EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Two-Years-Ago Today, Conor Maguire Surfed Ireland's Biggest Wave

Jason Lock

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Updated 276d ago

Two-years-ago today, a colossal storm was winding into western Europe, a real brute of a system that lit up spots from Ireland right down into Morocco. On this morning, Conor Maguire woke up, checked his home slab and pulled the trigger on a mission to surf the biggest wave out there. What went down was a testament of true grit, and Conor can now hang the title of the person who surfed Ireland's biggest wave above his mantle. This is that story, when MSW caught up with Conor just hours after he dropped into this behemoth.

October 28 2020: Earlier today, Conor Maguire pulled into one of the biggest waves we've ever seen in Ireland – and that is no exaggeration. This monster is comparable to Code Red Teahupoo in its magnitude and Cloudbreak 2018 in its scope – and it could be up there as the defining moment of this colossal XXL swell that's rumbling Europe right now.

While all eyes were trained on Nazare, Conor was calculating his move at this slab. And while Nazare still has a day to go before the swell tapers off, it's going to be hard to top this stunning session at what could be one of the pivotal moment of 2020's big wave season – and we've only just got started.

MSW caught up with Conor moments after this went down. Here's how the conversation went.

Jason Lock: Right, what just happened? You seem pretty calm for someone who's just surfed probably the biggest wave we've ever seen in Ireland?!
[laughs] Yeah, I feel pretty good. Feel just the same as I always do when I surf here really, we're all pretty chilled here, we just do it because we love it. There's no ego here. It's pretty mellow here it was a spectacular morning, day like no other really. I've never really seen the bay do what it did today. I mean, I'm just in the car park at Bundoran and it's just... lines to the horizon, even though it's dark, you can still see it. So hectic.

Forecast: UK + Ireland

The angle from straight on is just as impressive.

The angle from straight on is just as impressive.

© 2022 - Andrew Kilfeather//Red Bull Surfing

That's just nuts. With the second lockdown going on over there, what was the vibe like going into this one? There's such a strange turn of events that happened here; lockdown, biggest swell in decades, that slab being the only place that can really hold that size in Ireland and the UK...
Yeah, originally when I saw the swell on the charts, I was like, oh fuck, of course it would happen during lockdown. So typical. [laughs] My main concern was not to offend anyone or put pressure on the hospital system or anything like that. I spoke to Red Bull and spoke to Finn Mullen who's an absolute local legend here, he co ordinates a lot of events here.

He came on board as chief of safety for this session and did an incredible job, he got in touch with the coastguard, the RNLI, he's clued in, doesn't want to take any risks. His wife's a doctor up the road in Sligo, he knows the craic – and doesn't want to offend anyone.

So we were in safe hands and then we contacted Sligo County Council and got permission to surf, spoke to the coastguard. Today we had four skis and a paramedic on hand. Two spotters on the cliff, we couldn't have been any more safe and the perfect time to take a good craic at it.

The original idea was just to have respect for the locals and not to offend anyone. My friends are based in the area and we spoke to a lot of the locals before and they were buzzing people were out there. And the headland was like an amphitheatre, there were cars all the way around. Everyone was in their cars, adhering to COVID protocols, as were we, in the harbour with the safety briefing, we had masks on and all that stuff. It was pretty professional.

Did that throw you off a bit?
Not at all [laughs] that didn't bother me in the slightest. I was just looking at the numbers and focussing, woke up at 5am, was mind surfing in my head and doing yoga – just chilling really. Been waiting for this day since I was a kid.

It all came together on the day. I wasn't anxious or nervous, I had Barry [Mottershead] driving as well, I was in good hands. It was just a pleasure to be honest...terrifying, but an absolute pleasure. [laughs]

I mean, look, that wave is insane. Can you walk us through it?
I had one earlier that I kinda fell on and got blown up. Then I was like, I'm just going to go on the next one. Barry saw this set and man, it was crazy. On a 20 to 30 ft day, a solid pumping tow day, previously, the best days I've seen out there, you can see lines in the bay coming in and you'll pick a wave. The driver might be like, 'alright, second wave looks good', you'll be like, 'yep, sweet'. You'll see the line come in and pick you're way in, behind the peak where the reef is. Driver's put their surfers there and it's easy. You could see it the whole way coming in, in the middle of the bay [laughs]. Barry was like, 'uhhh, Ooookkkk', and I thought, 'oh fuck'

But today, with that set wave, it broke like 1km out. You could see it the whole way coming in, in the middle of the bay [laughs]. Barry was like, 'uhhh, Ooookkkk', and I thought, 'oh fuck'. Then he just picked me up, did a loop and slung me in like a big pendulum. When I let go of the rope, I did a little fade back in, to get in the spot and he was just going over the top of the wave. When I was dropping down, kind of felt like I was dropping 30 or 40 seconds, I was going and going. Barry said he was just going up and up the wave – it felt like I was in a lift, just dropping down. [laughs] so crazy.

The wave itself it was smooth, man. I felt like butter or something. It was pretty easy, Barry probably did all the work. I just kind of stood there [laughs]. But it ended up catching up with me in the end, you'll see in the footage [ed's note – Red Bull has just dropped the edit here] it's pretty epic.

© 2022 - Gary McCall//Red Bull Surfing

When I saw it, I thought it looked like Teahupoo Code Red, but think the more apt comparison is Cloudbreak 2018. Then I was thinking, well, if people want to call Teahupoo Code Red – because it was closed down ie Code Red, then can't we call this session Code Green?
[laughs] Yeah! [laughs] Code Green. That's good!

And while everyone was waiting for Nazare to be the defining moment of this swell – alright there's one day left – but this is that moment, for sure. Did you think about that before heading out?
Not really man. I was just excited to surf waves on my door step [laughs]. To get a wave like that, out there, is just the icing on top really. This morning with all my friends around and the safety organising it, the spotters on the cliffs, that was really special. It was better than getting Ride of the Year, I don't really care about that stuff... maybe I should [laughs]. That was so special for me.

© 2022 - Conor Flanagan//Red Bull Surfing

How does it feel to get hit by a wave that size?
Yeah, it's mental. Luckily, I didn't fall at the start or in the middle because then you're absolutely fucked. Just going deep – I got pretty rattled, it just feels like a truck hit you and you're being pushed deep and your ears are tingling. It's... epic.

Epic?! That's one of way putting it! And who was on the safety today?
Yeah they did a crazy job – Dylan Stott [MSW's senior Ireland correspondent – Dylan's wrap up coming soon] towed me into my first one. Barry Mottershead, he killed it driving. Poor gut, he was under so much stress. He had to take a breather afterwards in the channel. Everyone was like chatting and he was like, laid down on the ski about a mile out to sea [laughs] just staring into the sky.

Peter Conroy, Fion, James. Man so many names, I'm gonna offend someone.

In terms of what you've surfed before, how would you rate this wave or session?
It's such a personal thing, you know, it's kind of hard to describe but it's the biggest wave I've ever ridden.

For reference, this is the Cloudbreak wave mentioned in the intro.... the similarities are stark. Except Conor's wave is cold...

For reference, this is the Cloudbreak wave mentioned in the intro.... the similarities are stark. Except Conor's wave is cold...

Yeah, this is probably as big as it gets.

Yeah, this is probably as big as it gets.

© 2022 - Conor Flanagan//Red Bull Surfing