10 Years of Shambles: Heaviest Death Slabs, Near-Drowning and the Best Of Ireland

Seamus Mc Goldrick

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Updated 1378d ago

Ed's note: Recently Seamus McGoldrick, aka Shambles, teamed up with old pal Ian Mitchinson to create a fresh edit called Reminiscence that features some of Shambles' more memorable rides and wipeouts from the last decade of chasing slabs across the world. It's been a wild ride for ol' Shambles. And here's his take on the past 10-years of making and, sometimes, breaking.

I was in Bundoran in Spring 2018 when I bumped into South African surfer and photographer Ian Mitchinson. When Ian mentioned that the Pockets Full of Water film festival was happening the next day I asked him if he had anything in. He didn't. Well, why didn't we put something together of the best clips from my old online movies plus some fresh evidence?

I came back the next morning and Ian had put together a sick little edit which I really liked, especially the Metallica banjo part at the start. It was right up my alley. But Ian felt it needed another dimension, so we spent the afternoon trying to do some ridiculous interviews around town before scoring the goods in front of the Peak in the middle of Bundoran. Then it was back to Ian's apartment for a few quick edits and Bob's your aunties live-in lover. Forty minutes later, we were sat down in the Eclipse cinema in Bundoran watching the credits roll on Ian's wee film.

Spot guide: Ireland

Released, for the first time.

We never released it online after that. Wasn't important. My main satisfaction, apart from seeing my mug up on the screen again I suppose, was simply seeing Ian seated at the front of the cinema with his wife and two young children who were all excited after seeing their daddy's work on the big screen. It was movie magic.
Sometimes filmers, photographers and filmmakers simply don't get the credit they deserve. Ian's young son couldn't understand what his dad was doing locked indoors all day on his computer but once he saw the mighty film his dad produced up there on the big screen, it suddenly all made sense. I could see young Johnny was really proud of his dad.
Filmers put years of work into amazing edits that go online on a Monday, 30 seconds get watched on a tiny phone screen on shitty speakers on Tuesday and by Wednesday it's forgotten. It is sad so I really dig film festivals where you get to watch the glory of the surfing edit on the silver screen. The Doolin Surf Fest at Hotel Doolin was a great Irish example of that.
And Ian's take on the whole Ireland scene? "When I first moved to Ireland with a dream of capturing the world class surf, I didn't know anyone or where any of the good waves were. In fact, I had never even swam out to sea beyond the shore. After a few months learning by shooting from land it was Seamus McGoldrick and Shane Meehan who took me under their wing and I have been so fortunate to have worked with them both over the last few years.

"They showed me what it takes to capture the surf and encouraged me to swim out to the waves. So when Shambles asked me if I wanted to put a clip together for the Pockets film fest I jumped at the chance to work with him again. I owe much to the bodyboarding crew in Ireland. They surf the hardest and are really great bunch of people who simply love surfing. That stoke is what I have learnt is the essence of surfing and I try to capture that the best I can. Hope you dig our look back at some of waves surfed by Shambles and a few of his bodyboarding friends over the last few winters in Ireland."

The golden years of boadyboarding? Shambles, Guinness, mag cover.

The golden years of boadyboarding? Shambles, Guinness, mag cover.

But, back to it. The golden years. I remember it well, 2002 – 2010. An all-time ride to be a bodyboarder. That ride came to the end like all rides do. But you can always go out and get yourself another one.
After a surf at the Peak you'd stroll over past the amusements in Bundoran to Richie Fitzgerald's SurfWorld store and buy a copy. You'd read it on the bus home. That was how it started.
And when Mickey Smith and co showed up it was like acid on the brain. Bumbaloids, [left hand hell wave] is liquid insanity. Boils, backwash, bare rocks and underwater caves. "Yippee," said Mickey. And he was right. He was proved right a number of times going to check Aileens, Mully and Rileys to name a few.
Surfing Bumbaloids was like as if you were a mountain climber who suddenly became an astronaut. Growing up in Strandhill on a beachbreak you were lucky to get the old barrel every couple of weeks. Now I was surfing Bumbaloids and each wave I took off, it was easily the wave of my life. I was getting tubed every wave. Massive, perfect, spitting tubes that gave you the most amazing views. Surfing Bumbaloids was like as if you were a mountain climber who suddenly became an astronaut
Fair enough, if you picked the wrong one there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We came up with a different name for that place; Chinatown. If you picked the wrong one that's where you were going, straight to Chinatown, buddy. It was fun until someone got hurt and that someone was Tom Gillespie.

