Student Spotlight: Rory McClish – Surfing Abroad in Scotland

Rory McClish, a third-year hailing from UCSB, decided to make his year abroad in Edinburgh memorable through an activity that seems completely paradoxical in Scotland; surfing! Read his account about how participation in this sport has enhanced his study abroad experience in ways he didn’t imagine.

jYes, it is cold; It is very cold. Surfing in Scotland means trespassing through muddy farms, paying due respect to the few grumpy locals with incomprehensible accents, and of course risking hypothermia each time your pale and numb hands fumble with a frozen-stiff wetsuit. More often than not the conditions include howling winds, few daylight hours, and short-period wind slope. Many sessions are more defined by time spent warring against the elements than riding a decent wave.

So why bother? I’ve shivered, squinted for waves in hailstorms, and lost feeling among my limbs as
the blood fled to defend vital organs. However, I’ve also had the privilege of joining a unique and hardy community of surfers, as well as enjoying some of the best waves of my life. Maybe it was Thursomegrowing up surfing crowded waves in California, but I now get so excited to emerge from my sleeping-bag-stuffed-in-a-surfboard-bag and paddle out from a snow-covered beach to watch a sunrise, all while being not too far away from the Arctic circle.  For all the hours spent searching, there is great reward and exhilaration in taking off on perfect waves with no witnesses other than some mates and some ambivalent highland cows.


Every Wednesday afternoon the Edinburgh University Surf Team meets in a dimly lit pub for some banter to plan surfing adventures, all over a few pints between lectures. This community of cold-water thrill seekers share a common love of the striking beauty of the rugged Scottish coast and the hidden gems it has to offer. Just last month the first ever Scottish Universities National Surfing Championships was held in the city of Aberdeen. The Scottish Surfing Federation ran a great first event; four universities fielded 25 competitors. Although the conditions were less than ideal, everyone lived. Only intermediate stages of hypothermia were reported, but smiles all around Thurso1nonetheless! An Edinburgh friend went on to win the event, and of course [we went to a pub afterwards] for both warmth and celebration. It was a unique experience to have competed through to the semi-finals and one that I will remember fondly as one of the many highlights of the past year. It has been an awesome experience to see how this group of Scots as well as international participants brave the unforgiving conditions. Being part of the club has helped me to forge life-long friendships and has absolutely contributed to an amazing year abroad.