This trip was not a planned “surf trip” but ended up being a gift in more ways than one. My wife and I had originally planned to go to Barbados for our annual get away from work and the world. I had hopes of getting to surf Soup Bowls and my wife was looking forward to enjoying some tropical weather and clear water snorkeling. Unfortunately, as it always goes on pre-planned trips with your significant other, the swell forecast was looking less than stellar. With Christmas approaching and decisions to be made as far as ticketing goes, I had relegated myself to a nice 12 day snorkeling and Mai Tai adventure on a wave bereft tropical island with my lady. “The worst day on a tropical island is better than the best day working.” Right….?
Christmas Eve came, and my wife has an issue with waiting to open presents and/or giving them. Picture yourself at 6 years old pretending to close your eyes on Christmas Eve only to wake up in a complete amping haze at 4:30am banging on your parent’s door exclaiming “it’s Christmas and Santa has come!” This is how it is for the entire month of December for my wife at our house. Our Christmas Eve tradition is to give each other a present. My present came in the form of an envelope. I assumed it would be a nice cheesy card or possibly a gift certificate to Englund Marine at best. I opened the envelope to find two tickets to Dublin!
Less than 48 hours later we landed in a country that we both had dreamed of going to for the better part of our adult lives. I had been close 4 years ago when we were traveling in France and Spain but I wasn’t able to make the leap over due to cost. But now we were here, a place we both have family roots, and cold-water slab surfing was breed and lives on. I couldn’t have been happier.
We took the bus and stayed near the center in Dublin the first night. I wouldn’t recommend having a car in Dublin, the parking situation combined with the traffic is a nightmare. If you’ve ever been to an Irish pub in the states, go ahead and throw that experience out the window. When you walk into a pub here, it’s more than you could possibly have imagined. Old timers and the young alike strike up song and play instruments to all hours of the night. The “CRACK” is had amongst all and the stout is consumed heavily!
Leaving Dublin, the only surf and scenery minded thought was to head west! We got a small diesel SUV rental car and somehow we’re able to fit all the luggage and my boards inside. Whenever you can keep your boards and yourself under the radar do so! The first stop was Galway Bay, the town of song and story. An amazing port town filled with epic pubs and great people. We stayed a night and were privileged to some of the most amazing singers and musicians we had ever heard.
From there we drove the better part of the west coast enjoying the sights and the extraordinary people. Along the way I scoured the coastline in search of the tucked away reefs and slabs I had seen in pictures and videos. The entire first week of travel, the swell and wind were not on my side to say the least. The twists and turns of the coastline reminded me so much of our own geography here in the PNW. Surf travel in remote, cold, and stormy destinations is always challenging. In this day and age anyone can pull out their phones and get a map of spots and damn near get your hand held down to them. But who wants to travel halfway around the world to surf with every other fellow with an internet connection and six of their friends? So down the muddy roads and across the marshy fields I went at each headland in hopes of stumbling across the pot of gold. I wouldn’t say I found gold during that first week, but I was fortunate enough to find some very fun and almost empty setups. As well as meet some great people and explore the landscape and culture the country is so famous for. From the iconic cliffs of Moher to Cork and back north to Belfast. So much coastline and so many variables. With 17ft tide swings, howling winds, and huge seas, finding quality surf is no easy task.
There was some solid swell on the radar, but it came with trying winds. With only 5 days left in the trip and still without that pot of gold I had hoped to find, I reached out to some connections that had been given to me from a good friend in New York. Along with spending loads of time on the Emerald isle, he also frequents my home in the winter months to enjoy some of our heavier but extremely fickle spots. Over the years we have been privileged to have some amazing sessions together.
After meeting up with the local connections I was vaguely nudged in the direction of the setups I had been coming here to find. With that touch of help granted to me and a bit of luck and skill earned from 20 plus years of searching, I finally started stumbling over the right muddy hills. Over the next 4 days I got to share with the boys exactly what I came here to find. We surfed rip-able points, slabby dry reefs, and was even gifted an opportunity to paddle a rarely surfed outer reef. It came with a ski ride and a 9’0 that without the help of the locals would have never happened.
The final day of the trip we were forecasted a solid swell with big interval, just what was needed to awaken the reef at Mullaghmore. With the forecast set to blow 50 plus by mid-morning, we launched the skis from the iconic harbor I had seen and dreamt of for years. I am fortunate enough to have been in the water on quite a few heavy days at home and around the world, but nothing can compare to pulling up to a wave for the first time on a solid day. It’s an unbelievable and indescribable feeling. I remember the first time I saw a photo of Mullaghmore some 15 years ago. My reaction at the time was much like my reaction upon seeing it in person. Complete amazement. Sitting on the ski with pumping sets coming in and the iconic castle on the hillside, it was almost surreal. Due to the windy conditions the paddle session was cut short and the tow rope was brought out. For the next couple of hours, we took turns slinging each other into barrels and looking out for one another. The afternoon culminated with local kid and probable future first Irish WCT’er, Gearoid Mcdaid, getting an absolute drainer just as the hail and wind went fully apocalyptic. Riding back to the harbor, and with only 6 hours to get back to the airport to head home, I knew I had found what I came for, the pot of gold….
I thanked the boys for all the help and kindness they had showed me and invited them to hopefully let me return the favor one day. I also donated a hundred bucks to the Irish Surf Rescue Club, who without them none of the folks that visit, much less myself, could be charging half as hard. Growing up in the PNW, I’ve spent my life trying to understand when and where there was going to be quality surf. Then most importantly trying to figure out how to keep it quiet. It has always been a struggle to balance sharing our resources and protecting them from becoming what most of the world has become. Every winter we have a handful of days were people from all over the world descend upon our little community. Some folks come in packs and have a take all for themselves mentality. The quality of their experiences and their likelihood of return can be varied. Then you have the people that come and show respect to those who live here and have invested their lives to this place. They look to give back and assist when possible and use their better judgement regarding the sensitivity of our area. These people are welcome any time and they know when they arrive, they will have support and care from the community. It’s good to know that this mentality generally carries over into all other situations in life. Show up to a new location with a humble positive attitude, pay a little dues, wait your turn, and 9 out of 10 times you’ll get back what you put in: respect, a few new friends, and maybe if you’re lucky a couple of stand up barrels.