Chasing Emerald Waves - Taz Knight
The west coast of Ireland is home to some of the most intimidating surf in Europe.
At the edge of its famous green, rolling landscape, the rugged Irish coastline is at the mercy of the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean. In the winter, the beautiful emerald water becomes an explosive playground of unpredictable and temperamental waves.
The consistent surf is made up of big swell, cold conditions, and strong winds, requiring a special kind of dedication from surfers who want to enjoy its chaos during the coldest months.
One talented, big wave surfer who has found his home in ‘The emerald isle’ is Taz Knight. Growing up in North Devon, Taz is passionate about the extreme surf found there. We were excited to catch up with him to understand what he loves about the Irish coast and why he perseveres with the intense conditions.
What makes Ireland so special to you and why did you decide to move there in 2018?
Ireland has a load of nostalgic childhood memories for me. We spent a lot of time surfing and camping out in Easky as a family, so it’s one of those places that really feels like home. Even more so now I have been living here for 4 years.
The move came at a time when I was ready for a change in life. I had been living in Bristol for 3 years and I was ready to be by the coast again and out of the city.
Basically, the first place I thought of going was Ireland and I didn’t look any further.
What’s unique about where you live in Ireland?
Bundoran is right in the middle of Donegal bay. You’re surrounded by these amazing mountains that fringe the coastline; from Slieve League on the western fringes of Co. Donegal, all the way to Belmullet on the outer corner of Co. Mayo (with Sligo and Leitrim between).
As well as the incredible panoramic views, you can find shelter from almost any wind direction somewhere in the bay. If you can stick it out through the cold and the weather, it’s a great place to be a surfer and enjoy nature.
How do the waves in Ireland compare to other cold water surf breaks?
An amazing aspect of the surf in Ireland is the sheer variety of wave types.
When it’s good it's incomparable. You could be surfing any kind of wave type you can think of, all within an hour's drive.
However, with the volatile nature of the North Atlantic, the conditions can be maddeningly unpredictable.
You talk about your love of going off adventuring and finding hidden gems. How do you go about finding surf spots on the Irish coast and is it something you mainly do solo?
It was always something we loved doing as a family. Just driving around in the bus, poking our heads down little dirt tracks to find fun little corners to ourselves.
As I got older I kept it up, mainly just going off solo. Once you start to get to know a coastline, you might know areas where the rock formation is particularly good. Or a headland that might be getting favourable winds. Or maybe you have heard tell of a wave, but you still have a few miles of coastline to walk to pin it down.
Sadly I’ve been a bit busy in recent years for regular goose chases. But I still love to get out adventuring whenever I can.
Do you have any favourite spots you’re willing to share?
At the moment I’m loving just surfing around Bundoran! There are so many good spots right out the door that it’s hard to leave when the waves are good. My favourite wave at the moment is this short punchy little right-hander in town. Great little kegs and great for turns and airs.
What are the rewards of surfing on the coldest days and why do you persevere in colder conditions?
In the UK and Ireland, you occasionally get a pattern of easterly winds from high-pressure systems sitting over northern Europe. We all know them. Normally a stable low out in the Atlantic sending in a nice swell, crisp clear skies, light offshores, biting cold blasting in from Russia… yeah those days can get cold. But they are often the best!
If you can be one of the few who can consistently get in the water over those spells, you can have some pretty magic moments.
How do you prepare for colder temperatures and unpredictable conditions when getting in the water?
Conditions wise, you just always have to keep your options open and not be too set on any one plan. When I head out for a surf, I’ll normally have 3 or 4 options in my head.
With the cold, I just kinda trick myself into not thinking about it too much haha. Having good kit is pretty essential. You can tell yourself you’ll be warm once you get in the sea, or you know you can quickly get warm again once you’re out. Those little things make it easier to ignore the horrible moments, like changing into a wet wetsuit in the sleeting rain (though a dryrobe® can do wonders there hahah).
Film by Mikey Corker