Ireland

Ireland

The grass is always greener.

By Chris Gallagher

 

The jet lag you get going to Europe is a bitch. It’s like doing a complete sleep and digestive somersault. It takes a few days to get over the midday pass-outs and evening number twos. But experiencing a new place is always worth it, and the Santa Cruz boys were ready to see what Ireland had to offer. The crew was made up of Adam Replogle, Jason Collins, Matt Rockhold, Noi Kaulukukui, and me, along with a couple of funny photogs to capture the mayhem.

We collected our bags, filed through the ironically named nothing-to-declare “green lane,” and stepped onto Irish soil. There we found our already-bulging crew had doubled. We heard the circus music crank up in our minds, accompanied by audible groans from the vets. These trips never end up being what’s promised. Small crew and all-expenses paid is what we’re told. Large crew, pull out the Visa, and good thing they have a green lane is the reality. With a couple of optimistic deep breaths, we put on our happy faces and pressed on.

Things got slightly heavier as we arrived at the car-rental office. We looked like the film crew for the next Russell Crowe epic as we reserved not two but three full-on RVs. Whatever. A little restraint is recommended when traveling to someone’s backyard. Bringing the dancing bears and cotton-candy machine is not usually the diplomatic cover you need in order to slide under the radar. In the end, it all worked out. We split up at times without any hurt feelings, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

On the way to the coast, Jason “Low Blood Sugar” Collins started his good-natured complaining—slowly escalating into enough Fs and Ss to fill a bathhouse. We finally got the attention of Lambie, our hilarious Scottish O’Neill team guy, and pulled over for a feeding. We settled on an Irish pub for a “fresh breakfast.” Inside, we got our first look at an Irish-pub mutant. Adam started up a conversation with him but could only understand the “are ya” at the end of every sentence. He looked like a grayish-white piece of molted potting clay dropped onto a barstool. Open sores covered his face down to his hands. Next to him sat what appeared to be his protégé. “Get out while you can!” we all thought to ourselves. But ignorance is bliss, and we let him be.

Rocky, trying to capture the cultural experience, ordered the “Full Irish.” It came with something called black pudding. I suspected it wasn’t a desert and told him I was pretty sure it was a spicy blood clot. It’s other name, blood sausage, left little to the imagination. Tragically, this information came a little too late, and Rocky managed to pretend he didn’t want to induce vomiting.

All in all, the breakfast did the trick, and the circus was ready to tackle the day. After a two-hour drive we pulled into base camp. Bundoran is a beach-resort town of sorts and is the self-proclaimed Huntington Beach of Ireland. Sounds great, but where were my fish tacos and grande latte? Luckily, the surf looked better than Huntington, and we found some great-looking setups. Our optimism grew as a several of our eyelids began to drop. The weak succumbed to jet lag, and some surfed, while others hit the backyard pitch-and-putt.

[IMAGE 1]

The time difference got us up way too early. It was gray and onshore, but we were psyched. It felt like home, and we were eager to find a wave. We looked at three spots but decided upon Main Break—a left reef break with some right-hand corners, reminiscent of a miniature Margaret River. It was blown, but as the tide dropped, we got some fun three- to four-foot double-up walls. The water was greenish-brown and about 55 degrees. Our 4/3s were a little too much, so we threw water down our necks to cool off. T rocks and bottom were covered in seaweed and mussels, similar to much of California. We surfed it again that evening.

At dinner we met our Irish tour guide. We quickly got the feeling that he was a decoy giving us false information. We decided to do the opposite of what he told us in the morning. Extra motivation came to ignore his advice after he and his cronies’ pickled ramblings in our house at 3:00 a.m. Adam likes his sleep, so Rat and I got a good chuckle over him snapping on the Guinness team in our smoking lounge.

The morning finally trickled in with the predicted light winds and clearing skies. We loaded up with intentions of leaving town but checked the local surf anyway. Main Break was three- to four-foot perfect offshore lefts. It was a little inconsistent, and the crowds were no doubt halfway through their black pudding and on their way. Feeling a remote twinge of guilt, we pointed the RV south in the hopes of better surf and a lower profile.

The Irish coast is exactly what you’d imagine. There’re rolling grassy hills; ancient rock walls and houses; sheep, cows, and horses on every carefully bordered plot of land; and not a lot of trees. Multiple types of grasses and shrubs cover every fence line and show the signs of being battered by the harsh Irish weather. Most storefronts have hand-carved, painted wooden facades bolted to the eroding cement structures. No matter what the size of town, there’s usually a golf course of varying quality. Peninsulas, coves, inlets, and steep cliffs alternate randomly along the narrow roads—causing us to brush the roadside bushes to avoid colliding with suicidal motorists.

