Ireland Has Become A Tube-Riders’ Mecca In Recent Years—Here’s Why

by stab May 07, 2020 6 min read

Ireland is the home of Guinness, almost golf, and several of the world’s premiere heavy-wave joints. 

One of those spots is Riley’s, a diabolical left-hander that breaks in less water than Ireland’s average annual rainfall.

In this video, we see local boys Conor Maguire, Gearoid McDaid, and friends revel in (what they’re calling) the best day in several years. The waves are big, hollow, supremely shallow, and to be frank, we’d want nothing to do with them even if they were served on a sterling tray. 

Watch above, then read our interview with Conor about what it’s like to be an Irish big-ish wave surfer. 

Stab: Can you give us a short breakdown of how your winter went?
Conor Maguire: We had a slow enough winter here in Ireland with the odd break in the weather which produced a small handful of unforgettable moments. Our island has been engulfed by storm clouds for the past two months, making the short days even shorter. Back to back storms also contributed to one of the wettest winters since records began. As you can imagine, a wetter-than-average Ireland is a moist place to be.

That being said, amidst the constant torrential downpours, there have been a few glimmers of hope bringing rainbows and perfect waves. The low pressures sitting over Ireland for a few months seemed to deter people from making the trip over (understandably) as the best days were all quiet, which is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence here. It hasn’t been a particularly good season for us, but when everything aligned on a few scattered days, we were met by some of the most perfect waves any of us had seen on these shores. I’m still not sure if it was genuinely pumping or if we were just excited to see an offshore sea under five meters again.

Who you been charging with this winter?
The people I surf with varies from wave to wave, as not everybody is keen for Mullaghmore or solid Riley’s. There are a lot of guys and girls that rip and surf a lot on the points and friendlier slabs. The guys I surf most with are Gearoid McDaid, Shambles, Noah Lane, Cian Logue, and David Law, but everyone else I surf with on the smaller days inspire me just as much, as they all rip and remind you everyone is chasing the same feeling in their own way.

I would say Gearoid has impressed me the most this winter with his technical approach in smaller waves crossing over into bigger, heavier waves.

What’s been the session of the winter so far? Why?
The session of the winter for me was one sunny morning at Riley’s. I saw the forecast over a week out and it looked too good to be true. Usually you don’t pay attention to a chart until a day or two before the swell here in Ireland because it’s so changeable and unpredictable. The closer it got to the day, the better the chart looked which never happens. It was the biggest chart I’ve seen for Riley’s since I started surfing there with perfect wind and a high enough tide to reduce the risk of running into the reef whilst inside the barrel. When we were putting the skis in the water I still didn’t believe the charts and expected to come around the corner to dry, 10-foot closeouts. 

When we arrived, I was sitting on the ski with Gearoid wiping my eyes in disbelief. We were absolutely losing our shit. We watched the heaviest waves either of us had ever seen roll through in the morning sun just saying ‘fuuuuuuuck’ over and over. It was honestly one of the best moments I’ve ever had in the sea and to share that with a friend was really cool. 

Best wave you’ve ridden lately?
The best wave I’ve ridden lately would probably be a paddle wave I didn’t make at Mullaghmore a few weeks ago. It was one of the heaviest I’ve paddled out there. It felt like the wave was trying to punch me the whole way down the reef, eventually connecting with me right at the end. It would’ve been the wave of my life if I made it. I was buzzing after it so I’m still claiming it as the wave of my life haha

Worst wipeout you’ve suffered?
I’ve had so many bad wipeouts it’s hard to choose. I need to stop falling and start making waves. I suppose the shittest scenario I’ve been in was probably at Nazare the morning of paddle comp there last year, even though it wasn’t technically a wipeout. I paddled out alone from the south beach at dawn in the hope of nabbing a wave before the event kicked off. I was sitting out the back on the first peak and paddled for a set I could’ve caught but pussied-out last second. Alemao de Maresias was driving safety on a ski and told me I had 10 minutes left before the event started. I was really annoyed at myself for not going and felt like I had to put myself in a position where I had no choice but to go. 

So I paddled a little further inside and just as I did that, a huge tepee landed square on my forehead. Delightful. I got pushed so deep and felt like I was under for quite a while. I was getting pretty rattled by the whitewater and thought I was never coming up so pulled my vest. For some reason it didn’t go off, maybe because of the pressure or something. Once the worst of the turbulence ended, I started swimming to the surface in convulsions and my vest suddenly inflated. I was shooting upwards when, just before I would’ve come up, the wave behind hit me full force in the face, knocking all hope out of me. It sent me so deep again and made me question whether I was going to blackout for a second. I think I was pretty close. Once I surfaced, Alemao was there in less than a second to get me out of there. I can’t thank him enough for that moment. 

What’s in your quiver?
My quiver varies quite a bit as there is a huge variety of waves here in Ireland. It ranges from 5’3” twinnies to 10-foot guns. I’m lucky enough to have boards made by my mate Markie Lascelles at Beachbeat Surfboards out of Cornwall. We “work” together on designs specifically for the waves here, sometimes over a beverage, which has helped me massively in my approach to slabs.

What’re your go-to boards when surfing shallow reefs?
Again, even our slabs vary massively. At a wave like Riley’s, less is more as the wave jacks so hard and is so vertical that a longer board would result in regular nosedives and cartwheels. I mix and match to keep things interesting down there. The biggest board I’d usually ride is a 5’8” and has been enjoying surfing it as a 2+1 lately. At the other slabs you need a little more paddle power so I’d surf a 6’0″/6’3″ or an 8’0″/8’6″ at Mullaghmore.

What about rubber…how do you stay warm in the chilly Irish waters?
Xcel throws me some product so I usually go for a hooded 6/5/4 Infiniti or Drylock with 7mm boots for the stormy Mully days and 3mm gloves. I hate gloves so the thinner the better for me.

Why’s it a great time to be a surfer in Ireland these days?
I’d say what makes surfing in Ireland so great is a combination of things. It’s no secret we have amazing waves here on their day but it’s the work you have to put in to score them that makes it so special. We can have weeks upon weeks of storms and onshore wind before the stars align and we get a good run of swell and wind. The effort that goes into surfing here makes it so rewarding when you do get those special days you dream of.

Another element that makes surfing in Ireland an experience is the beautiful landscapes and deep-rooted history. We’re really lucky that our waves are situated in dramatic settings at the edge of weather-beaten mountains and sheer cliffs. These locations are also steeped in a mix of dark and mythological history adding to the magic feel of our green fields.

Perhaps the most attractive element of surfing here is the friendly, tight-knit community and culture. It sounds cliche, but going to the pub after a few days of pumping waves and enjoying a few pints with your mates with good music is what really draws tourists in. It’s a really warm and welcoming environment despite the cold, uninviting weather. 

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