this competition was for experts only."

With the correct wind and sea conditions the deep waters of the bay consistently provide strong barrelling waves over the shallow inshore reef.

"My hope is to establish Dunbar as a centre for surfing in Scotland and attract many more people," said Mr Christopherson, who has been surfing for 15 years and runs his own training school. "Our dream is to have a regular contest here which will attract surfers from around the world.

"There are plans to start a Scottish surfing circuit and there is talk of Scotland hosting a six-star surfing event next year in Thurso which will be the biggest competition of its kind outside Hawaii."

One of the reasons the sport has found favour with a new generation of thrill-seekers is that the standard of wet suits is such that regardless of the temperature or the time of year the surf is always up. Compared with five years ago the number of people taking up the sport in Scotland has boomed, with more than 2,000 regular surfers in the central belt alone.

In summer many of the beaches, especially the more popular ones like Thurso in the Highlands and Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, can have between 100 and 150 surfers a day.

The world's great surfing beaches... and Dunbar

Dunbar, Scotland 10C
Bondi Beach, Australia 23C
Oahu, Hawaii 26C
Jeffreys Bay, South Africa 18C

Dunbar 6ft
Bondi 4ft
Oahu 5.5ft
Jeffreys Bay 5ft

Dunbar 9C
Bondi 22C
Oahu 25C
Jeffreys Bay 16C

* TODAY'S SURF FORECAST [Wave height; wind; air temp]
Dunbar 11.9ft; 29mph; 5C
Bondi 11.8ft; 22mph; 15C
Oahu 12.2ft; 8mph; 23C
Jeffreys Bay 8.9ft; 7mph; 23C