This wasn't your typical swell.
And in fact, this hasn't been the typical season for the North East of the UK. Usually, by this time, at least a couple storms have lit up the back-bone of the GB isles.
But most of the recent swell activity out of the North Atlantic has slammed straight into Ireland, which acts as a blocker for those big swells to wrap around the top of the UK and down into the North Sea. Last week though, that fickle, cold stretch of water, which is sandwiched between the UK and Norway, was alive with back-to-back, localised swells. A couple of storms that sent a load of waves to shore. And even though it wasn't the ideal angle and tide, even though daylight played against them, and the size made the call tricky, it was the first glimpse of real winter for the surfing community up that way.
Travel guide: UK + Ireland
"There's been a bit of a flat spell up here," said Rhys Smith, who has recently returned from scoring tropical blue barrels at G Land. "But this swell, the sea was totally washed out and we took a chance on a spot that rarely works, ended up finding some dark, heavy lumps of water rolling through."
The following day, that wind cleaned up a touch. "Surfed for four hours," said Rhys. "Felt like half the town came out to watch."
"Yeah this was long awaited," said Gabe Davies, north east aficionado. But this wasn't all glamorous though. "It was a storm force surge of swell mixed with foul-smelling river water and storm sewage overflows blowing up all down the east coast," Gabe continued. "Ok we had amazing waves, but in the back of all our minds was the running risk of filthy water. I'd urge everyone to download the SAS Safer Seas App and contact your local MP about the issue."
From the beach, Lewis Arnold, a mainstay in the NE UK surf scene, was on the tools. "That was super tough," he said. "The weather was horrendous, no one around and a day you really don't want to pull the camera out."
Lewis, Rhys and fellow north east aficionado, Gabe Davies, spent a good deal of time trying to line up time and tide for this swell. “The problem being there were no real tides, we were surfing spots at high that are low tide only, but when the swell's there for a limited amount of time, you try new things," said Lewis. "Can't think of many people who would want the full maelstrom of that storm. Rhys said 'it looks fun', I thought 'it doesn't look fun to me'."
For the surfers of the North East, there's been a bit of a shift in mentality, recently. Maybe largely in part to seeing world-class surfers at spots that community grew up surfing. "Everyone's experimenting with what can be surfed at what stages of the tide," explains Lewis. "It's been amazing to see the limits get pushed more and more here. Maybe it's seeing what the rest of Europe is doing and saying, 'hey we can do that too.' Look what they're doing in Ireland, it's crazy. This was just the start of winter though, lots more to come."
Recently, Lewis released a stunning coffee-table book called Glass, which is an ode to scoring in the North Sea. It's worth having a peep, here.