The Beast From The East
Chasing waves in Scotland with Pete Devries, Balaram Stack, Noah Cohen, and Marcus Paladino
words:: Noah Cohen photos :: Marcus Paladino
“Ya boys are sarfin’ in this weather?!”
An old, gruff-looking Scottish man shouted at us through a blur of wooden casks and whiteout conditions. Pete Devries and I had tucked in behind the main office of a scotch whiskey distillery, looking for a place to hide from the elements and get into our wetsuits. In hindsight, asking the man for a wee nip of what those barrels were housing may have been a good idea to keep warm. We hurriedly suited up—fingertips instantly numb—then tromped through knee-deep snow and slid down the frozen street in our haste to get to the beach break we had spotted from the highway, nestled beyond the snow-covered dunes.
It isn’t often that bobbing around in the turbulent North Atlantic is more pleasant than being on land, but today I pitied the cameramen and their unenviable posts.
Devries and I, along with lensmen Ben Gulliver and Marcus Paladino, had spent the day on the road, battling the beginnings of an arctic weather front that was dubbed ‘The Beast From the East’. A giant, snowy ball of fury had charged its way across Northern Europe, wreaking havoc in many major cities and bringing travel to a standstill in hubs like Charles de Gaulle and Heathrow. Though we were due to depart the following day, we decided to remain at the top of the nation and scour the rarely-surfed coastline, laden with endless winding beaches and jagged rocky coves that normally sat dormant—but were now coming alive with the swell produced by ‘The Beast’.
When you’re on a surf trip, you surf. You wring out every last moment of time to catch waves. To adhere to this standard, we figured we could drive five hours east in search of swell and stay the night in one of the seaside villages, allowing us plenty of time to drive the following day—just in time to board our flight home. “Too easy,” as Paladino so commonly likes to quip. What we didn’t account for was the massive amount of snow ‘The Beast’ had brought. The highways —which are more like extensions of farmers’ driveways—were covered in snow, creating a much slower and arduous travel day than planned.
It isn’t often that bobbing around in the turbulent North Atlantic is more pleasant than being on land, but today I pitied the cameramen and their unenviable posts. Though we knew winter in this neck of the woods would be far from a tropical paradise, none of us had planned for these conditions. Blustery and relentless winds battering the landscape is certainly the norm this time of year, but the storm that charged its way across Europe and eventually wrapped us in its clutches was the worst that many Scottish locals could recall.
For what our newly-found stretch of sand lacked in bikini-clad beachgoers, it more than made up for with scenic beauty. The multi-coloured roofs that dotted the shoreline were adorned with layers of fresh snowfall—every now and then, between furious squalls, the sky would break to allow rays of sunlight to paint the hills; a stunning sight for us to savour. It was an odd thing, these moments of sensory bliss—then, in a snap of the fingers, the sky would shift to black and return to pelting snow as we shielded our numb lips and stinging eyes with our surfboards.
The waves were as bipolar as the day’s weather—and with a shift in wind direction, conditions deteriorated quickly, cutting the last session short. We stumbled our way back up the headland and found ourselves in what used to be a little valley created by sand dunes that were now transformed into snowdrifts. Set up side-by-side atop the largest one, we waited on the edge with the tails of our boards facing forward, leashes in hand and prepared to drop in as if skating a quarter pipe. We slid down the little slope in fits of laughter, relishing the opportunity to ‘snowboard’ in such a locale.
Every so often our forays into far off places in search of surf deliver these little moments in time, allowing us to reflect with gratitude about how fortunate we are to be doing such a thing under the guise of ‘work’. Somewhere at the bottom of that snowy embankment, rolling around clutching surfboards and clad head-to-foot in neoprene, one of those moments gripped me. I sat in a heap, spitting snow out of my mouth and wiping it from my eyes, bearing a smile that my subconscious had formed for me while my thoughts were wrapped up in the moment.
For a brief period, my near-frostbitten toes and frozen fingers had become an afterthought, and I was blissfully awed, gazing around at such a magnificent place and simply enjoying every bit of the experience. So often on trips it’s easy to get caught up in the importance of scoring waves and getting video clips—and the measure of success or failure is based solely on the quality of the content. Six months later, I can’t recall a single wave from that session. But I do remember getting to and from our vehicle in the blizzard like it was yesterday, and when I reflect on that afternoon, it serves as a pleasant reminder to relax, enjoy, and be present in each moment—and to not squander such special happenings with your mind stifled by thoughts of where you’re headed instead of simply enjoying your way there. We’d come to the boundless landscape of Scotland for the surfing, not the whiskey, but left with much, much more. -ML