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Major blow as surfing contest is wiped out

By Will Clark

Brian Toth takes to the air during last year's heats at Thurso East. Picture: www.jamesgunn.co.uk
Brian Toth takes to the air during last year's heats at Thurso East. Picture: www.jamesgunn.co.uk

THE local economy has been dealt a major blow after it emerged a world-class surfing competition held annually in Thurso has been shelved.

The O’Neill Cold Water Classic at Thurso East, staged since 2006, will not be part of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) surf calendar after sponsors O’Neill decided not to renew its five-year deal.

Following discussions with O’Neill representatives, the Scottish Surfing Federation confirmed the event will not be going ahead.

Instead, O’Neill has apparently moved its sponsorship to the Cold Water Classic event in Santa Cruz, California, to celebrate the clothing firm’s 60th year in the town where it was founded.

With no sponsor in place, ASP, which organises the professional surfing tour, decided not to add Thurso on its calendar for 2012. It is hoped, however, O’Neill may renew its sponsorship or a new sponsor can be found for the event in 2013.

SSF president Chris Noble said the news came as a major blow to Scottish surfing. He said it will have an impact on tourism and the local economy.

"I don’t know if it is going to come back next year as it is all up in the air at the moment, but at the present time we are just trying to organise events in Thurso for this year," he told the Caithness Courier.

"A few months ago, a representative from O’Neill got in touch with the Scottish Surfing Federation to give us the heads up before the announcement. The news that the sponsors were not going to continue the deal came as a huge surprise to everyone.

"It will be a blow to Thurso as it was good for the local economy and it was also good to see Scottish surfers seeing a world-class event on their doorstep and having the opportunity to compete against the best surfers in the world.

"People in the region don’t get to see that on a regular basis and it inspired local surfers to push their level to compete with world-class surfers."

In place of the event, the Scottish Surfing Championships will be held on the weekend of Saturday, March 31.

The UK Pro Surf Championships will also be taking place in October at Thurso East. But Mr Noble said the boost the Cold Water Classic gave the area was huge and could not be replaced.

"Surfing has come a long way in Scotland in the last five years or so, but the Cold Water Classic was one of the main catalysts for that success. There has been a marked increase in the number of tourists coming to the region specifically to surf as Thurso has earned a reputation for the best surfing destination in Europe and one of the best in the world.

"The media coverage also brought the spotlight on the Far North and its positive influence on the economy could not be understated. It would be a shame not to have it again, but at the minute we are not sure if it will be coming back in 2013."

Organisers of the Wave North festival which was established last year to coincide with the Cold Water Classic said they were disappointed.

Caithness Horizons’ visitor services assistant, Joan Lawrie, said despite it not going ahead, they were planning to hold two week-long surfing festivals in March and October.

"The idea of Wave North was that it was a way of promoting surfing in the region and the O’Neill event was the biggest competition of the year," she said. "We plan to hold the festival twice this year to coincide with the Scottish Surfing Championships and the UK Pro Surf Championships."

No-one from O’Neill or the ASP was available for comment as the Caithness Courier went to press.

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