Everybody’s gone surfin’
Scottish surfer, Scott Micthell at St Andrews Holiday Park heading towards East Sands
Mention ‘St Andrews’ and the immediate association is the putt, putt, putting of little white balls and the satisfying rattle as they drop into neat little holes across some of the world’s most famous golf courses. But ‘the home of golf’ is fast becoming a popular destination for an altogether different sport – and that’s surfing!
Regulars to the university town will no doubt have seen a growing number of surfers bobbing to and fro in the waves at East Sands. Even on the coldest and windiest Scottish days these hardy souls can be seen donning wetsuits and making the most of the swell, often spending hours with minimum daylight searching for that one wave of the day and only getting out of the water for a warming brew and a stretch.
“It’s all about the escapism,” says Scott Mitchell ‘Mitch’ aka Scottish_Surfer. “That feeling of bliss when you catch the one wave you’ve waited for all day, the wave you know will be your best wave of the day, sometimes you know you won’t get a better one but the search will always continue.”
Being a soldier for over 19 years Mitch, 38, is perhaps hardier to the Scottish elements than most and it was during his army career that he first had the opportunity to try out surfing. Three years later and Mitch was a qualified surf coach having competed for the army surf team and often coaching in the Newquay Surf School’s too. More recently, Mitch’s passion for the sport has taken him around the world including France, Portugal and The Falkland Islands where the highlight was surfing alongside three Commerson’s dolphins. He is Team Rider for Fourth Surfboards, a brand ambassador for the outdoor and sustainable clothes brand Passenger Clothing aswell as, Solite (Wetsuit) Boots, Weret Surf Watch, House of Marley and SurfMould Pro.
“Surfing in Scotland is pretty special and unique, but it’s not for everyone," says Mitch. "Extreme cold water, limited daylight, hundreds of hours wasted driving to spots that should be firing only to leave you disappointed, forcing you to head home can be frustrating."
“But it’s not all doom and gloom, gear-up in the right kit and equipment and soon you’ll forget about the elements, your focus becomes where is the best peak, where should I sit, how should I paddle out?
Mitch paddles out on his tartan board
“Once you’re out the back (behind the breaking waves), it’s about taking that Condor moment to compose – just take a deep breath and get a feel for the surf, forget about real life worries - it’s just you and the waves often with the backdrop of incredible Scottish scenery and awe-inspiring sunsets and sunrises.
“My advice - don’t go buy all the wrong gear ‘cos your mate who surfed back in 1996 said that’s what you need, go for a lesson, this will tell you a lot, especially whether or not surfing’s for you. My biggest piece of advice would be to learn the etiquette of surfing, don’t just paddle out to a spot you’ve never been to assuming it’s a super safe because its ‘in town’, there can be many hidden dangers in the water, rips, rocks, tide times but the greatest danger in the water is always ignorance.
“There is a Surf School in St Andrews on West Sands beach called Blown Away and it's epic. It’s run by twin brothers and they offer lessons for all age groups and abilities and are a super friendly crew who will tell you everything you need to know.
Mitch has inspired his children Brooke, 14, and Kyle, 13, to take to the surf too.
“I always come out the water feeling like someone just hit my life’s reset button, and that feeling I can’t get anywhere else,” says Mitch beaming.
"Scotland has many beautiful surfing spots all around its coast and every surfer has their favourite - far be it for me to advertise one above the other - do some research and stay within your ability/comfort zone. Being consistent is the key to progression!”
Next time you’re in or around St Andrews, look out for Mitch and his tartan-clad VW campervan – he’ll be on his iconic tartan-inspired surfboard somewhere nearby!