The Benefits of Early Rising

I am not a morning person. I prefer to spend the hours before 10am curled up in a cosy bed listening to the wind howling against the window and dreaming of warm seas. But when MagicSeaweed says there is going to be 15ft clean surf on a busy day there isn't much you can do to resist. And so it was that I found myself at the boat shed at 6am on a freezing October morning.

It's still dark - first light is at half 7 - so the only sign there is epic surf out there in the gloom is the roar of pounding waves and the faint outlines of 10 ft breakers. It's out of the cold dry clothes and into the cold damp wetsuit. Paddling out is a battle. Every wave seems to hit me like a train, knocking the breath out of me with stinging cold water. At least I'm wide awake now. Out past the broken waves is the first glimpse of the waves breaking. It's like paddling up a wall but I get over them. I'm almost level with the end of the pier before the water is calm enough to rest. And the tide is right in. Adrenaline is beginning to flow.

The first wave is about 10 feet tall. I think I'm still on top of it because there's a big drop below my boat but then I catch a sight of the wall of water behind me, 6 feet over my head and rearing up - about to break. I lean back, don't want it breaking behind me and in an instant I'm flying at head height in the air with a mass of white frothy horses below me. The power of the water is immense, a little flick and the back of my boat sinks spinning me round. I don't want to get caught beneath this beast so I paddle over the top, through some more waves and out beyond the line to where Jamie and Dan are catching a rest. The smiles on their faces say it all. Jamie says that these are bigger than Thurso. We wait for a bit, there's a monster out there somewhere. I catch a few smaller ones but drop off them fairly early - I don't want the effort of paddling out again.

Then we see it, "Wave!" someone shouts, could have been me, I'm too far in so I'm not going to catch it before it breaks - its a battle to get over it without flipping. Jamie has caught it and the last I see is his helmet as he drops into it. It rears up, must be 12 feet high and with a lot of weight behind it, and breaks with an immense roar. An explosion of foam. Jamie paddles back out beaming ear to ear. We haven't much time to talk about it though - another big one is coming. All three of us catch it. We start off about 3 boat lengths apart but, as I drop in, the wave throws me sideways and I start carving, but then Dan appears out of the froth. I dig a paddle in and turn and brace as hard I can but the boats still collide, the impact throwing up spray between us. I manage to escape over the top, the wave ramping me into the air.

Its a maelstrom of crazy surf: catching waves in, struggling back out and resting before doing it all again. The sky is getting lighter now so we can see the waves roaring in in sets, tubing before charging the beach with mounds of frothy soup.

I catch a wave in, must be the first in a set 'cos as I paddle back out the waves keep hitting. By the time I'm out past the white horses I'm exhausted. The next wave is a big one. I paddle at it madly willing it not to break before it hits me. It collapses on top of me sinking me for a second before I pop up behind it. There's another one right behind it and its about to break. I try and power through it but breaks on my chest knocking the wind out of me. My bow lifts and I feel my tail sink, I'm going over, flipped lengthways, and again. I end up upside down with no idea which way the surface is. It feels like I've been kicked in the chest and then trampled by a pack of wild horses. I begin to inhale seawater. I'm not going to make a roll. I pop the deck and emerge gasping from the water just as another wave breaks on top of me.

Its a long hard swim to the shore, winded and dragging a full boat against a strong current. The waves throw me around like a toy but I know I can't stop kicking. Finally I reach the shore. I collapse onto the sand oblivious to the water still rushing over me. That wave hurt! I drag the boat along the beach to the get-in. Jamie surfs in and gets out. We're both exhausted.

As I sit on the sand and watch the sun rise over the sea a flock of seagulls soar and turn in front of a fiery sky. Dan is silhouetted against the orange reflections in the water and we watch him surf a wave in. Suddenly I realise that, despite the fact that I can't breath without pain; my shoulders and waist are burning with the exertion and my feet are numb with the cold, that I'm smiling like a clown, a big cheesy grin of absolute happiness. It's quarter to eight and under normal circumstances I wouldn't contemplate moving from my bed for another hour. People are beginning to walk to work along the seafront path. A couple have stopped to watch the crazy morning paddlers get trashed by the waves. I've just had more fun than I usually have in entire day and its not even properly light yet. Somehow I know that no matter how many stressful and boring meetings and lectures I have that day that the smile won't leave my face. What a way to start a day. I'm going to have to start getting up early more often.