IN DAYS GONE BY THE LONG WAY ROUND WAS THE ONLY WAY YOU GOT TO SURF TRIP. YOU MET PEOPLE, SURFED WAVES AND HAD ADVENTURES THAT ONLY TIME ON THE ROAD ALLOWS. CHEAP FLIGHTS AND FAST TRAVEL HAS ELIMINATED THE EXPERIENCE PROVIDED BY CHANCE. THIS SPRING NIC VO
Nic von Rupp makes his way around Europe the old school way.
Igrew up listening to my elders talking about their journeys through Europe. They talked about the legendary rite of passage the European Inter Rail, connecting all corners of Europe by train. A long steady journey full of new friendships, experiences and joy. A journey where you took time to bond. Journeys that took months with the bad and good. Everything leaves a mark on you in life and these ups and downs shaped the characters they became. You can feel their connection to a place through their voice.
I come from a generation where that culture is long lost. A generation where fast, low-cost airlines took over and people are on fast foward wanting to experience everything at once. I feel it in my skin that I’m part of that generation. I want to be everywhere at the same time, filtering life, only embracing what we like and want. Don’t get me wrong it’s awesome to be able to be in the four corners of the world in less then a week, scoring barrels everywhere at once. But you gotta be able to turn that fast forward mode off and really embrace the places you go to. I feel like trains do that to you. They choose your tempo, they choose your path. You are just one of many. You meet people you wouldn’t meet, you see places that roads wouldn’t lead you to and your actually sit back and enjoy the scenery.
I’ve taken trains all my life, since being a13-year old grom. I took the night train from Lisbon to Irun to go to France for the King of the Grom comps back in 2004. I used to do it that all the way until I was 18. I would rather take the longer train than fly. I’m not sure why. But it gave me a sense of freedom, being independent. The hassle of getting the train, fitting boards in to your compartment, sitting next to a complete stranger for 10 hours all adds up to a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the journey. I had my first beer on a train … at the bar by myself. Those were the days.
All these good memories, that’s probably what made me want to go back on a railroad…
We started our journey in the fall at Estação do Oriente in Lisbon, the same place I would take the train to Irun many years ago. On board myself and my filmer Gustavo Imigrante. We headed north towards Spain. The Basque Country didn’t deliver for us. But there was a back up plan: my best man Freddie Meadows is a pioneer of surfing in ice-cold Scandinavia. He’s been secretly telling me about the potential of the northern sea. There was a swell and we had time. The swell was about to hit this remote location in the far north. We had to take the short cut, the first hop to Scandinavia sounded like a better option than taking the train. Ha ha ha!
Our railroad journey was not about to taking the train at every opportunity, it was about reproducing feelings, when we had the time. Scandinavia was freezing cold and beautiful as expected. Taking the train between mountains, fjords and snow were some of the most beautiful experiences we’d been through.
After a long journey up north we finally got there. My buddy Freddie picked us up and lead us further to the end of the world, in all secrecy of course. We got to this island, there was no one around. No hotels, no restaurants, just a run down hostel managed by our guy Vito. He’s in his sixties and runs fishing charters during summer and hibernates during winter. How can you not? It’s cold, there is no one around and the sun barely shines. I’ve never been to such an isolated place, just our crew, Vito and the vast northern sea.
The reason we were up there was Freddie. He had been scouting this vast coast for several years. He knows his stuff, he’s been exploring Scandinavia for the last decade. The previous year he mentioned he had found a world-class wave, never surfed before, and that’s why we were up there.
We managed to negotiate with Vito to drive us thru the fjords into the open ocean. Not a cheap and easy task. No one wants to take their boat out when it’s -10C degrees. Freddie had his whole set up with a truck and ski. We got out there and it was rough. I paddled out and the first thing I know a 12 foot set lands on me and pushes me so deep. I barely make it up before the second one hits. That was it for me wanting to be a hero and paddle. From that moment on we decided we were going to tow. I towed Freddie into a couple bombs but as soon as I grabbed the rope the weather decided to take a turn on us. Howling onshore! Freddie nor me had any towing in experience and things could easily go wrong. Vito was not going to rescue us nor the ski. He made that clear from the start. So that was that…
We hung around for another week hoping for another window of opportunity at this wave, but the severe winter weather was set in. Storm after very, very shallow, and no locals around. That actually says it all.
