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A sub zero start to the swell event of the year. Double down jacket plus ‘two beanie’ scenario, but after so much hype it was reassuring to see lighthouse-high spray from a clean swell.© 2014 James Cummings
Still in the pre sunrise flat light, it soon became apparent that there were waves breaking on reefs which usually don’t do anything, and some of those waves were looking intense.© 2014 James Cummings
South Wales local Rob Miles regularly vacates his homeland when the swell charts align. Here he takes off on the largest wave ever ridden at this spot.© 2014 James Cummings
Rob, barrel dodging as per usual.© 2014 James Cummings
After this session Rob was a beaten man, and it was mainly thanks to this wave. “I’d decided I was not paddling out when the sets came any more, and was just going to sit there and get a beast. That’s when the horizon went up, next thing I know I’m taking this thing directly on the head. It flogged me worse than any wave ever has before, and held me down for about the entire length of the reef. It was awful, then the rip was so bad I couldn’t get back in!.” Rob endured a full twenty minute beating before reaching dry land.© 2014 James Cummings
The chart which provoked a whisper of excitement throughout the North Sea surfing community.© 2014 James Cummings
Sunrise, and a classic vista. Lines rolling in and clearly potential for an epic.© 2014 James Cummings
Houses always help to add perspective.© 2014 James Cummings
You could easily be forgiven for thinking this was taken in Bali from Bingin looking up to Impossibles, if you had slightly dodgy vision at least.© 2014 James Cummings
Almost everywhere there was something happening, it was pure wave porn.© 2014 James Cummings
There could have been 20 shots in this sequence which all would have drawn an ‘ooooooh’ from any avid surfer.© 2014 James Cummings
A surfer get’s his first real feel of the power, and a quick glance towards sets pounding down another point in the distance.© 2014 James Cummings
As happens all to often, the grass was always greener on the next limestone protrusion.© 2014 James Cummings
Even the waves that are not waves were waves.© 2014 James Cummings
Chunky, fast, angry, shallow© 2014 James Cummings
As Lyndon Wake pops up everything seems to be going to plan.© 2014 James Cummings
Or maybe not.© 2014 James Cummings
Poor Lyndon.© 2014 James Cummings
Jayce Robinson looks over the shoulder at an empty grinder.© 2014 James Cummings
Lyndon Wake fights through a cheeky insider.© 2014 James Cummings
Regardless of the surf situation, it was an epic day for just shooting pictures with amazing low, winter sunlight with bags of contrast in every shot. Rainbows fluttered in the lips of every breaking wave and wild horses reminiscent of a Guinness advert strode through the crashing shorebreak.© 2014 James Cummings
This is it. Top UK surfer, in the spot on the right equipment, in the sunshine, hardly anyone else out. Roll on the cover shoot, well, nearly,© 2014 James Cummings
Jayce trying his luck on a medium sized one, still challenging him on the drop though.© 2014 James Cummings
Jayce gets a bowly little runner, still not what we’re looking for. Nearly 2 hours have gone by as perfection rolls in all around, but something is just not right.© 2014 James Cummings
Turning your head by only 20 degrees in either direction provided views of amazing looking, but significantly, empty waves.© 2014 James Cummings
A change of scenery and the first views of the damage caused by the storm surge from the previous evening’s high tide. Close shaves for homes and sand dunes alike were commonplace along the seaboard, and it was clear that there was a massive amount of water moving in again for today’s tide.© 2014 James Cummings
Still the lines rolled in and all the ‘50/50’ spots were looking crazy. In the cool sunlight it really seemed like it was the best swell ever.© 2014 James Cummings
Another ‘non- wave’ looking rather like a great wave.© 2014 James Cummings
If you like occasionally losing fins while you bottom turn then this wave is for you.© 2014 James Cummings
Your humble author James getting one of the same sort of set waves which cleaned up Rob just inside, in near darkness. Moving in to the 1st person here, I can tell you that this was the bumpiest and most difficult to surf 6ish footer I have ever ridden. Myself and another Welsh lad Rhod rode the ‘other wave’ at this spot and were roundly frustrated, neither of us getting a good one in 2 hours & having to constantly paddle. The epic tide was delivering nothing short of an epic rip and chop.© 2014 Chris Ibbotson
Saturday morning was a new day, and most of us felt like we could maybe be about to score an amazing wave or two, with a slight drop in swell forecast and offshore wind again all day. Whitby buoy was showing 12’ at 14 seconds, so there was no doubting that this incredible swell had kept most of it’s power overnight. Yorkshire coast, showing promise.© 2014 James Cummings