I was working in a Cafe in Dublin when Tom Gillespie walked into the joint. I'd heard he'd had an accident at Bumbaloid and hit his head. I was expecting a scar on his forehead or stitches on the back of his ceann. But when he walked up to counter, with a massive grin on his face, I could see his whole face was swollen and disfigured. I was so stunned I thought he had been knifed in the face by some alcoholic on the streets of Dublin. But it is amazing what plastic surgeons can do nowadays.

And, obviously, with a scar from his chin to his forehead straight up the middle of his face, Tom earned the nickname Scarface.

A little insight into Shambles' world.

A little insight into Shambles' world.

© 2023 - Christian McLeod.

I remember when Rileys was discovered. I was shocked but not surprised. The first surf I had there wasn't very good. Then on my birthday, I got the best waves ever. By the end it was just me and Dan Skajarowski out. The water was crystal blue, it was about 27 degrees, I was in a 3/2 and Rileys was a solid six foot and perfect. I had just caught the best wave of my life. I paddled back out and on the very next wave I saw Dan take off on a wave, slam into the bottom and shatter his knee.
It was horrendous. I rushed over to him and paddled him out to sea to get him out of harm's way. Dan was a trained lifeguard and acted cool under pressure but he was in a lot of pain and we were in a bad situation, the rescue boat couldn't find us so they called the chopper. Dan banged his knee on the side of the helicopter just before they closed the doors.
The rescue crew wouldn't let me paddle in to get changed even though I had been in the water four or five hours at this stage so I took the boat with them back to the coastguard station. One of the boatmen gave me a lift in his car back to Rileys to get my clothes and told me all these stories of fishermen who fell in the water and drowned nearby. They would get super drunk on big cases of cheap Lidl beer and then fall in the water and drown because of the cheap waders they bought (in Lidl too probably).

Their wives always complained because they never found the bodies. Couldn't. There were too many currents because of the network of underwater rivers and caves in the area.

Forecast: Mullaghmore

I remember I rang Tom and Fintan Gillespie to tell them what had happened. They were en route from Dublin to come down and surf but they diverted immediately to Limerick Hospital to visit Dan who was on his way there.

I didn't know what to do.

"You should go to the Cliffs, it is going to be pumping." said Tom. Each person I had surfed with that day both had near-death experiences. I called it a day after that

What the hell else was I going to do. I went to the spot but the jet skis had all left and I paddled out with another surfer. I lost him for 45 minutes half way through the session and when he reappeared he had a mark above his eyebrow (from his board presumably) and couldn't remember where he was or how he had got there.

Each person I had surfed with that day both had near-death experiences. I called it a day after that.

I remember out at the Cliffs, a boat went over and a bunch of dudes were in a bad way. I paddled over to the first guy and he said, "you're not going to believe this?" "What", I said. "Well, I've a dislocated shoulder," he said. "No worries, hang on. Hold on to this and I'll bring you in." I went to the shore and returned to the second man who was also stranded at sea.

"You're not going to believe this", he said. "Don't tell me," I stopped him. "You've a dislocated shoulder?"

"How'd you know?"

Related content: Shambles breaks femur

A little known spot with a heavy, throwing lip.

A little known spot with a heavy, throwing lip.

© 2023 - Conor Lee.

Some people have all the luck. I remember my worst near-drowning experience at sea. I was in Ecuador competing in the world championships. I was the only Irishman still in the competition. We rocked up to the beach and it was massive. Full on, cliff-on-both-sides, ain't-gonna-paddle-to-New Zealand shit, a ten foot shore break was closing out the bay.

All the national surf teams were there but no one was out freesurfing except Andrew Lester from Australia and Nicolas Capdeville were charging the shorebreak and the late, great Beau Day did a massive invert down the beach.