Rat and Adam did some textbook driving, while I attempted to navigate us through the unmarked highway system. We hit the coast again on the backside of a lump of land. The surf was blocked from view, but we slowly saw hints of swell as we rounded the corner. We settled on an area with three spots in sight. We tried out the lower right point, but it was fat with the tide and had a little up-the-face wind. There was a shelfy right that looked cool, and we got some four- to five-foot peaks near the rocks. The sun was actually out, and took care of a lot of photo business.

The word was the northwest Ireland weather is some of the worst in the country, so our 63-degree day was practically a heat wave. I guess it had rained all summer, and the locals didn’t seem too happy about it—the Irish didn’t seem too happy about a lot of things. Even the most casual exchanges were filled with sighs and a general disregard for pleasantries. During one conversation with a storekeeper, I cheerily offered that I was part Irish. Without looking up, she took a deep breath and mumbled, “Lord, help ya.” That was one receipt I couldn’t muster enough courage to ask for. All kidding aside, when the frown lifts, you see a smile in their hearts that could be nothing less than genuine. The Irish people love simple living. Family and friends take priority over material things. Many live off of the family land and try to resist Western capitalistic influences. In general, it seems they don’t need much more than a cozy seat at the bar where they can sip their warm Guinness and revel in their good fortune.

[IMAGE 2]

After only two surfs and hours of driving, there was a collective delirium among the group. Somehow, the buzz of discovery still lingered, and the gang wanted to scan the area a little, catch a rare Irish sunset, and give homage to the day.

The RV happened upon what looked to be a grinding left. We took a long walk across a point covered in impossibly green grass. As our vision cleared the headland, our jaws dropped at the sight of monstrous spitting lefts and rights. Totally unrideable, but we had fun imagining being out there shitting our pants and getting lit up.

An overdue silence crept up on the group. Huddled together on a random grassy rock, beanies pulled tight, the dim faraway sun ducking behind the horizon, the energy of the ocean surged through us. We all privately gave our thanks, turned, walked away, and looked forward to some food and a hot shower.

We surfed a right point the following morning. The spot was off an island of diagonal jutting rock with a small castle in its center. The surf was challenging if not too ripable—about five to six feet with some fun, chunky moments.

Before we could get out of town, we spotted a wedging left reef with a rebound side wave off an 80-foot cliff. Waterfalls, blowholes, and pastures—the photogs cried, “Backdrop,” and it was on. We caught a couple waves, but because of the 40-foot tidal change, it got too high and shut down.

It was a short walk to food, so we changed and hit the pub. Within seconds of entering the door, we saw a lady with hives who recommended the chicken, a woman from Santa Cruz wearing a purple witch’s hat, and to top it off, a female rugby-playing violin-maestro from Humboldt, California. Naturally, we asked her to play a couple of songs. She ran to the hostel, grabbed her violin, and played Irish folk songs while we ate our fried food and sipped our pints.

Back in Bundoran, the swell was again on the rise, and some strong offshores were kicking in. The barreling left at Acorn Slab looked a little lumpy and too low. The swell really started to surge, and we caught a smaller Sunset-esque surf at Main Break rights.

Toward evening, we innocently loaded up for a look at Acorn Slab—eight feet and thick. An insider peeled off and spit, so Adam frantically suited up and jumped in. As his stumpy frame started to roll over the lineup, we all realized this was serious shit. Ten- to twelve-foot triple-up death pits exploded onto dry reef. He had a look at one on his 6’2″ squash and put himself into harm’s way. A mutated blackout set stacked outside. Adam’s less-than-lengthy arms whirled to escape the detonation point. All he could do was dive off and pray that the fantastically sized lip missed him and his board. To our relief it did just that, and he popped out the back. The next one was just as heavy, but wasn’t as close a call. He looked at several more, but wisely backed out. A bodyboarder, who was either a maniac or really naive, kicked out to the lineup. Afterward, Adam said he was pointing to the takeoff zone and screaming, “Right here, right here,” to the guy, but he didn’t respond. (To the bodyboarder’s credit, he did pull into a couple corner closeouts.)