Tubed at last.© 2014 James Cummings
Making barrels certainly helps stave off the cold.© 2014 James Cummings
James, Rob, unknown wipes out & Rob ‘the Gardener’ Allen unsuccessfully test their top speeds.© 2014 James Cummings
Rob Miles again (does he ever miss a wave?)© 2014 James Cummings
Up and down the coast there was also plenty of swell lining up at spots off the beaten track.© 2014 James Cummings
10 decent surfers, undoubtedly sick waves but regrettably also plenty of outside sets and plenty of impossible racetracks.© 2014 James Cummings
Regardless of how good it seemed to look, the waves continued to evade everyone.© 2014 James Cummings
Another Welsh traveller Nick Reid decides enough is enough on the barrel hunt and opts for the 3 o’clock special instead.© 2014 James Cummings
James Cummings once again.This one, like so many others, clamping shut about half a second after the shutter drop.© 2014 Chris Ibbotson
Waves poured in to every spot on the coast, and hardly one surfer finished the day with an ounce of energy left in their arms.© 2014 James Cummings
There were no losers on this 2 day swell event of the decade, but even the beautiful sunset was a final bittersweet reminder that somehow, somewhere something better was happening than where we were in that moment. Won’t stop us all trying again next time the perfect storm comes to town!© 2014 James Cummings
A North Sea storm surge wreaked carnage last week, flooding homes and forcing evacuations along the UK coastline. In a silver lining of sorts, offshore winds were forecast and a hardy group of surfers took to the water, scoring barrels at spots which seldom show their faces. Surfer and photographer, James Cummings, was on hand to photograph and surf this rare swell event.
Take a jagged coastline strewn with shapely sandstone reefs and curved sandy beaches, introduce a swell which statistically bears a resemblance to an Indian Ocean classic, and watch as perfection rolls in… right?
The North Sea is an incredible place to be a surfer. It frequently puts the reasons one might choose to be a surfer under the microscope, not least because the majority of quality swell comes in the winter months.
Siberian winds, as the weather forecasters like to call them, drive swell from the small gap between Greenland and Norway through what is effectively a bottleneck of water. This in turn means that every exposed rocky outcrop up and down the coast enjoys a surprising degree of quality, from what might seem like relatively small, short period swells.
Last week, word of the swell event of the year sent a whisper of excitement through this community. Isobars stacked up in favourable lines. Pressure charts from previous legendary swells were compared and bigger boards were sought.
The character of its surfing populous is a match for the low temperatures, both on land and in the water. Pick up a sports section of any national newspaper to hear the mainstream media talking about the ‘steadfast fans’ of the area’s famed Football clubs. And ‘steadfastness’ is what every North East surfer needs in order to cope with the prolonged flat spells. All are driven to the edge of reason as they stare in vain at perpetually lacklustre forecasts, to the inevitable breaking point of climbing in their vans and driving the eight hours North to take on Thurso, armed with a bottomless flask of tea and an acceptance that wetsuits are permanently wet, and sometimes even frozen.
Last week, word of the swell event of the year sent a whisper of excitement through this community. Isobars stacked up in favourable lines. Pressure charts from previous legendary swells were compared. Bigger boards were sought. The BBC even ran headline news stories on the predicted high seas, and the effects of the storm surge that would precede it.
Large areas of low lying coastal regions were evacuated, and otherwise moderate spring high tides were bolstered with several feet of extra wind driven water. Every home and business with a doorstep less than 8 meters above chart datum started buying sand bags. The tide duly rose and, as forecast, rivers swelled, towns were flooded, bridges became submerged and sand dunes were silently washed away amidst a digital deluge of twitter ‘iphonography’ covering the carnage.
Meanwhile, the eyes of the nation’s surf community began widening in expectant disbelief, including those of your author, who knew that this two day swell event was going to comprise 200+ miles of driving, coinciding with two consecutive nights working late as a DJ.
So with diesel bought, batteries charged, multiple wetsuits at the ready and favours called in, was this it?
Words: James Cummings
Photos: James Cummings and assistant photographer Chris Ibbotson.
Thanks to Northcore, all the surfers and bystanders we saw along the way spreading good vibes, and also to the ‘other halves’ who let us boys go off and do our own thing.
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