I was sure they were were going to call off the competition, but my coach Stevie Burns came over and told me my heat was in at 3pm. I quickly decided to paddle out and test out the conditions. I was scared to death but I was 18-years-old and felt I could handle it. I jumped and expected to get pushed straight back into the beach but I made it out quite far, quite quickly because of the strong rip.

But by some miracle or other, I made it out the back without too much difficulty. Hadn't counted on that and I wasn't sure what to do next. I sat up on my board and waited for a wave. I saw one coming. Or was it a large set?

Yeah, it was definitely a large set, set of the day knowing my luck. I began to scramble horizon-ward. I sprinted and suddenly that wave was breaking on me. I bailed my board and swam under. I was freaking out but staying calm. I swam through the wave and arrived on the other side. 

I took a breath and thought 'that wasn't so bad'. What's all the fuss. The next wave loomed and I went to retrieve my bodyboard and noticed it was nowhere to be seen. My leash had snapped and I didn't even notice. Too late. I tried to repeat the same trick. The dive down went fine but the ocean erupted underneath me. I was down for a long time.

I popped up and on the inhale I thought again, "this ain't so bad I don't know all the fuss was about..." The ocean erupted underneath me and I went down. I popped up again and I thought it was pretty bad alright. I wanted it to stop...now. I was about a quarter of a mile out to sea

I popped up again and I thought it was pretty bad alright. I wanted it to stop...now. I was about a quarter of a mile out to sea. The set passed but the waves never stopped. During every lull I would try and swim in. Every set would draw me back out with the current and I would be in the impact zone again. I was aware I could possibly drown.

I wasn't suited to warm water and surfing without a wetsuit. I was getting so tired I wasn't getting very far when I swam in. I wasn't sure if anyone on the beach was watching, I'd forgotten about the beach.

Welcome to Aileens.

Welcome to Aileens.

© 2023 - Shane Meehan.

Eventually, I was only getting two footers on the head and it was a massive struggle. About forty minutes later I eventually crawled out of the water and my team mates helped me up the beach. About an hour later, I was still sitting there recovering when suddenly a woman started shouting in Spanish. Her two sons and her cousin had gone near the water to get a ball and being swept out to sea.

One son survived and another son washed up naked on the beach later that day. I don't think they ever found the third body. It was a disaster. The next day both the police and the army were patrolling the beach and the only people allowed near the water were people with competitor's wristbands.

I felt so freaked out when those teenagers died because I knew exactly how they felt just before they went under. It gives me shivers every time I think about it.

I remember I went to Gran Canaria with Dan after he had reconstructive knee surgery. He had a ton of rehab to do but he was mad for it. The rest of the lads were missioning up the coast in the rental car to score slabs and he was in the hostel doing physio exercises for his knee, then running across the road to surf one foot onshore Las Canteras. He hadn't surfed properly in a year so he was frothing.
On the last day we rocked up to pumping, packed Fronton. I wasn't sure what size it was and Dan had surfed their before so I innocently asked him. "Hey, how big do you think it is".
“Ahh, its fine, you'll be fine. Go on. Sham. Get out there.”

And stupid me, I believed him. It was flipping massive. I'd never seen waves like that in my life. It was like two waves together, a Siamese twin of a wave where the left and the right are trying to boss and bully the other into submission but power is always switching sides.

It seemed like there were about 300 Spanish bodyboarders out. I saw Mike Stewart getting dropped in on on every wave. All the locals were wearing Mutant and Fur wetsuits. I paddled out into the middle of the pack. After about 20 minutes an absolute bomb came straight my way.

I just happened to be in the spot. I turned around. I looked to the left, I looked to the right. There was no one around me. It didn't make sense. It was my wave. I could go and no one could stop me. I took off and started backdooring this huge tube. A Spanish guy decided to burn me and dropped in.

I sped up and somehow overtook this dude in the barrel. Eventually I got blown out in the channel delighted with myself. I turned around to give this mystery local a high five to celebrate our double barrel but he was no where to be seen. I guess he must have left the party early. 

PMPA, pumping.

PMPA, pumping.

© 2023 - Conor Lee.

