By Mark Boyd
Published: 17th December 2018

Surfing the North Coast by Mark Boyd

Photo: Mark Boyd, Thurso East by Malcolm Anderson

The North Coast of Scotland, in particular the reef breaks of Caithness around the Thurso area, are world famous for their heavy barrelling surf; akin to that of the North Shore of Hawaii – just much colder!

Thurso – East (a reef break which can be seen from Thurso beach/harbour or better yet from the farm car park at Thurso-East itself) is the jewel in the crown of Scottish Surfing and during the winter months is a spectacle for those travelling the NC500 – expert level surfers from all over the world descend here to try and snag one of these world class waves.

But its not all expert level surf in Caithness and North Sutherland. The area boasts beautiful beaches around Bettyhill, Melvich and Dunnet which are perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers.

You’ll need good equipment to enjoy surfing in these waters – and you better come prepared as unfortunately there is no surf shop on the North Coast 500 route. In the winter months when the waves are best you’ll need a hooded 6/5/4 top of the range wetsuit, mitts and 6mm + boots.  For adults learning to surf you are best with an 8ft+ foam surfboard depending on your size and weight and if you have no experience at all I would recommend getting a surf lesson where you could also be able to rent the equipment for your trip. The governing body for surfing in Scotland is the Scottish Surfing Federation ( and on their website you can find information regarding surfing in Scotland but most importantly a list of SSF accredited surf schools and affiliated businesses which can help kit you out for your North Coast 500 trip depending on where you may fly into.

Expert surfers no doubt will travel with their own gear and will appreciate the surf on the entire NC500 route – from Durness to Sinclairs Bay on the North Sea Coast, but Thurso, will likely be your mainstay as this is the most central location to the quality reef breaks but also within striking distance of the beach breaks out west as well as the North Sea coast; depending on conditions. Thurso is also home to a great selection of pubs and offers good nightlife at a weekend, which is most surfers ideal combination ; )

For those wishing to stay in Thurso the Inn at Y-not is the perfect base to be right in the centre of Thurso, and you’ll also get a great feed after a long days surfing in the cold. For those looking to be out closer to a selection of beach breaks and a quieter time, the Melvich Hotel is the ideal location slap bang in the middle of some fantastic beach and rivermouth breaks and even a view of the surf from the hotel. They also have wood fired pizza which makes for a fantastic post surf feast.

Thurso-East is host to the Scottish National Surfing Championships annually and this year the event will take place on the 19th-22nd of April 2019. This event is definitely something to add into your itinerary for the surfer and non-surfer alike when doing the North Coast 500 as it is a display of the best surfing and waves that Scotland has to offer.

No surf? Why not do a Whisky distillery tour at one of the distilleries on the route? Glenmorangie in Tain perhaps? Or play a round of golf at one of the many golf courses on the route such as Wick Golf Club.

Blog by Mark Boyd, Scottish National Surfing Champion. Follow Mark on;

Instagram: @markboydsurf


Photo: Mark Boyd, Thurso East by Malcolm Anderson

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