After looking at it skeptically for a while, a car shows up, and it’s only Mick Fanning and his crew. We both looked at it for a long time, it looked wrong to surf but we had time to kill before the next session so we decided to get a closer look. A closer look ended up being two waves straight into dry reef. Everything was wrong on my first Rileys session, tide, size and direction. All the reasons no locals were on it.
I was amazed about the raw power storm with small breaks. Soon enough our hopes and budget ran out and we had no choice but head back homeward. We didn’t score, but we sure raised the barrier of adventure. A wave full of potential breaking on and off amongst the rough northern sea.
Ireland, my favourite place in the world. I obviously love the waves, but the people, the culture, the after surf pints in front of the fireplace might be my favourite part of the journey. People ask me if I don’t mind surfing in those freezing cold winter conditions full of rubber. I do. It sucks putting on all those booties, gloves, wetsuits. But it makes me feel like a warrior, a hero preparing for battle, protected by all that rubber.
We finally made it to Ireland. Both of my filmers are bodyboarders so for them the tides being a little off or the swell direction not being ideal doesn’t really matter. They push me to go for it. We showed up at dawn at Rileys, it was clearly not the day of days: big, fast and of this place. It was an experience just sitting out there looking at those 10-foot Chopes style bombs blasting into dry reef. Some waves are just not meant to be ridden, but I knew I had to come back.
When you are in Ireland you are chasing tides, high tide there and low tide elsewhere. Anywhere else is in the world you park your car by the beach on the water’s edge. Ireland is a 30-minute hike down the cliff followed by a 30-minute paddle out anywhere you go. It’s a full adventure at all times. Everything takes a long time and
I was amazed about the raw power of this place. It was an experience just sitting out there looking at those 10-foot Chopes style bombs blasting into dry reef.
daylight hours are short, which makes you run from one spot to another.
The Cliffs. What a magical place. Where land meets sea. Tom Lowe had been talking to me about the energy of this place, long before I made it over. I’d seen plenty of photos, videos, done my research and finally years later
I was standing in front of the cliffs overlooking Europe’s most iconic big wave slab. Looking at this arena makes you feel insignificant. So much power combined, both ocean and rock. Looking down the cliffs makes the wave look small, you don’t take much notice of it until you are actually in there, and that’s one hour later. It’s an adventure getting down there, not only surfing this wave, it’s a dangerous hike too. I had the honour to be led by the local crew, Tom Lowe, Dan Skajarowski, Jack Johns a diverse of group of people sharing the passion for thick, cold, heavy waves and pints in the pub. Some of the best people I’ve met, grounded, humble and brave. Just how you like them, regardless if you stand up or lay down.
I finally reached the line up and I felt the power of the waves. It’s got a different energy than all of the others; raw and ruthless. It lets you in easy yet builds into a wall that that only a few have the balls to handle. Unpredictable too. Some roll into a Teahupo’o barrel, others look like they are going to do the same but just eat you alive with the chandeliers. No wonder people get hurt out there. It’s a heavy wave that reminds me of a Jaws wall that actually barrels top to bottom.
After hours of getting pounded, Tommy Lowe paddled over to me and whispered that with the tide switching going up high, that was the time for the biggest bombs. He also pointed out on where to sit. Not long after the words of wisdom and I’m rolling into this eight-foot wave and cruising down the face. Then the eight-foot wave quickly grew into a 12 footer. It sucked so much off the bottom that I almost pearled and got lipped. Somehow I managed to get under that thing and set up for the barrel of my life. My water filmer Gastao was screaming, so stoked we both got to share a moment like that in such a majestic location.
The session was over, we began our journey back thru the water up the cliff into the closest railway station towards Dublin. I couldn’t believe our journey was coming to an end. It seemed like a dream. So many people, so many experiences so many waves. It wasn’t easy but well worth it…
So much power combined, both ocean and rock
The Cliffs, always sketchy, always impressive
The Cliffs, fickle and hard to get to as they are, deliver one of the fiercest barrels in the world. Add in the cold factor and you'll get why the joint is treated with such respect.
Top of the cliffs. The goat path down is savage.