IRELAND AND SCOTLAND
Ducking and Weaving through Ireland and Scotland
In Irish mythology, the ‘Banshee’ is a female spirit who heralds the death of a family member by wailing, shrieking, or keening during the night. In many parts of Ireland, it is believed her wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In the wee hours of our first icy night on Irish soil, the household is abruptly woken by a deafening, mournful cry. After restless hours pass, we rise to discover fragments of the car’s back windscreen covering the driveway. Thankfully, there was no sign of lost possessions, but with Mullaghmore and a host of blood thirsty waves located a short distance up the road, the banshee’s wailing intrusion was a spooky omen. There was plenty of light-hearted banter about what driving would feel like in the absence of a back windscreen, but secretly we hoped and prayed it was none of us upon whom the Banshee had laid her wailing curse.
After an uneventful East Coast winter in Australia, the call was made to temporarily relocate to the Northern Hemisphere; close to the border of Northern Ireland for some overdue waves and shenanigans. Partaking in the Aussie invasion were Luke Hynd, Russell Bierke and Sean Mawson, along with lensmen Darcy Ward and Andrew Kanieder. After arriving at separate times, we all shared a palace on the water, where we were treated to enchanting views of the North Atlantic Ocean and mythical castle ruins. Once settled into our handsome new abode, we opted to hit the streets and purchase some local kit. A pair of wellies, three knitted jumpers and a Hanna hat later, you walk out feeling as though you’ve been reinvented as Bono.
Despite the grandeur of our lodgings and the quality of our clobber we still needed to get around, so Louie, Darcy and myself swiftly arranged the purchase of a car
and named it Derg, which the Banshee ultimately had her way with that very night. We dropped 1500 quid on Derg, compelled by the notion that if he got us through the trip in one piece, it was money well spent. Derg quickly became a hit with the locals and an unexpected conversation starter, as we became known around town as simply ‘the lads with no back windscreen’.
Road trips in Derg felt more like a trip to Mars as, without the back windshield, the exhaust fumes would circulate the cockpit, killing every brain cell in their path – a scenario our crew could scarcely afford. After a few failed tape jobs we surrendered to the head spins. Salt-ofthe-earth Irish madman Connor Maguire came off second best when he politely accepted our offer for a seat on a road trip south in Derg. We set off super early in a bid to make the high tide at an infamously shallow slab. With none of us foreigners really paying attention to the route and Connor dosed up on exhaust gas, we ended up driving for an hour and a half in the wrong direction. Four hours later we arrived, looking more prepared for a week at Burning Man festival than a surf at a frigid, Irish slab. Fearing he was acquiring an addiction to the buzz induced by the car’s noxious fumes, Darcy took charge and put his bush mechanics skills to good use, creating a makeshift windshield out of plastic and several kilometres of electrical tape.
Although it was a slow autumn by Irish standards, the land of lefts didn’t disappoint. Plenty of water time and a wide variety of waves kept everyone on their toes and ensured the mood in the lineup was always upbeat. The Irish surfing scene is small in numbers but big in dedication and soul. You encounter the same faces in the water swell after swell – always hospitable and welcoming if you imitate their friendly and excitable approach. You don’t exactly have to look far for good vibes in Ireland, in and out of the water. For a country that’s endured a lot of hardship, they certainly know how to concentrate on the positives and make time for the important things. Even their staple colloquialisms are infused with good will and before long you’ll find yourself integrating “thanks a million” “fair play” and “good crack” into your own banter. Relocating to a new place, putting your time in and making a conscious effort to live as the locals do is the underlying essence of travelling and being a successful journeyman. It’s easier said then done; responsibilities and commitments usually mean the majority of surf trips are spent in a self-infused whirlwind, endeavouring to fill the wave quota in a limited time frame so the trip may be deemed a worthwhile escapade. In Ireland, I really enjoyed the whole culture of having an early dinner, a couple of beers by the fire and talking shop. It’s such a cool way to spend your evenings. We stuck to the Guinness for the whole trip. Steak and eggs in a glass we referred to it as. It’s a meal in itself. When you first arrive, your first few pints seem hard to drink and you’re kind of pretending to like them more than you do, then you work up a taste for the thick brew. Two pints of Guinness flicks a switch in you, you can be so tired and
adamant your only having one or two, but by your second one you’re not saying no to a third.
We were also eager to check out Scotland and with a promising swell window opening up for Ireland’s closest relative, Louie, Darcy and myself made the convenient split. Meanwhile Russ, Sean and Matt Bromley licked their briny lips as a 20ft swell marched towards Ireland’s famed Mullaghmore.
