It was the last Monday of January when Oli Adams first spotted the swell marching purposefully across his computer screen on a collision course with the UK and after a few days of hurried preparations, we set off. Taz Knight joined us en-route as we made our way up country to catch the overnight ferry to Ireland.
The first few days of the trip were a swirl of grey skies and howling wind, punctuated by brief moments of the magic which draws so many surf explorers to The Emerald Isle. On many occasions we'd arrive at our go to spot in Bundoran, windscreen wipers on full speed and squint out through the horizontal rain, to discover near empty hollow overhead waves draining off down its flat bed of reef. Occasionally the storm would lull and the sun would appear casting bright light of many a surreal hue out over the angry sea. In contrast to their weather The Irish were indeed as warm and welcoming as everyone says. On one particularly bitter day, whilst taking pictures from atop a tall dry stone wall which fronted a row of largely empty houses, I saw a man out of the corner of my eye, carefully picking his way along the wall towards me. One hand was outstretched for balance, and the other was clasping a mug. 'I thought might like some tea' he said softly as he reached me, a little breathless from his precarious expedition. I thanked him and he smiled before turning on his heel and making his way back along the wall before hopping down into his front garden at the end of the row. Due to torrential rain I didn't get any photographic gold that day, but this brief encounter left me clambering down from the wall at the end of the afternoon feeling a strong and pervasive sense of positivity.
The unpredictable conditions inspired spontaneity within our planing and after a few days the call was made to set off in search of a distant break. As we entered the final stretch of our long journey we were stopped in our tracks as the road which lead us on looked to have been completely torn apart by the elements, making it impassable. We left our vehicle and preceded on foot, we donned our dryrobes, packed light and heading off into the elements in search of the wave we had come so far to see.
As we draw closer we could just about make out the sound of waves pounding onto shallow rock over the noise of the wind in our ears. As we rounded the corner the sound of our hoots joined the cacophony as a child like excitement washed over us all. The boys surfed for hours, pushing each other deeper and closer to the jaws of the wave as it sucked dry off the rocks at the top of the point. To be in the spot required a masterful back hand take off, right underneath the lip and many times as the bottom dropped out, the surfer would drop with it, their board disconnecting from the face milliseconds before the lip came over and they were swallowed up. A few waves however hit the point perfectly, with a steep drop catapulting whomever was surfing it through a perfectly cylindrical section which ran for a few dozen feet before spitting them out. After a few hours the boys got out and returned to our makeshift camp on the point and the warmth of their dryrobes. Just as they finished peeling off their suits they watched as the now totally unmolested waves reeling off down the point began to improve. The wind had dropped and they were becoming perfectly glassy in the evening light with each now opening up on the take off and barreling all the way through with no strange bobbles or chandeliers.
As we stood and watched in awe, it struck me that even in a world of increasingly accurate swell models and forecasts, webcams and eyeball surf reports, uncertainty at what exactly you'll find remains one of the primary allures for the surf explorer. And that's what makes Ireland such a perfect destination for such explorers; the land of a thousand set ups and four seasons in a day, where you never really know what's going to happen until it happens.
Words & images by Luke Gartside.