When a record-breaking swell blips on the charts anywhere across the globe, it is a call to action. Just about everyone with an interest in the North Sea has been keeping an eye on this colossal XXL swell blob that steam-trained down its entire length this week, setting off a whole load of spots along the way.
But that doesn't mean it was easy going. The first few days this swell filled in were marred with exceptionally strong wind. Exposed spots were a write off while this beast (of the east) cascaded south until, eventually, it calmed over the past few days, allowing for flashes of brilliance, if you knew where to look.
That these waves in these locales aren't for everyone is a bit of an understatement; cold water, still in full suits, a good chunk of knowledge needed to get to the best places... yeah, this was one for the locals. In the UK's north east, tensions nearly boiled over with drop ins and the whole spectrum of carnage. Best to leave that to the local crew.
“This was extreme,” says Jop Hermans, a photographer in Holland. “North and north west winds are straight onshore in The Netherlands. No protection anywhere, at least not in Scheveningen where I live. Snow, hail, gale force wind, sun, no wind, snow, hail, gale force wind, sun…on repeat for two days. On Tuesday and Wednesday I spent a good couple hours on the beach, not expecting to come across Marijn Bouwmeester surfing the harbour. Fun to watch and the only surfer I’ve seen out all day.”
Meanwhile, in the north east of the UK, photographer Lewis Arnold was on it. “Everyone was frothing on the Monday,” he said. “But it came in raw and not as big as we expected. Everyone was getting a bit antsy.
“The next day, we woke up and it was still kind of small, but busy – a load of people dropping in. Then, on the high tide it started to pump. The swell angle started to change and it began firing. Local lad Louis Thomas-Hudson was the standout.
“On the Wednesday, I went a bit further south to get away from the sheltered spots but it was just maxing out. Then, yesterday, the wind swung and the main spots turned on.”
"The swell this week was pretty crazy," says north east ripper Sandy Kerr. "We often get big swells but not often with long period and good winds. The first part of the week we were having to seek shelter from one of the biggest north swells I can remember, this made for some magic moments at some spots that spend most of the year flat. When the swell settled down we got some bombs at some of premier reefs. The best morning the guys put on a good show with large tubes going down."
Of the magnitude of the swell, Lewis adds: “It's so rare a few of these places get maxed out. It's unusual. The wind didn't help. But overall, another unusual chapter in what has been a crazy winter – it's been the most active the North Sea has been in years. It's been non-stop and a real positive winter despite COVID.”
Further into Belgium, and MSW mainstay lensman Damian Davila said it was just too much to swim out. “This swell came in super stormy,” he says. “When it's like that, there's so much current, not really surfable.”
Forecast: UK + Ireland
"The swell was generated by a large northerly fetch stretching from northeast of Iceland down into the North Sea, that persisted for several days starting on Sunday," said MSW forecaster Tony Butt. "The fetch was associated with a low pressure system northwest of Norway and a super-intense anticyclone over Greenland, the latter of which was one of the highest sea-level atmospheric pressures in history. A small wave disturbance also propagated down the North Sea on Tuesday, giving an extra boost to the swell.
"Wave heights at exposed spots on the east coast of England were ten feet or more for most of the week, but with strong north or northwest winds. The swell began to decrease from late Wednesday onwards, at the same time as winds backed around to the west and then southwest. Thursday saw wave heights averaging around six to eight feet, dropping steadily throughout the day, with moderate southwest winds."
We're still getting more images through, so we will update this piece as they come in.