We were greeted in Scotland with open arms and perhaps a few stray ones too. Once across the border we were intent on familiarising ourselves with the local establishments and customs and entered the first bar we stumbled across to play some pool and sample Haggis (a savoury pudding of sheep’s offal, oats and spices nicely encased in the stomach of the dead animal). Mid-way through our opening game, a local hothead with a gut full decides he’s going to fight the barman who is also the stand-in security guard. Unable to retaliate, the helpless guy can only throw up his arms and fend off a dozen wild, windscreen wipers to the scone before the culprits flee. It wasn’t exactly the Billy Connolly comedy act we were looking for. Having lost our appetite for pool, we chose to dine at a nearby restaurant and for the remainder of the 10-day trip we ate at the same restaurant every evening. We tried the Haggis that very first night and found we had left one battle to start a fight with our taste buds. It had a strange texture and unfamiliar after-taste. It wasn’t ordered again throughout the trip, but it does feel satisfying to know I have sampled the Scots’ signature dish on home soil.
There’s something exhilarating about rocking up to a new setting equipped with limited knowledge and a firm sense of adventure. We had been given a few clues and this particular coastline of Scotland is not exactly a remote, untouched area, but “turn left at the farm and jump over the gate” does leave a fair bit up to the imagination when the entire countryside is fenced-off, lush farmland, which descends into the ocean.
When you think of surfing in Scotland, you imagine rubber, ice, hay bails, unicorns and windmills. All valid preconceptions, but truth be told, putting it in the nicest possible manner, surfing in Scotland nearly breaks you. While the waves themselves are incredible; it’s more the temperature, logistics, equipment and distance that put your sanity on a knife’s edge. Despite taking all variables into account, it’s not until it’s staring you in the face that it becomes real. Needless to say, when it’s on, you literally don’t get out of your wetsuit all day. With fluctuating tides and restricted daylight
hours in autumn and winter, you can’t afford to tip toe around because the next run of good waves could be sometime next year. Racing from spot-to-spot we must have looked like those nerds who get dressed up like knights for fun, as we hit the supermarkets and cafés adorned in our hooded towelponchos and wetsuits. We’d fuel up on food in the car, while hoping the fully blasted heater evaporated whatever remaining water was left in our booties. Despite the helter-skelter antics, witnessing Thurso do its thing was a sublime experience that qualified as a satisfying bucket list moment. It’s easy to see why it’s viewed as one of Europe’s finest waves. It felt so rewarding to surf a wave of Thurso’s calibre and simply appreciate a long drawn out wall in an area where the rock-ledges are more plentiful.
That said, one warping, slabby left became our early morning, midtide, go-to spot. The similarities it shared to a favourite wave at home were uncanny, only it was reversed. The wave offered up a chip shot entry into a heaving tube, then proceeded to bend 180 degrees; sending you spearing out of control into the exposed end section. Trading golden tubes with Louie amidst a magical, Scottish sunrise topped of the trip and ensured the local psychiatrist was spared three new clients.
For an Australian traveller, accustomed to the endless
sameness of our wide brown land, Europe’s readily accessible diversity is a revelation. With my beard still stiff with the icy brine of Scottish waters I visited friends in a small coastal town in Holland called Scheveningen. I even had a fun surf amidst 50-odd flailing Dutchmen at a wave I dubbed Ferris Wheel rights, after the slowturning amusement ride that was mounted on the pier at the end of the beach. Holland was quirky and cool, but Ireland still felt like a second home.
Before returning to Australia, I had one more night in Dublin to collect my gear and say my goodbyes. As good as they are at making you feel welcome, the Irish sure know how to send you off in style. If you blink, dinner and three drinks has become 10 pints and you’re arm in arm with anyone who will listen, telling them you’re moving over next year no matter what. Our last night was no different. The whistle was well and truly drenched before we boarded the red-eye bus back to Dublin Airport. You pay for it the days following, but most of the time, those are the times you remember when you arrive back home. Thinking back to the nonsense you were dribbling to the Irish girl in the pub on your last evening. Perhaps you weren’t lying after all. Maybe you will be back. Surely the girl deserves another chance. Maybe the Banshee wasn’t an ill-omen, but a spirit calling me to a place where I could really feel at home.
Russell Bierke proving an act honed in southern hemisphere slabs can easily be applied in frigid waters North of the equator.
Luke Hynd providing the human scale as the cliffs of Moher soar behind him.
INSET BOTTOM: The Ozi crew check the surf from the green fields of Ireland.
INSET TOP: Luke Hynd and the rear window that was the victim of the Banshee’s wail.
Russell Bierke hears the green roar of Mullaghmore as he chooses the most difficult path of descent. Photo: Bonnarme.
MAIN: Brett Burcher enjoying the fun park vibe of a Dutch beachie.
Thurso’s slate lines have a powerful gravitational pull for European surfers.