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Winter Storm Hercules ravages European coastline and attracts surfers

In the northeastern United States, several flights were delayed, re-routed, or cancelled just after the New Year. Complaints echoed at almost every airport in America. News outlets bombarded viewers with treacherous, wintery storm scenes and ambulance sirens. By the time frostbite settled in for some in the states, my airplane was climbing across Europe with the final destination being the United Kingdom. Holiday skiers with British accents occupied the plane with stories of how their families and homes were currently being flooded in Cornwall (a surfer’s mecca almost year round). By the time that the plane touched down, there were hundreds of flood warnings issued by the Environment Agency.

Winter Storm Hercules ravages Cornwall's landmarks.
Jenny Booth

Hercules is most often known as a mythological hero noted for his strength. It is no wonder that the great storm surge brewing over the Atlantic took on such a name. Unfortunately, this storm was not a fabled tale, but all too real. As a result of Winter Storm Hercules, giant waves invaded Britain’s coastline. In Cornwall, pub owners were left to clean up the mess of the poor drainage system. Sitting dry in a London pub, basking in shared meat pie and fish and chips, restaurant partakers put their forks down to take in the startling images that blasted on BBC. Three deaths were reported. One person was violently swept out to sea in Cornwall, another was swallowed by the Oxford River, and a third person was killed in Devon. Residents relayed how their serene beach would never be the same. The coastline was wasted by 30 foot waves and 70 mph winds. The famous natural archway, known by locals as “The Anchor” or “Jan Leverton’s Rock” was destroyed. In addition, Pom Pom Rock off of Portland was taken by the ravenous waves. Townships were completely cut off because access roads were underwater, sometimes by three feet or more. Many were forced to evacuate. The police warned wayward wave watchers to stand clear of the tumultuous weather. The sporadic images were familiar ones to U.S. citizens. Hurricane Ike, Katrina, and Sandy had too devoured priceless landmarks, created drainage issues, taken lives, and eroded precious coastlines.

However, our noble allies were dealing with a storm of majestic, record-breaking proportions. While locals scurried to solve flooding issues, surfers from the U.S. poured in as quickly as the rain had. While most English home owners wanted out of such perilous conditions, big wave surfers desired to brave the front lines. Like Hercules, these men are mere mortals. Yet, they are defined by their sense of adventure. Hercules, although known for his strength, is also celebrated for his far-reaching adventures. Big wave professionals like Jamie Mitchell, Andrew Cotton, and Lyndon Wake channeled this spirit across Europe’s coastline. Shane Dorian even flew in from Hawaii, following the deep depression across the Atlantic in the hopes to surf some chilly, XXL swell and maybe earn a Global Big Wave Award. As heavy wave chasers packed their bags and headed for Europe, Winter Storm Hercules (although a depression) did not disappoint. Thrill seekers capitalized off of the storm surge, catching waves in Mullaghmore Head, Ireland, Belharra, France, and Praia da Batata, Portugal.

More photos here.

Great videos here.

See local surfers make the most of the flood waters here.

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