If I can generalise sweepingly for a moment, the balance of work and play is the question at the heart of every surfer’s existence. The existence of God, the meaning of life, to be or not to be — such issues are secondary to the organisation of one’s life and livelihood around the ocean’s capricious rhythms.
Some feed their habit regularly in small doses, sneaking in a quick sesh before or after work and devoting days off to the pursuit of trim; others abstain for weeks on end before indulging in prolonged orgiastic surf binges. Mark Boyd is an archetypal binge surfer. He’s also the newly crowned Scottish champion in the Open Division, winner of multiple national longboard titles, and holder of the unofficial title of Most Barrelled Man in Thurso — which is tantamount to being the most barrelled man in the UK.
But what's it like being six-foot-four and offshore?
Tell us about your job Boydie.
I’m a hydrographic surveyor. So whether we’re putting in cables for offshore wind farms, or pipelines for the oil and gas industry, my job is to make sure everything goes in the right place, and then we’ll make charts and maps of where things have gone, and do reports, and make sure everyone knows where everything is, basically.
Are you underwater a lot?
No, I just sit at a computer most of the time. We use Remotely Operated Vehicles that have cameras on them and survey sensors that collect data. Sometimes we use divers as well. It’s all done by acoustic positioning — sometimes I'm just sitting on board the vessel and looking at a dot on a screen, haha! Well maybe theres a bit more to it than that now and again...
You must get to travel a bit?
Yeah you go to some pretty random places. I’ve mostly worked in the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea as well recently, but also all down West Africa. I got to go surfing in the Congo when I was there — something was broken on the vessel so we had a bit of time off to run from the harbour down to the beach. There was a bar on the beach that rented surfboards, and fun waves out the front of it. I’ve worked in the Mediterranean and Egypt — places you’d be unlikely to go on a surf trip. I’ve seen good waves in Egypt as well but couldn’t find a surfboard anywhere — I was shore-based for a few weeks, ringing around everywhere but no luck, and there were pumping waves just out the front of the hotel!
"If there’s a semi-attractive woman on a boat it completely changes the dynamic of the whole ship, some people start acting really weird"
So how does it work? You get called out to a place, the North Sea, Africa, wherever it happens to be, and then…
Normally I’m vessel-based, so usually you’re stuck on a boat for four to six weeks. I’ve had the odd hotel-based job — it’s pretty rare but sometimes you get these near-shore jobs. Every job’s different as I’m a contractor, but usually you’re on a boat for up to six weeks at a time, which is 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so all you can really do is go to the gym and stay fit for when you can go surfing again.
Or become an alcoholic, I imagine?
Well no, it’s all pretty strict on that — zero tolerance on booze and that offshore, and even when we’re ashore it’s all supposed to be zero tolerance. Which I suppose is kind of a good thing, you have a nice little detox and you get pretty healthy as there’s nothing else to focus on.
Erm, how many women are there on a boat, generally speaking?
Usually zero percent. I think Norwegian vessels have got some sort of law where they’ve got to have a certain percentage of women, so sometimes there will be maybe one or two women on board. It’s kinda funny — if there’s a semi-attractive woman on a boat it completely changes the dynamic of the whole ship, some people start acting really weird, trying to impress the girl. It’s almost better if there’s no women there! It is a bit strange. You kinda don’t realise ’til you get back from offshore, like, fucken hell, I haven’t seen a woman in 6 weeks! Not even seen one, you know, walking down the street.
How much time do you get off once you’re back?
It’s kind of up to me now. Through my 20s I worked a lot — like 220 days a year offshore, sometimes, so more than half the year away. I did that for 5 years and then the last 4 or 5 years I’ve been a contractor working for myself. I’m in a position now where I own my flat and can take the gas off and work a little less and surf a bit more — I’m just basically trying to work as little as possible now. This year, I just did three and a half months of work so I’ll have six months off now, cruise and get some waves, get a couple of trips in…
What’s your work to play ratio?
I would say on average I probably do about 120 days a year offshore, so it’s not too bad. It’s really good if you want to do trips, ‘cos you’ve definitely got the time. You’re not tied to anywhere… although I’m pretty tied to Thurso I suppose.
That’s where your place is?
Yeah I’ve lived in Thurso since I finished uni ten years ago. I grew up on the Moray coast and then went to university in Aberdeen, but I was always going up to Thurso when I was a kid, and I was probably spending more time in Thurso while I was at uni than I was in Aberdeen to be honest. I’ll do most of my work in the summer, which is when the industry’s busiest, too.
Is Ian Battrick still living there in his van?
He was up this winter and last winter, aye. He loves doing it feral. It’s good to have Batty to surf with — he’s always really keen even on those days when nobody else is.
Give us your best Batty story!
So we went to karaoke one night in Thurso probably about ten years ago. They used to do karaoke upstairs in the "Central". Batty had a couple of pro-surfer American friends over at the time, I won’t say who they are. He doesn’t actually drink much these days, ‘cos he’s "The Monk" (as Carwyn Williams calls him, haha) — he’s pretty healthy and stays off the drink. But we went to karaoke this night and had way too much to drink. I think Batty got lucky, and he was in his van, and one of his American friends was trying to get in the van, so drunk he was begging to annoy Batty opening and closing his van door all the time. Batty warned him a few times, I don’t know if he knew what was going on but wound Batty up to the point he sparked him out next time he opened the van door! He used to be a boxer as well, Batty. I think he boxed to quite a high level – so not the guy you want to be on the receiving end of a punch from!
How tall are you, by the way?
What’s that like?
Especially when I was younger, trying to work out what board to ride was quite difficult because there was no Owen Wright or Jordy Smith on tour — there was nobody tall on tour at all. And that’s the easiest way to work out what sort of board you should be on. Jordy Smith actually left a board in Thurso, a JS, after one of the ‘QS events. Somebody bought it, and I remember I begged him to let me buy it off him. I managed to get it and it turned out to be the best board I’d ever had. So after that I was like, "well I’ll just ride what Jordy Smith’s riding." We’re pretty similar weight and height, he’s maybe an inch shorter but I pretty much just copy his boards.
Is it a struggle being a taller bloke from a technical point of view?
I always used to think, just looking at the tour guys, and how 100% of them were under six foot at one stage, that it must be a disadvantage - and it probably is with smaller guys being lighter and having the lower centre of gravity especially in grovel. But now obviously you’ve got Owen Wright, Jordy Smith, even John John I think is 6’1”. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages — probably more disadvantages, but if you look at Jordy and the way he moves his legs, he’s got these extra-long pistons to generate speed which maybe compensates for not being quite so light. Then obviously you’ve got longer levers, probably a bit more power, and when the waves are bigger it probably helps, especially if it’s choppy. Longer legs are probably better for absorbing chop. But 90% of the time it’s a little bit of a disadvantage if you’re surfing smaller beachies. I think you’ve really got to concentrate on what you’re doing with your limbs…
My mate’s 6’5” and he looks like he’s doing the YMCA every time he gets to his feet.
Economy of movement becomes quite important, because it’s even more obvious when you’re doing things wrong.
Lastly, who helps you out with kit?
Alder Wetsuits, Sea & Sons, Shapers, Dragon and Passenger Clothing.