Adam, admittedly, was looking for an out at this point. Catch an insider, belly in, and have a beverage. But, being the underrated hellman he is, Adam decided to nut up and tried to claw his way down the face of a medium-sized set—full-on, no-chance, top-to-bottom free fall. We looked at the video that night and decided it was about a twenty-foot face and thicker than the ankles of an Irish grandmother. His leash predictably snapped like a breadstick, but amazingly our friend washed over the rocks unscathed. When asked about the session, Adam, in his typically understated fashion said, “It’s sorta deadly out there.” Acorn Slab had a blowout sale on humble pie that day, and we all gladly stocked up.

As the swell dropped the next day, it felt as though the trip had climaxed. We did manage one more drive to the north and saw some incredible setups—lots of cobblestone points with lefts and rights. But the winds were wrong, so the surf was nothing to write home about. We spent the remaining days sessioning the spots in Bundoran. We had a blast at Main Break and a toned-down Acorn Slab.

[IMAGE 3]

Even as we drove away, Main Break was empty with five-foot perfect lefts. The local surf-shop owner said we probably got the best ten days of weather and waves for Ireland in October. It seems we didn’t have to be leprechauns to find the pot of gold.

tight, the dim faraway sun ducking behind the horizon, the energy of the ocean surged through us. We all privately gave our thanks, turned, walked away, and looked forward to some food and a hot shower.

We surfed a right point the following morning. The spot was off an island of diagonal jutting rock with a small castle in its center. The surf was challenging if not too ripable—about five to six feet with some fun, chunky moments.

Before we could get out of town, we spotted a wedging left reef with a rebound side wave off an 80-foot cliff. Waterfalls, blowholes, and pastures—the photogs cried, “Backdrop,” and it was on. We caught a couple waves, but because of the 40-foot tidal change, it got too high and shut down.

It was a short walk to food, so we changed and hit the pub. Within seconds of entering the door, we saw a lady with hives who recommended the chicken, a woman from Santa Cruz wearing a purple witch’s hat, and to top it off, a female rugby-playing violin-maestro from Humboldt, California. Naturally, we asked her to play a couple of songs. She ran to the hostel, grabbed her violin, and played Irish folk songs while we ate our fried food and sipped our pints.

Back in Bundoran, the swell was again on the rise, and some strong offshores were kicking in. The barreling left at Acorn Slab looked a little lumpy and too low. The swell really started to surge, and we caught a smaller Sunset-esque surf at Main Break rights.

Toward evening, we innocently loaded up for a look at Acorn Slab—eight feet and thick. An insider peeled off and spit, so Adam frantically suited up and jumped in. As his stumpy frame started to roll over the lineup, we all realized this was serious shit. Ten- to twelve-foot triple-up death pits exploded onto dry reef. He had a look at one on his 6’2″ squash and put himself into harm’s way. A mutated blackout set stacked outside. Adam’s less-than-lengthy arms whirled to escape the detonation point. All he could do was dive off and pray that the fantastically sized lip missed him and his board. To our relief it did just that, and he popped out the back. The next one was just as heavy, but wasn’t as close a call. He looked at several more, but wisely backed out. A bodyboarder, who was either a maniac or really naive, kicked out to the lineup. Afterward, Adam said he was pointing to the takeoff zone and screaming, “Right here, right here,” to the guy, but he didn’t respond. (To the bodyboarder’s credit, he did pull into a couple corner closeouts.)

Adam, admittedly, was looking for an out at this point. Catch an insider, belly in, and have a beverage. But, being the underrated hellman he is, Adam decided to nut up and tried to claw his way down the face of a medium-sized set—full-on, no-chance, top-to-bottom free fall. We looked at the video that night and decided it was about a twenty-foot face and thicker than the ankles of an Irish grandmother. His leash predictably snapped like a breadstick, but amazingly our friend washed over the rocks unscathed. When asked about the session, Adam, in his typically understated fashion said, “It’s sorta deadly out there.” Acorn Slab had a blowout sale on humble pie that day, and we all gladly stocked up.

As the swell dropped the next day, it felt as though the trip had climaxed. We did manage one more drive to the north and saw some incredible setups—lots of cobblestone points with lefts and rights. But the winds were wrong, so the surf was nothing to write home about. We spent the remaining days sessioning the spots in Bundoran. We had a blast at Main Break and a toned-down Acorn Slab.

[IMAGE 3]

Even as we drove away, Main Break was empty with five-foot perfect lefts. The local surf-shop owner said we probably got the best ten days of weather and waves for Ireland in October. It seems we didn’t have to be leprechauns to find the pot of gold.