The amount of information floating around these days makes going to a new country seem tangible before even setting foot on its soil. You can see it but you can’t feel it. The smells, the temperature on your skin, the locals and their jokes, the conversations with sheep, the fresh Guinness stew and hot whiskey, the fear you feel paddling down the face of a slab on a dropping tide. None of these things are digestible until you get on a plane and do it for yourself.
When I got an email from Oregon photographer Mark McInnis about a trip to Taiwan for a web series called “Chasing the Shot” by Red Bull I said yes without even checking my schedule. After a few days watching the maps for Typhoon activity it looked as though we would have to change gears due to the storm heading directly for land. Mark recalled Barry Mottershead inviting him to Ireland about a year prior, and after a day of noodling on the forecast, he called filmmaker/director Ben Weiland and solidified the plan. We were heading to the North Atlantics Emerald Isle for what looked like good weather and plenty of swell.
The whole crew, consisting of surfers Cody Thompson, Justin Quintal, myself and capturers Mark and Ben, flew in from separate airports, all landing in Dublin within an hour of each other. We grabbed the rental cars and followed Google maps to the other side of the country, the West coast. A couple hours of lush greenery on either side of us and we found our old cottage nestled off a private road totally hidden from the highway. The house was freezing unless the fire was lit and you had at least one whiskey in your stomach.
The next ten days were filled to the brim. Up at dark, on the road by sunrise and in the water before your brain told you it was too cold to surf. Ireland is all about the weather and how you react to it determines how hard you will score. For us, a group of wide-eyed travelers, we would take anything and run with it. But for local boy Barry, he wouldn’t settle until he found us the gold on rainbow road. He was the glue that held our crew together each day long enough to score waves and culture, before unraveling over Guinness each evening (more culture).
I’m all about finding new spots that make me question how surfable it is. And on one cold blustery afternoon the crew walked into a pub for lunch only to walk out into groomed perfection. What looked like victory at sea an hour prior was now clean, grinding tubes arguably too dry on the reef to make the wave. I have never been so full but I didn’t care because I had never been presented with an opportunity like this: camera’s ready, nobody out, overhead spitting right slab, game on. By the time I made it into the lineup I was met by a local Irish surfer who saw the potential like I did. He mentioned he had only seen the wave surfed once in the past due to the amount of sand that needed to be cleared away for the swell not to wash through the lineup. Today it was doubling up on the reef. I was so scared that I made all my waves; it felt like slow motion every time. My new Irish friend was not so lucky, getting sent over the reef on two occasions and heading in with his tail between his legs, but not without an inspiring effort I became familiar with in Irish surfers.
After scoring a couple setups in town Barry decided it was time to venture North into the desolate countryside. He had been to a remote 300-year-old cottage once before with his girlfriend that ended up as a perfect setting for our crew. No people, just sheep and coastline. No electricity, not a single bar of cell service for miles. We brought in all our food and drink and scoured the coast for the following three days.
One evening just before sunset two fishermen came in for the last time of the season. Weather was coming and past storms have shown not to tempt fate. A big white cross on top of the tallest hill overlooking the rocky coast read, “On the 16th of November 1870 a ship named ‘The Sydney’, carrying a cargo of wood from Quebec to Greenock was wrecked in a violent storm at the Camus Binne. There were only two survivors. The other nineteen-crew members were lost. Four bodies were recovered and buried here.” I looked up towards the jagged dark horizon and it wasn’t hard to believe many people have died on this coast. The lives taken by the icy North Atlantic are not unlike the local surfers I met who challenge the heaving waves year after year, storm after relentless storm. That Irish sense of will has been carried forth in surfers as the new challengers of the sea in front of them.