The wave had spit so hard that I had lost both my contact lenses. I was really confused. I was sure I didn't drop in on anybody but I still started freaking out as if I had. All the pros from the recent world tour event were in the water along with half the Canary Island bodyboard crew and the vibe was pretty tense in the pack. I paddled back out to the lineup and went up to the dude in the Mutant wetsuit and said slowly in English, "I am sorry, I didn't see, I didn't mean not to drop in. You are really cool guys. I am from Ireland. It is very cold there. Bye Bye." Problem solved. I had sorted everything out with the locals.
I sat on my board and waited for another wave knowing full well I wouldn't catch another for the rest of the session because it was so crowded. Ten minutes later the local who I had passed in the tube paddled back into the lineup and started screaming at me in Spanish. Because I have terrible eye sight and had lost my contact lenses I obviously had been apologising to a different Spanish dude who was wearing the same kind of wetsuit. The guy I passed in the barrel must have got really smoked and washed all the way to the cliff and he was pissed

The guy I passed in the barrel must have got really smoked and washed all the way to the cliff and he was pissed. I turned around and paddled in to avoid anymore confrontation. But just as I was about to get out I thought, hey, I haven't dropped in on anybody, he dropped in on me. I haven't done anything wrong. So I paddled back out again. Still, it was a sick first wave at Fronton and I only went out because Dan had made it sound like it was about three foot, not ten. Galdar is one of my favourite places on the planet and I feel fortunate to have met some really great friend their through bodyboarding like Miguel, Juankri and Jose Bichillo.
More recently, I've been doing a bit of work behind the scenes at Science. Myself, Mike and Melinda Morey have successfully moved our Friends of Tom Morey campaign from Youcaring over to Go Fund Me (who acquired the YouCaring platform meaning we had to move) and we are still actively seeking donations from the surfing community. Tom Morey is a living surf legend who we aim to provide financial security for in his old age.
Mike contacted me after Tom Morey had gone blind and was in financial trouble. The money raised by the supporters of the Friends of Tom Morey campaign have paid for the required medical insurance and two vital operations which have given Tom his sight back. Now, Tom can't see well and is still unable to drive, but he can see so that is a big improvement. See HERE for details.

Surfing. Bodyboard. Whatever. I love it all. I guess I love bodyboarding the most, but it is all about the love, yunno? I love bodysurfing, bellyboarding, bodyboarding, surf and SUP. I haven't got my hands on a foil but I am looking for a sponsor. 

I am very proud that I was given the original 6' 9'' Mick Manolas Hot Buttered board that Joel Fitzgerald surfed in Litmus so surfing is close to my heart (but if you cut me I would bleed bodyboarding).
And right now I am busy with my summer camps but there is usually lots of fun summer surf at Strandhill Beach so I get to scratch the itch. With so many surfboards lying around with the surf school I have been loving surfing when the waves are small. Now I am a professional surf coach so surfing is my job basically. So as fun as it is I take it seriously. No seriously!
Last May down at Rileys it was small, perfect and sunny. I arrived down and Gearoid McDaid was just leaving the water for a break. I thought, "screw the bodyboard, it would a perfect day or me to give it a nudge on the surfboard". Gearoid is sponsored up the eyeballs so I knew he was the man to ask for a lend of a board. He duly obliged and I proceeded to paddle out brimming with confidence. The only fly in the ointment was that Gearoid's board was a 5' 7'' high performance twig and the shortest board in my quiver is a 6' 8''. Still the first wave went okay. But when I paddled for my second wave it all went wrong.

GMan's board, stand up, here we go.

GMan's board, stand up, here we go.

© 2023 - Clem McInerney

I paddled for a small one and didn't catch it. It was a two foot day. When I turned around I saw a five foot bomb coming and I knew I was getting absolutely smoked. I stood up and found the water was waist deep. I stood my ground. Wildcat Cillian Ryan was dropping into the bomb, drifting tail and hooking in to a hell tube. The wave detonated directly in front of me about a metre from my face. I got vaporised and slapped on to the reef. I was freaking out I was going to snap Gearoid's €700 surfboard. I hit my head and whacked my elbow off the reef. I had flashbacks from breaking my femur. Not this again.
I stood up a little dazed but I was okay apart from a few scratches. I caught two more quick waves even though I was rattled. Then I paddled in and handed Gman his board back, which was unaffected by the whole experience. Now, I reckon I will stick to bodyboarding at Rileys, at least for the time being.