Who identified Tiree as a windsurfer’s paradise?
The legend, because that is what it has become, suggests that it was Graham Strong from Scottish Television who realised the island’s potential while making a film on the lifestyle within its small community.
The concept of the Tiree Wave Classic was the brainchild of Glaswegian, Steve Bisset who was producing a windsurfing magazine called Carve and Gybe in 1985, the year of the first “classic”. Although Tiree, as a windsurfing venue had only recently been “discovered,” word of the conditions found on the island had already become legendary and Steve had little difficulty in assembling a group of the UK”s top sailors for this first major wavesailing competition in Scotland. Mark Wood, Pete Clarke, Duncan Coombs, Pete Caldwell are just a few of the well-known names who made the pilgrimage from the deep south. Unfortunately, the great expectations were not fulfilled due to unfavourable weather conditions and no competition took place. The visitors had grasped the enourmous potential though, and a repeat performance was inevitable!. Sadly too ‘Carve and Gybe’ faltered and the instigator of the Tiree Wave Classic slipped out of the windsurfing scene.
Tiree Wave Classic 1986
Enter Andy Groom and Joe Kelly, proprietors of windsurfing shop 7th Wave. Andy, Joe, and many of their customers had become very attached to Tiree and as the legend continued to grow they decided to adopt the “Classic”, they are responsible for the event as we know it today. With just a hint of flamboyancy, a few phone calls and letters went out to Hawaii inviting such people as Pete Cabrinha and Fred Haywood, it was an ambitious move but it wasn’t surprising that the invitations weren’t accepted; Tiree is a long way from anywhere apart from Coll and the prize money on offer wouldn’t start to cover any of those guys expenses. What was successful, however, was the publicity campaign at home, and in 1986 more people were to join the pilgrimage to this, now hallowed, place. Before long names such as Duncan Coombs, Peter Hart, Jamie Knox, Dave Cordell, Justin Hooper Geenhill and many more appeared on the entry list along with all the top Scots.
7th Wave was to support the event financially and had done a superb job of twisting the arms of their suppliers for equipment prizes., Colin McDonald, chairman of the Scottish windsurfing Association, had also secured additional finance from the Highlands and Irelands Development Board. Key figures in the surfing /windsurfing trade, Tad Ciastula and Tommy Armstrong, were invited to judge. The 1986 Tiree Wave Classic was on!.
This was to be a team effort with Joe and Andy being joined by 3 Rosses; Mungo, Sue, and Neill ( not all related ), Andi Robertson, and many others with all the timekeeping, flag hoisting, horn sounding, and result computing. Spells of duty were interspersed with time on the water, in some cases even in the competition, the spirit that is an essential element of the event was developing. The winner was Duncan Coombs with Scotland’s Gordon Millar coming third and Mungo Ross taking the amateur prize.
The event itself was considered by most to be an unqualified success and made the most of the variety offered on this special island. Three different beaches were used on various days with the final taking place at Crossapol. This was a truly “Classic” day with a force 5-6 blowing cross-offshore giving, at times, mast high waves. Another trend within the arena of the Tiree Wave Classic was also to begin here; that year and almost every year since a virtual unknown was to appear and to shine. This time it was Mark Wills who pushed Duncan Coombs very hard but wasn’t quite consistent enough to take the top spot. Although a few loops had been witnessed that week Duncan will long be remembered for an outrageously high jump in the final, for a few brief moments it seemed he might never come down.
For many though the high point of that year’s event was probably the showing of a five-minute sequence, at peak viewing time, on BBC Scotland. The prize-giving dance was the first in a line of memorable evenings to be enjoyed until the present time. The specialist windsurfing magazines all featured a report on the event and, with an initial interest shown by TV, hopes were high that worthwhile sponsorship could be obtained. Many people were involved in trying to achieve this, and maybe it was a case of too many cooks, but nothing major materialised.