Words: Neil Craig
Pics: Neil Craig, Loco SUP
Contrasting to Alex Murray’s Fijian journey (see elsewhere in the mag) North Sea based rider Neil Craig was picked to represent Scotland after slaying it during both qualifying events. Unfortunately due to various circumstances Neil was unable to travel to the ISA Worlds – gutted he most certainly was! As a ‘real world’ paddler (like many of us are), with responsibilities, commitments and family, we thought we should get a bit more background and hear his story.
In 2002 I started surfing after purchasing a board and getting stuck in to my local beach, Spittal, which was within walking distance of my house at the time. A 7’6 minimal shaped by Sam du Feu in Wales got me up and riding waves! Without any lessons or instruction it took a while to get the hang of it. My main coaching was watching surf videos and analysing what the pros were doing. I then invested in a long and shortboard to help with my progression. The longboard was perfect for smaller days and enabled me more time on the water. My friends and I surfed the east coast from South Northumberland to East Lothian on a regular basis. We also scored plenty trips up north to Thurso – especially in the summer when the east coast goes flat.
We had some epic trips including one to Machrihanish where after scrambling to camp in the middle of the dunes we drank too many beers and realised we had left the tent poles at home! After a long night sleeping rough we awoke to shocking 2ft onshore slop! It’s funny thinking about it now but it wasn’t at the time…
During 2006 we planned an epic trip for New Year. We drove to Portsmouth and boarded the Pride of Bilbao to Spain. A week was spent staying near Biarritz, surfing all over from San Sebastian to Hossegor. After a week we picked up some friends at the airport who joined us to go skiing in the Pyrenees. Following that we spent the remainder of the trip at Mundaka surfing epic river mouth peelers before catching the boat back to England.
Having seen Laird Hamilton surfing a SUP for the first time I was intrigued and liked the look of it. During a two month surf trip in 2008 I finally got my first shot on a rental at Tea-tree in Noosa, Australia. I remember it was a nine foot something BIC and incredibly hard to balance on! That same trip included a week at Bob’s Surf Camp, G-Land, Indonesia, surfing the biggest most epic waves of my life. It culminated in a triple overhead pounding where I was bounced down the main reef! Later that day we took a ride to Chickens where it was a more manageable double overhead.
During 2011 the sand at my local beach shifted exponentially forming a left hand point far out on the river mouth. Having tried to surf it prone on my longboard I found it very hard to stay on the peak due to the currents. Seeing a local kayaker take it on I decided paddle power was the best way to ride it. Straight away I purchased an 11′ Circle One SUP from St.Vedas Surf shop in Coldingham. I surfed it on beach waves a few times before the point came alive again.
My new SUP had a large single fin in the centre and two smaller side bites. I remember trying to the turn it on my first few waves which felt impossible. A few sessions later I was moving up and down the board and loving it. Once the point turned on my board was perfect. I was catching waves super early and riding them longer than I had ever done before – mission success!
Keen to get even more time on the water I decided to start windsurfing in 2012. This is when I met Joe Thwaties from Loco SUP. Joe helped me get windsurf kit together and we met up for some lessons. After getting on well, and Joe reviewing some of my Youtube videos and social media pics, he asked me to join the Loco team. As part of the Loco team I sold my 11′ and now have a 14′ touring board and an 8’4 surf SUP that I use on the same stretch of coast as before.
Shortly after I decided to enter competitions run by the boys at Coast to Coast in Belhaven. My first surf comp was their longboard / SUP & junior comp. The SUP section was well turned out and started off with very bumpy surf in the chest to head high region. I managed to cruise through the heats with a second place finish. The surf then cleaned up and the semi’s and final were held in very good waves. I managed to nail second with mere points between the top three! Being the highest placed Scotsman gave me the number one spot for the ISA slot in Fiji!
I returned later in May for the Dunbar Sprints Day, which included a technical SUP race. I was really looking forward to this. Joe met me on the day and handed over a 12’6 touring board for the race (I did have the option of a thinner carbon model but decided stability was more important). The race went really well. I led from start to finish and really enjoyed It (although I did have a fairly big advantage over the racers who were on inflatable boards). This again gave me the Scotland slot for the ISA worlds in Fiji.
To have the opportunity to represent Scotland in the sport I love in Fiji (no less) was awesome! Without making excuses, however, I decided not to go mainly due to work responsibilities as a business owner. Hopefully I can requalify next year and maybe go to Denmark, although I noticed at both events some younger, hungry looking SUPers will be vying to take my place.
I put my success in both events mainly down to fitness. I train Crossfit five mornings per week, follow a strength programme two-three times per week as well as surf and do all the other sports mentioned above. This combined with a decent diet (80% of the time) has put me in a good place.
With my job I’m out and about on construction sites half the time. I usually have my kit ready to go for quick ‘survey’ missions though! One of the things I love about SUP is it allows me to get out the back, catch waves fast and get back in to work before I’m missed. The same quick mission on a surfboard would result in half the wave count and a few ticking’s off.