Words: Peter Cockill
Pics: Steven Hughes
Back in 2012, upon returning home to the temperate shores of Loch Lomond and feeling much rejuvenated from an amazing SUP surfing trip to the stunning, crystal clear waters of the Maldives, I was looking for a regular surfing fix a little closer to home avoiding my usual two hour flog to the nearest beach break.
Loch Lomond, which lies 14 miles north of Glasgow on the boundary of the Lowlands and Highlands, is 24 miles long by 5 miles wide and gets waves when westerlies blow. There are several standing river waves nearby too, similarly weather-dependent.
I heard through the grapevine that a new wake boat had arrived on the Loch with a ‘surf system’, which produces waves up to two foot in height and whose length can be adjusted at the touch of a button. I telephoned the wake boat owner and explained tentatively my idea of trying to surf behind his boat on my paddleboard and asked if I could give it a go. Whilst I think he was interested mainly in trying a paddle board, to his credit he agreed to go along with it.
I arrived the wakeboard base at Rowardennan, a small, picturesque village nestled just under Ben Lomond, armed with my trusty Starboard Big Easy, 12ft long and a little heavier than current designs. As my board was too big to go into the boat, I paddled out to the middle of the Loch to try my first attempt. On reaching the centre of the Loch I had a moment of “What now?”, as I had not actually worked out how to get up onto the waves!
The first attempt involved the boat driving past pretty quickly and me paddling into the wave, however it quickly became obvious this was just not going to work. For my second attempt I was towed via rope, straight behind the boat, however I did not quite get this right either and my board rapidly became a missile, headed straight towards the shiny new vessel and demanding a quick abort. Upon regrouping, I realised that I had to get this right next time otherwise I could well have outstayed my welcome and be paddling back to shore.
On my third try I decided to kneel on the board, five metres behind and wide of the boat. This was it… The boat took off and happily I was positioned just right and got into the wave and within a few metres I was on my feet and riding. I threw the tow rope back to the boat, grabbed my paddle in both hands and that was it: I was SUP surfing unaided, trimming up and down a sweet one to two foot wave. Some adjustments where needed – if I got too close to the boat I would move back and stall the board; if I moved away from the curl then a few paddle strokes through the whitewash soon had me back in the ‘sweet spot’.
So there I was: in the middle of Loch Lomond, surfing a wave, feeling amazingly stable, using the paddle to balance any minor wobbles, flying along at about 20mph and scoring three to four minute rides. Naturally, I left that day jubilant, with pretty sore calves but very happy. I reckon quite a few surfing sessions at a beach break would be needed to match the length of time that I had been riding waves for during that day.
Fast forward three years to the summer of 2015, when I was fortunate enough to have another go at wake SUP surfing and this time on my 9’5” Naish wave board, which was a whole lot more manoeuvrable – allowing my wave trimming, top and bottom turns all now to become more defined. Plus I was able to get towed into the wake already stood up, making the transition to actual surfing easier than from a kneeling position. ‘Hanging five’ and nose riding will soon be mastered. Hopefully…
Before I discovered paddle boarding I had a longboard background in surfing and I can only describe wake SUP surfing as the closest thing to cruising on a big mal on a mellow day.
Having a group of friends only a few metres away in the boat encouraging me created a great camaraderie too, and with the boat‘s music system and lights on it was brilliant being able to ride into the dark listening to favourite sounds. A tip we worked out to gain a few extra inches in wake height was to put the heaviest person in one corner of the boat– unfortunately this was usually me so I never really benefited here!
Wakeboarding itself is there for those wanting a more aggressive ride and experienced wakeboarders make it very exciting to watch but, if like me, you are ‘getting on a bit’ and maybe nursing a few aches or indeed just want an easier ride then I’d say that wake SUP surfing is the way to go. I believe too that board size could come down and be more fun, with the paddle used more for turning and balancing
Questions that may arise here are: Is this a good alternative to open water surfing? Does it compare to a day at your local beach break? Purists would probably think not, as it is man-made waves and needs the expense of a boat – although in some ways it is similar to the Wave Garden.
Wake SUP surfing works for me though as an occasional treat but guess if I was out every week it could get a bit boring. Each of the several great sessions over almost four years have left me smiling, energised and totally stoked, and well pleased that I have found a fun-sized wave a few miles close to home that is theoretically is endless… So, if you are lucky enough like me to find a generous skipper (preferably one who wants a go too), then I recommend that you try wake SUP surfing at least once in your life.
Top wake SUP tips:
- Always have three in a boat for safety.
- Use short fins to create a loose board.
- Surf like you are on a wave SUP.
- Move to the back of the board if you’re getting too close to the boat. This will slow the board down.
- Extra bodies at the back of the boat will increase the size of wave.
- Use the paddle for balance and powering back into the curl of the wave.
Thanks to Ricky Oldershaw, our skipper, and Steven Hughes who took the photos.