Duck­ing and Weav­ing through Ire­land and Scot­land

Tracks - - Contents - BY BRETT BURCHER

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.

Photo: John Casey

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.

Photo: Mark McInnis.

MAIN: Brett Burcher en­joy­ing the fun park vibe of a Dutch beachie.

Photo: Mark McInnis.

Thurso’s slate lines have a pow­er­ful grav­i­ta­tional pull for Euro­pean surfers.

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