How the Surfers of Ireland's Favourite Surf Town Are Championing Sustainability

Dylan Stott

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Updated 25d ago

In 1777, Viscount Enniskillen built a summer home in Bundoran, starting a trend among his aristocratic friends to invigorate themselves and reap the health benefits of the fresh sea air and bathing in the crisp North Atlantic.

Two hundred years later, a man named Richie Fitzgerald led the fight against developer’s plans to turn the bay that starts at the mouth of the Doran River into a harbour large enough to accommodate cruise ships.

Spot guide: Ireland

The Peak at Bundoran.

The Peak at Bundoran.

© 2019 - Tuna Shot.

If Richie and other local surfers weren’t there to secure a £200,000 grant to build a model of Bundoran Bay, complete with accurate bathygraphy, water and a wave generator, to show exactly how this proposed marina would destroy the waves, if they were less skilful at communicating the potential commercialisation of visitors coming to surf these waves, developers would have cemented in Bundoran Bay, killing a dozen, visible, easily accessible crowd-drawing waves including The Peak, the most consistent wave in Ireland.

Cruise ships would be docked, spilling out thousands of bored cruisers anxious to try their plastic sea-leg luck in the casinos and bookies. The town would be filled with mobs of threes.

Allow me to explain the numbers game.

Say you were to rate your eco-warrior self in terms of eco-warrior-ness. What number between one and ten would you give yourself? Are you an ageing business-model by-product of the greed-is-good mentality of 1980’s America who has taken a prominent position of power in your country and withdrawn from global climate change agreements that are designed to prevent the extinction of all large mammals earth? You get a one out of ten. Are you that jerk who throws your McDonalds rubbish out of your fifteen-year-old diesel VW Passat while you’re driving down the road? Yer a four

Are you a 16-year-old standing up to the most powerful people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, making impassioned speeches that influence millions to change their behaviour? Ten out of ten.

Are you that jerk who throws your McDonalds rubbish out of your fifteen-year-old diesel VW Passat while you’re driving down the road? Yer a four. If your lazily discarded wrappers came from beef burgers, well that might drop you down to a three. Bad. But not nearly as bad as the VW executive who lies about the toxicity of their cars to become the biggest car company in the world, making more toxic cars than anyone, or the McDonalds exec who continues to buy cheap Brazilian beef knowing that farmers there use slash and burn agriculture to continue to supply the 300 Billion burgers served.

You'll know this wave, not far from the town in question. Noah Lane, under the hood.

You'll know this wave, not far from the town in question. Noah Lane, under the hood.

© 2019 - Gary McCall.

Are you a you a parent who refuses any plastic toys, coffee lids, or plastic water bottles? Maybe you’re a seven. But hang on, if you get on an aeroplane and go to Disneyland or book tickets for that Artic cruise or surf charter, you’re back down to a mid-range six. Angrily bin your Firewire after a morning shore-dump session? You drop another number. Still buying neoprene wetsuits? You sink further down the eco-warrior number scale.

Fergal Smith, who has a large operation organic farm that supplies many of the best restaurants in Ireland, restaurants that would otherwise get their supplies from non-environmentally sustainable sources, has quit getting on airplanes because of the carbon footprint, gets an eight. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who sailed to New York from Sweden to organise the biggest global climate protest in history, which takes place tomorrow, using the Climate Summit as a jump off point. Greta gets a ten.

The difference between Ferg and Greta? Numbers. Mass influence. Greta will influence positive change in the behaviour of more people. Fifty million people going from a four to a five will help the climate crisis way more than a community of sevens and eights.

The Endless Winter II crew dropped into Ferg's farm a few years back.

We’ll never all be eights. Basically we’re all a bunch of fives running around. We’re aware, but we’re human too. We’re clusters of greedy carbon molecules surviving in whatever way we can and once that’s accomplished we go on to have a bit of fun.

The trick is to change what a five is. Fives go out for coffee, lunch and dinner. They go on holidays and they drive their cars to work where they might, if they want to be a six, campaign against the single-use plastic cups provided at the company water cooler. If you don’t give a shit about being a four, your stuff is cheaper. This is reality and it was created by old white men who are proud and wealthy ones and twos

Fives who want to be sixes might have a staycation this year. They might get sit down for their coffees and sandwiches at a place that sources from a Fairtrade company, they drink their smoothie using paper straws, buy their cakes, bread, vegetables and flowers locally, not wrapped in plastic. If you want to be a six you’ll pay more. If you don’t give a shit about being a four, your stuff is cheaper. This is reality and it was created by old white men who are proud and wealthy ones and twos. Greta Thunberg wants to change this reality on Friday.

20-years-ago, after Bundoran barely escaped a the fate of Jardim do Mar, Killer Dana, La Barre, and Harry’s, I first visited Bundoran and noticed my fellow visitors and many locals were not overly concerned about their own health, much less the health of the world around them. In 1999 there were 52 pubs and five night clubs. The streets were filled with gambling, cigarette-smoking, holiday-makers and drunk teenagers piling into dark, smoke-filled discos.

Bundoran as sun crests Horizon.

Bundoran as sun crests Horizon.

© 2019 - Gerald Arbuckle.

I spent my first morning in Bundoran too hungover to even pour a milk into my coffee. Knowing nothing about the near death of the wave I haven’t even seen break yet.

The coffee that came with my Irish Breakfast was instant and came out of a plastic container that most likely ended up in the ocean. Twenty years ago there wasn’t a choice. The culture is this town was not one conducive to conservation or sustainability.

