Bigger and more frequent storms are a feature of climate change for communities living along Ireland’s spectacular Atlantic coastline. A couple of decades ago when ever increasing scientific evidence entered everyday news to point towards human influence on this rapidly warming period, we were told that Ireland could expect wilder and wetter winter. And so it has come to pass. A generation ago or less, we might have expected one major storm annually but nowadays we are seeing several exceptionally deep depressions each year sweep across the great ocean to pound our western shoreline with mountainous waves.
Over the past thirty years or so too, surfing has surged in popularity in Ireland and drawn some of the elite of international big-wave riders to “one of the most underrated surfing nations on the planet”. It is a year ‘ round activity and at numerous locations close to to notable reefs, a surfing culture is evident at small town and villages from West Cork north to Donegal.
Recently the onset of swells generated from Storm Epsilon “joining up with a mother system” had the watchful enthusiasts at the dedicated surf website; www.MagicSeaweed.com announcing to its community that “Europe was On!”. Off the northwest coast of Ireland, the biggest swell was expected – coinciding too with renewed highest Level 5 Covid-19 Restrictions. The region is home to some of Ireland’s finest reefs that when conditions beckon, attract surfers from all over Ireland and Britain. This time though only highly skilled locals up to the challenge would be able to meet the swell and this included young Conor McGuire from Bundoran in the southern part of County Donegal who has been surfing the incredible reefs of his native county and neighbouring County Sligo since childhood. A Red Bull-sponsored athlete, he is currently among the top big-wave riders in the world and before dawn on October 28, a louder than usual roar of the sea roused him; “I woke up to that noise at five this morning with nerves tingling. ‘I could hear the deep bass from the ocean rolling through my house, the sound was echoing through the walls. I knew we were in for something special”.
Soon, with special permission from local authorities and Irish Coastguard to wander beyond the 5kms of the restrictions, Conor and his Red Bull team that included four jet-skis, a paramedic, cliff-spotters and photographers headed ten minutes down the road to Mullaghmore where finely honed skills, courage and commitment went out to meet an enormous, beautiful wave seen coming in the bay; You could see it the whole way coming in and I thought, Oh fuck!”
Making the commitment to ride it, McGuire’s friend and skilled jet-ski tow-in driver Barry Mottershead delivered the young surfer to exactly where he wanted to be…. “picked me up, did a big loop and slung me in like a pendulum….When I was dropping down, it felt like I was dropping 30 or 40 seconds, I was going and going. The wave itself, it was smooth, man. It was huge, buttery, green and beautiful. It was pretty easy … I just kind of stood there [laughs]. But it ended up catching up with me in the end.”
The standing lasted all of twenty seconds described by Conor as “a rare and special experience” as he carved a line down the face of biggest wave yet surfed in Ireland, a temporary wall of water some 18 metre/60 foot in height.
Comhgáirdeachas mór a Chonor!
To see some wonderful images of Conor’s historic surf, see;
News of big-wave surfing in Ireland broke beyond its tight group of pioneers reaching another level with the screening of the 2008 documentary film Waveriders. Directed by Joel Conroy, the film explored the role played by the Irish-Hawaiian George Freeth in the development of surfing and the cutting-edge riding of Irish, British and American surfers on the gigantic waves off the Atlantic coast of Ireland including the giant Ail na Searrach aka; Aileens located below the famed Cliffs of Moher.
And for more incredible images of Irish surfing, check out the work of renowned County Clare-based photographer, George Karbus; https://www.georgekarbusphotography.com/surfing/