Hercules and Big Wave Surfing

This Winter we experienced some of the biggest swells we have had since we have lived here in North Devon. There have been some amazing waves reaching the shores of the Western Atlantic from North Africa to Scotland.

In January a big storm swell from Hercules, combined with a series of very high tides, to bring unprecedented waves crashing on to our local beaches, causing quite a bit of flooding and leaving some destruction in their wake.

We are used to big waves of 12 - 20 feet in this area in big storms, but you don't see many surfers in conditions over  6 - 8 ft as the beach break can be ferocious, and the rips dangerous.

We are lucky to have a famous big wave surfer based here in Croyde, Andrew Cotton, who became famous for this huge wave he caught in Nazaré, Western Portugal, in October. It was one of the biggest waves ever ridden.

We had a local film night where we watched the story of his journey with fellow big wave surfers and there was a Q and A session with Andrew as part of the event – it was a fantastic evening held in the Thatch and organised by Museum of British Surfing.

Catching big waves has inherent dangers which won't surprise you. The gravest one being the power of the waves, and particularly the hold down period one experiences; this is where you are held under water by the power of the wave, if it breaks on you or you fall off, when riding down the face of the wave.

The big wave hot spots in Western Europe are in Ireland, Portugal and France. 

This is Belharra in France

where the waves get seriously big.

And this is Mullaghmore in the west of Ireland during Hercules.

The photos were taken by another local film maker and friend, Mikey Corker.

Hercules was unusual in that the size of the area of depression (low pressure) affected such a huge area.
The black area is the heart of the depression - heading straight for the south west of England.

In North Devon we experienced one of the biggest tides ever at our local beaches of Saunton, Woolacombe and Putsborough. The high tides combined with 20 feet plus waves which literally came 15 ft up the dunes between Putsborough and Woolacombe. The base of the surf life saving hut was washed away.

The waves came within a few feet of the cafe at Putsborough, and the café floor was rumoured to have dropped by 6 inches in the peak of the storm at high tide. In Ilfracombe the waves were crashing over the wall at Cheyne Walk.

In Lynmouth the waves flooded shops down by the quay.

There were some stunning waves along the coastline and whilst the most exposed beaches were too big and dangerous to contemplate surfing, other 'secret spots', even normally unsurfable spots (due to a lack of a wave), started working in ways never seen before. This is Lynmouth.

Our good friend and local photographer and videographer Pete Cox made the following stunning film of Hercules..

After the storms there was a lot of mess left on the beaches, so the community got out for some well coordinated beach cleans.

We went to the Croyde beach clean organised by Croyde Surf Club, Parkdean (Ruda Holiday park) and Croyde Surf Life Saving Club. About 200 people turned out and got stuck in.

It felt like the tip of the iceberg, but it was good to try to make a small difference together. Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) are organising a special series of post-Hercules beach cleans, please get involved at a beach near you…