But now all that is changing thanks to surfers. You can go to Bundoran’s West-End. The place where the wealthy Victorians used to hire bathing boxes to change into full-length swimming costumes out of public sight and enjoy the invigoratingly fresh, salty, negative-ion charged air, is now a place where you can enjoy a toastie made with fresh local ingredients, environmentally sourced and locally roasted coffee.

At Fiona Dolan’s new sustainable café, you can sip your coffee or smoothie, munch your locally sourced toastie and browse art and crafts made by local, like-minded people. Fiona moved here from wave-less Dublin to surf, with a degree in graphic design, she can freelance her design work remotely, run her coffee shop, and close everything down when The Peak starts pumping.
Across town in Bundoran’s East-End, you can get a chic coffee and seasonal food at Noah Lane’s new place, established by three surfers, Noah, Gerald Arbuckle and Adam Cross. You have probably heard of Noah. He’s one of the best surfers in Ireland, making the most difficult waves look as easy as eating a sandwich with eerily similar style to Gerry Lopez (and the 2016 winner of MSW's The Winter Session).

Fiona deducing that Bundoran can be fun at all heights.

Fiona deducing that Bundoran can be fun at all heights.

© 2019 - Gerald Arbuckle.

Noah moved here from Australia a while back and met Adam, who is a singer/songwriter with the stage name Native Oak and Gerald, from border-town Strabane, who didn’t start surfing till University in Derry doing 3D Design.

Both Adam and Gerald grew up in land-locked towns, caught the surfing bug and wandered the world a bit before plugging roots in Bundoran. The three amigos combine their global travel experience to write a changing menu for their shop.

This makes for a far smaller footprint as seasonal local food has far less packaging and travels less. When you get yourself a coffee there you might want some gluten-free bread. Those will be made by local surfer, baker and sustainability/business balance ambassador Finn Ní Fhaoláin, who delivers fresh tasty baked goods to Fiona’s and Noah’s daily.

Finn runs a coffee shop too, right in the middle of town, that’s also the base for a catering company. Finn, like the lads, has been around the world, but she did it several times by the time she was ten, dodging glaciers in the Arctic and dancing with cobras in India under the wing of her creative parents.

Finn has her Masters in marine biology, so she has more detailed knowledge about the damage humans are causing the ocean than the rest of us. Diagnosed as a coeliac while studying she became determined to make gluten free food, that is easy, affordable and delicious. When I asked her about her environmental sustainability, she came out with a twenty-six page dossier.

Noah's joint and the best cup in town? Maybe.

Noah's joint and the best cup in town? Maybe.

Finn’s document reads like Queen Mab has been running through the nose of an eco-warrior. The most impressive is her wind powered ovens, her battle to take in zero plastic from suppliers and her consultancy services to help other companies become more sustainable.

If you walk out of Finn’s place, make a hard right, walk three paces, make another hard right, you’ll be in the door of another young surfer’s business.

Burritos are the perfect food for the cold, surfed out, calorie depleted surfer. Huib Van Der Aar, a tall, powerful surfer, also calls the reefs around town home. Huib makes everything from scratch in his place, even his hot sauces. I wince a little when he says taco with a Dutch accent, but Mexican food transcends accents and languages. The combination of beans, rice, lettuce and chilli-fire in your mouth is universal babel.

These are the new places in this town and this is the new style. These surfers and their new businesses are changing what Bundoran looks and tastes like. They are starting conversations, changing mindsets and giving people in town a chance to make meaningful decisions in this climate crisis war against those ones, twos and threes.

If you’re in Bundoran at one of these new places and you like the flowers on the table, or the salad that comes with your dahl, sausage roll, or special veggie tacos made by the imaginative young chef Julian Farmer at Noah’s, you’ll know that those flowers and salad come from my farm, which produces organic vegetables and flowers just a strong-armed stone’s throw away at Mullaghmore.As surfers, it’s amazing what we don’t look at. We see a splotch of white on the distant horizon and know what the ocean is doing

If you’re in some other town, there probably is another group of conscious young people who have a similar ethos, a similar view of a dismal, disposable future and a determination to change the culture at ground level. That’s where true power lies. That’s what makes for change, those seemingly simple, everyday decisions about what to spend your money on.

As surfers, it’s amazing what we don’t look at. We see a splotch of white on the distant horizon and know what the ocean is doing. Yet we fly around the world at a moment’s notice enveloped in a storm of single use plastic and carbon emission, paddle through swaths of raw sewage because we saw a setup on Google Earth. We can change this, because we see the effects. We just have to not ignore it.

Noah in the throws of winter.

Noah in the throws of winter.

© 2019 - Conor Lee.

You ones and twos, you’re personally responsible for rainforests burning down, you’re buying carbon credits for your business. Your greed-is-good days are numbered. And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Jeez aren’t I great, I’m an eight.” You’re lying to yourself.

You know the name of the person who shapes your surfboard. Great. You know what it feels like to slide down raw energy passing through the medium of ocean. You are very lucky.

Now the next step is to know the name of the person who grows your vegetables, who raises your lamb, who roasts your coffee. Your next step is to use a re-usable water bottle, coffee cup, grocery bag. Your next step is to stop buying anything packaged in plastic because you know the harm it causes. It’s not easy. Spend your money somewhere that cares. You are a five who wants to be a six. It’s not easy. Go up a number and take people with you. Small changes, multiplied, will help the environmental crisis become something we all work towards together.

Cover shot by Al McKinnon