Top Tiree surfing event rides waves of concern

The Tiree Wave Classic is a big draw to the island.

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Plans to carry on with a top world surfing event during Covid are making waves in Tiree.

If the week-long Tiree Wave Classic competition goes ahead next month it will be Scotland’s first international sports event as the UK exits lockdown.

Argyll and Bute Council and EventScotland are backing it and organisers are working flat out to Covid-proof the event that will attract about 50 competitors this year and 75 to 80 spectators daily.

The event is being seen as a pilot for putting on a safe international event.

So far the tiny island has stayed virus-free but some concerns are being expressed about the globe’s longest running professional windsurfing event happening during the pandemic.

Oban South and the Isles councillor Roddy McCuish said it is madness for the event to go ahead and it should be cancelled this year.

He said: ‘As far as I’m aware, Tiree has been virus free until now. I’m deeply concerned about all the people heading here. No matter how the organisers try to cut risks, it is still a huge risk. It’s complete madness. The Covid figures in Scotland right now are higher than they have been for months. Why not just call it off this year and look forward to doing it again in 2021?’

Earlier this year, coronavirus saw the cancelling of Tiree Music Festival and the Tiree Ultramarathon.

Tiree Community Council discussed it at its last meeting and is taking ‘a balanced approach’, said community council chairman Dr John Holliday.

‘It’s an important part of the Tiree branding and business year. Everything else has been cancelled but we are worried. We have not seen all the details yet. It is possible things can be put in place to satisfy concerns but we are being cautious. We have had representations. We need to know people who come to the event will behave sensibly and stick to regulations.

‘There is a sharp rise in Covid cases on the mainland so it may well be that events overtake the event,’ he added

William MacLean from event host and Tiree-based Wild Diamond said: ‘We’re not downplaying the risk of Covid, but we believe we can more than adequately Covid-proof this event.’

Putting the event’s attendance figures of surfers in ‘prime health’ into context he said about 20,000 tourists had already visited Tiree in the past eight weeks.

More than 100 people a day are taking part in water sport activities run by Wild Diamond, sticking to strict Covid regulations with the business having to quarantine wet suits, floats and other equipment for more than 70 hours between use.

‘In the contest, the participants will have all their own equipment. Social-distancing is abundant, happening naturally in the sport because it would be dangerous to get close. It’s all in the great, fresh outdoors,’ said Mr MacLean.

He added: ‘It’s the social side of the event that will suffer.’

Changes to make the event as safe as possible for competitors, organisers and the population of the Isle of Tiree will include a ban on formal indoor meet-ups of competitors in the evenings throughout the week, the prizegiving will be outdoors on the beach on the final day and skippers’ meetings will be held outside to minimise the risk of Covid transmission.

Organisers are also working closely with the British Wavesailing Association (BWA) and RYA Scotland as well as Caledonian MacBrayne, Tiree Community Development Trust and the community council.

A Covid policy is currently being written for the event that will include details on expected Covid testing for the windsurfers.

‘We are doing everything we can to make this a safe event for everyone – our competitors, event crew, judges, people travelling through Glasgow, Oban, the airports and for island residents.

‘Ultimately the event will be in limbo right up until the first day and will be in the hands of the government. In the meantime, we are also talking and listening to the community. If they came up with solid justification that this event was unsafe, it would not go ahead,’ said Mr MacLean.

The event dates are October 10 to October 16.

Tiree Wave Classic is likely to be the only event sanctioned by the BWA in the UK this year and the only big-name event in Argyll in 2020.

EventScotland said the Tiree Wave Classic is one of the UK’s most prestigious wavesailing events which it has supported through its international programme for the last 16 years. ‘We have agreed to continue our support of the event in 2020 and have asked the organisers to share their plans for the safe delivery of the event, ensuring at all times that they comply with the up-to-date Scottish Government guidelines for sporting competition and outdoor events,’ said a spokesperson.