(X)XXL Mullaghmore, Bodyboards and a Larry

This swell had all the makings of different. It had a name. Hercules. When I showed up for the morning check, a lady yelled at me for parking my car in the same place I’ve been parking it all winter. Before we went out, Peter and Paul had a safety meeting in the lobby of the Pier Head, and right before I went out I gave an interview for the news. Which is not in a normal day.

We left the harbour at a very high tide. That was different. There were rumours of the return of the great Ginger Man from the north, Alistair Mennie. That was different. We conducted interviews by major news channels before leaving the harbour. That was different. There was talk of an extra X on this XXL swell. That was different. It was very windy. It is always very windy at Mullaghmore.

The week of swell before Christmas seemed like lifetime ago. The last swell we had at Mullaghmore I had to ring people all morning to try to get one more ski out. It was Christmas time – and there was one car on the bluff with a bored farmer’s wife in it, killing time.

The week of swell before Christmas seemed like lifetime ago. The last swell we had at Mullaghmore I had to ring people all morning to try to get one more ski out. It was Christmas time – and there was one car on the bluff with a bored farmer’s wife in it, killing time.

When I looked back at the bluff from the water yesterday there was not a single space of road not occupied by a vehicle. And to use a quote from RTE later – The crowds “flew in from all over.” And it was pretty boring really… The high tide made for some lumpy ones, there were some fun turns happening, but it was nothing like we expected. Sets were sometimes more than a half hour apart. And when they came in, there would only be one wave in them. More skis came. More cars on the cliff packed in. Then I saw something I didn’t expect to see, a paddler.

It did seem small enough to surf. But with the tide being so high, the only ramp on the entrance didn’t ever work. Didn’t know who he was, but before I could think about the politics of it, Fergal was in the lineup and on a big board too. Then two bodyboarders.

There were more than a dozen skis in the water at that point. There were four guy swimming for photos, Fionn Rogers, Gustavo Carvalho, Al Mckinnon, and Mikey Corker – and credit to them. I’ve been an advocate for swimming out there. I’ve done it a couple times. It takes serious courage to swim around in the end bowl. And just like paddling Mully, water shots out at there are just getting going, just scratching the surface. And just like the possibility for somebody to paddle into the biggest barrel ever ridden, there is the possibility to get a Holy Grail of a game-changing photo – all you have to do is swim further up the reef and swallow when a set wave comes in and your heart tries to escape by your throat.

The paddle surfers yesterday had a lot of trouble. And the crowds on the cliff got a good taste of the patience it takes to paddle into waves out there. Long waits between waves, on a day that was borderline paddleable by the best man able for it on earth – Fergal Smith. And for a long time there was absolutely no action at all. Until Conor Flanagan and Shambles McGoldrick got going. They both had at it. Using the small window of light wind and outgoing tide to their full advantage. These spongers stepped into the spotlight, the front of the very small herd of people who know how to successfully paddle a proper Roaring Mullaghmore bomb. Those boys are getting seriously comfortable falling thirty foot out of the lip. They expect to, are ready for it, and have enough composure at the bottom to regain control. There are no arguments from anybody who witnessed the Shambles and Conor bodyboarding show that it was some of the most impressive surfing ever done.

Another strange part of the day is that as the tide got lower it did not get easier to paddle. The boils took over as the super low frequency of the swell felt the reef. The few waves that did come through had the whole ocean in them, the “ocean level change” you see at big Chopes – which turned all the surf-able area of the waves into mogul-ridden mess of drastic steps and suction puckers. The paddlers had enough. Even if you could get down the face it would be impossible to control big board in the pit. So the bodyboard, once again, has proven to be a relentlessly advanced craft. Bows to and many golf-claps to Conor and Shambles. Much respect.

At this point only a couple people besides the bodyboarders got good ones. Ollie Oh Flaherty got a tremendous one. A massive thirty footer that stood up for him, and he pulled in with ease. That satisfied Ollie for the day, and he resigned himself to getting his partner a bomb, which because of the conditions and the crowd took the rest of the day.

Lyndon Wake styled him self into a screamer as he always does on his visits to Mullaghmore. Nic Von Rupp – who is an absolute joy to have around, a funny – happy – joyful upbeat guy who is seriously talented at left hand slabs – got a mental one. Neil Britton had a very near miss at making it through the steps and out of a big barrel And Peter Conroy finally got a whip into a proper level changer, and was two or three boils from coming out, when one of those suction boils took his board out from him.

It was a strange day. No not as big as the hype. Yes it was crowded. It was a juggle of tow-teams and paddle guys. There were more people in the channel than ever before. But like every day out there the sun shines on those who believe themselves capable of that bit extra.

I put Kurt Rist on one of the hopeless ones. One that the paddlers would not even sniff at, and I let him off deep on a double up. I spun around with the ski and moseyed out. I didn’t want to create any unnecessary ski wake, and I knew there were qualified people to pick him up if he didn’t make it. When I came into the line-up I realized that Kurt had done something special. Fifteen jetskis and a boat full of people were too stunned to speak.

Turned out that in order to make the barrel of his life (another new one) he went old school. To keep his rail and his line while he fell overs steps he laid- back. The good ol’ Larry, invented in the 70’s, used like hair spray in the 80’s, reinvented by the likes of Slater and John-John recently. It worked. Kurt relied on his back and arms two different times while in the barrel. Stylish, functional backside surfing got him through an impossibly large and thick tube. Through the whole long session the lineup remained friendly and cheerful as we hooted ourselves through another session – this one seen by a thousand eyes.

By Dylan Stott