The History of the North of Scotland Before 1945: As Told By Surfers

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This article examines the telling of the north of Scotland’s history by people who participated in surfing. Surfing, as a sport/activity, is likely to have first appeared on the Pentland Firth, and in Caithness and Sutherland, after the 1954-58 arrival of the Dounreay nuclear power facility, and the fledgling Scottish/British and international surfing press was keen to stress the other-worldly qualities of surfing in an incongruous landscape and treacherous weather. History, elements of which were embellished or inaccurately understood, was a key to this. Travelling surfers, including some based in Scotland, emphasised Norse heritage or generic signifiers of Scottish identity, and surfing’s place within a broad arc of history with a heavy accent on adventure. Less discussed (but not altogether absent) were the Sutherland Clearances, a process which accelerated the coming of industry and radical population changes on the north coast. Reflective of these gaps is the (re)telling of the history of Thurso Castle, symbolic as it is of surfing’s tourist gaze and, with regard to international men’s surfing events, the marketing of elements of Scottish history and heritage towards commercial ends.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-115
Number of pages24
JournalNorthern Studies
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2022


  • surfing
  • history of sport
  • Highlands and Islands
  • sport tourism
  • tourism
  • Scottish sport


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