Cover shot by Clare James
Ex-Hurricane Sam has dominated many UK surfer's thoughts over the past 48 hours, particularly those in the country's south west. Will the swell period be too much? Will the size wash through? Can the beachies hold it? Well, it's safe to say that, what transpired today was a rather special event for UK surfing. The kind of day that yes, had that XL size if you wanted it – but also, it was easy enough to find a sheltered spot, slink away from the crowds and cruise.
Swells like today are kinda rare. Usually, when a hurricane swell scoots across the Atlantic, it's accompanied by strong onshore wind and unruly seas. Today, this one-two punch of swell capped out at 10ft@15 seconds, accompanied with a fresh offshore wind for most of the north coast of Cornwall and Devon. Not blown to all hell as per usual. And what that meant is, an incredibly fine day in the drink -- if you didn't mind a couple close outs in between.
But waves of this size don't come without consequence. “Two paddled out at Gwithian [West Cornwall beauty spot] lifeguard hut just as a massive set was approaching,” says photographer Mike Newman. “One got out the back and had a steaming double over head left hander, the other got dragged in front of the rocks by the rip.
"The big set caught him and dragged him across the rocks, trashing his board, loosing two fins and fin boxes and plenty of skin in the process. Half an hour later in the middle of the beach, someone else had their board snapped in two by the heavy swell. Meanwhile, a spot further down the road was pumping for the brave and reckless.”
Just so happens those brave and reckless were UK champ, Jayce Robinson and local rippah Tassy Swallow. Jayce arched and locked pretty much his entire rail into a bombing wave near hom, setting up for a cavern that was folding at a lightning pace. Exactly how you'd expect someone of Jayce's calibre to handle an absolute freight train.
Meanwhile, a touch further north, the UK's big wave abomination The Cribbar lurched to life. This wave is no joke, known as the Widow Maker due to the prospect that you may get barbecued on the reef below.
On the beach, Rob Fowlie was waxing his 10'0” quad gun, about to paddle into the opening XL swell of the UK season. “I tend to go a little overkill on size due to the unpredictability of the shifting peaks,” he told MSW.
“But honestly, it felt great getting out for the first swell of the season with the likes of Kam Matthews, Nick Tisco, Dom Moore, and a few others soldiering on smaller boards. Had to judge it on the tide and get in before the wind got on it as it gets a bit tasty on the inside with rocks.”
And how to mitigate those rocks? “I have no shame when it comes to safety and equipment as I have been caught out in previous seasons breaking boards, leashes and being held down for long period of times. Training and preparation is a must for surfing big waves. Absolutely loved it and frothing for Nazare this season.” Stay tuned for more from Rob in the upcoming months.
Go even further north and you end up in North Devon, home of one of the greatest beachbreaks of those fine isles. The likes of Croyde and even Woolacombe at this size, are not for the faint-hearted. Draining waves on the low tide bank make for either the ride of your life or a screaming hell pit. Didn't stop the masses from descending though and who can blame 'em?
Let's throw it over to the MSW forecast squad to break this one down. "Friday morning dawned and all eyes were looking to the south west of the UK. And wow... it didn’t disappoint. It was big, 6-8ft plus lines marching into North and West Cornish beaches. A moderate SSE (that's offshore for the north coast) wind and big spring tides kind of took the edge off it at first light but sheltered corners were already on and pumping.
"As the tide dropped back more good things started to happen. The wind edged a little to the south east, the tide ‘sorted’ out the early morning fuddle and west facing beaches all along the Cornish and Devon coast lit up. There were huge double overhead peaks at the famous Cribbar, bombing sets at North Fistral. Croyde went off the chain with big A-frame wedges unloading ex-hurricane goodness onto the low-tide sand bars.
"Big sets in Wales too, not as big as their Cornish counterparts but west facing breaks in South Pembrokeshire and the Gower went overhead with monster paddle outs and river like rips in places. Further into the Severn Estuary and the big tide held back the size until the push late in the afternoon but even here head high sets were to be hand at the exposed beaches and points.
"And without wanting to sound like a side-note, those beaches way up the English Channel saw clean, 2-3ft sets at the peak of the swell in the morning with a frenzy of longboards sharing the longer-period, lined up energy.
"A good day for some, epic for others and the mid-period, west swell from ex-hurricane Sam isn’t done yet. The weekend looks fun at exposed, west facing breaks with light wind and lined up walls. Go get some."
For now though, take a peep through all the images from a session that will live on forever, at least in our minds. Thanks, Hurricane Sam, you've been real nice – pints on us. And to everyone who got amongst it today, we'll raise a jar in your general direction.