The first wave of the 2022-23 North Atlantic Big-Wave Season was ridden at 8am on Sunday morning at Mullaghmore by the very same man who rode the very last wave of the 2021-22 North Atlantic Big-Wave Season; Devon-born, now Ireland-based surfer Taz Knight.
Let’s compare them a moment; Taz’s season-ending bomb in April was something very special. He dropped in beyond vertical, stuck the airdrop, wrestled his bottom turn into a crazy, roping tunnel and floated over a foamball section to see himself out of the barrel.
Taz’s season-opening bomb yesterday was something very… different. He stuck the airdrop but fell flat on his face while wrestling the bottom turn, got sucked over the falls, and broke his board.
Upon returning to the lineup with a backup, that was much smaller than he wanted, the usually over-frothed surfer was uncharacteristically low. I paddled out from the bluff and into the lineup with a giggly spirit and joined Taz and some hungry, young surfers, some famous, some just familiar — Nathan Florence, Tom Lowe, Conor Maguire, Tom Butler, Russell Bierke, Seamus “Shambles” McGoldrick — and a baker’s dozen others, which made for a tight crowd.
I’d spent the previous week trying to keep the nerves in check by keeping that giggly-spirit thing going. This was very late for the first swell of the season, I went the entirety of last winter without paddling a single wave at Mullaghmore, and the winter before that there was a drowning.
And as the oldest sea dog out there now, I feel like I’ve become a nagging auntie, going on and on about safety the way old ones go on about raincoats. Moaning about responsibility and commitment and reliability and the importance of having a plan… Luckily, Conor Maguire took pity on me, called a meeting, and came up with a plan before I managed to piss everyone off.
The safety plan was pretty radical — to have someone doing dedicated safety out there at Mullaghmore, all the time. I scoffed, dubious that anyone could maintain it out there, session after session, through the cold and the wind and the boredom. “They’ll last five sessions, maybe six,” I went on and on. “They’ll get cold, lose focus.”
Then Christopher McGloin looked me in the eyes and stated that he was in it for the duration, that he wanted to do this, that he would not quit. I’ve known Christopher for awhile about town, but this was the first time I sized him up. His gaze met mine and did not falter. This was a person with intent.
When I thought about it some more I realised the plan was brilliant. I could no longer stand on my soapbox and use safety patrol as an excuse to get out of paddling big, scary waves when they are too big and too scary. And just like that, we now have dedicated safety at Mullaghmore. Finally.
And it’s real simple: if you surf or shoot here, you pitch in some money so Chris gets paid for his time. Yesterday was his first go at it, and he did well. He pulled off tricky pickups all day long, usually involving bits of broken boards.
Eventually, I caught one. My first in two years. It was only a little one, but I made it to the channel and felt like I could do it again. And it was right about then that the session started slowing down. The tide bottomed out and the wind picked up and the swell seemed like it was getting smaller. There were still some big ones, but only one per set, and Tom Lowe was getting them. His determination, experience and stability is evident through every takeoff and every ride.
Prior to that, though, all the usual suspects got good ones: Ollie O’Flaherty, brought a determined head with him up from Lahinch and muscled his way into two bombs. Noah Lane, predictably, found a beauty. Russ Bierke spent the session completing beautiful waves to show how it’s done backside. And Nathan Florence figured it all out. He treated a windy, 15-foot slab at Mully the same way he’d treat an eight-foot inside ledge bomb at Pipe.
All I could do was sheepishly clap at the talent displayed and be somewhat embarrassed by my momentary doubt. I watched everyone ride some more beautiful waves, some rainbows and some brutal wipeouts before the tide came up and everyone made their way in. Except for Peter Conroy, who stayed out with Fionin to whip some bombs.
Tom Butler also found some heavy ones: "It was a special day of surfing in Ireland, haven’t surfed there in four years," said Tom.
"Had a warm up one and one proper one. Then we just scored G Spot, a survival session. Me, Nate Florence, Lowey, Russell Bierke. It’s such a special place and part of the world, nice to be back and seeing old faces and getting reacquainted with the wave. On a personal level, after being out for a while, it was just really nice to get back in amongst it, back to my happy place. Still just about got it."
I then went down to watch the show at another Irish slab, not too far from here. It looked a little like the North Shore. It was 10-foot plus with teeth. Throngs of spectators oohing and ahhing at perfect, spitting waves. Interviews being conducted on the beach. I watched from a distance and saw some extreme surfing history in the making. I overheard chat of going to surf a third, terrifying lefthand slab close by. But with that fresh giggly spirit, I felt like surfing something less serious, so I joined a dozen or so men and women at a fun little pointbreak that works on big swells.
It’s pretty much a turn or trick wave, but I took my Mully gun out there just to see what it felt like to go on sets again. It was just big enough to stir the senses after the nerve blender that is surfing Mullaghmore.