State of the COVID Nation: Ireland

Dylan Stott

by on

Updated 43d ago

On Monday, the Irish Government made the decision to move to Level 5 lockdown. No restaurants, museums, libraries, or pubs. No visiting anybody. Exercise only within five kilometres of your house. No work unless you are “essential” medical, school or food production staff. Organised sports are for “elite athletes” only and can be played behind closed doors, with no fans.

You cannot visit grandma. Irish craic, the stuff of global legend, has been curtailed to households and family “bubbles.” It is harder than ever to hear Irish people laugh. And it will remain this way for six weeks. If not longer. The government is writing a campaign called Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19. We are in this for a very long haul.

In the time since I last wrote an article, the world has changed. My mind is so muddled I can hardly remember where the keyboard is, and, though I always write about how much writing sucks - the actual sit-down, eat-the-frog reality of writing - I always edit it out. This time I won’t. Writing is a lonely, hair-pulling experience that ages you. In order to do it, you need to be a person who lives with at least a supreme confidence of narrative. But my confidence is all sunken and shrunken. We humans haven’t been able to do what we are programmed to do. Socialise. On hundred fifty million years of evolution led us to survival by socialisation and all that was cancelled in March.

You can't really have a session without a good crew. Here's Dylan a few moons ago.

Good chin wags, hi fives, hugs, gathering around for a story, the sharing of the well, all put on hold. Stopped. The John-Lennon-hope of us coming together to solve the problems of the world. Skuttled.

Will someone with a vest and a frizzy haired friend with a Flux Capacitor and a DeLorean go back in time again? Get that sports almanac, sure, from Biff’s younger self. Introduce rock-and-roll and skateboards to a conservative and friendly populace. But give young Donald Trump a hug while you’re there. Show everyone a picture of the Amazon on fire and charts of plastic overtaking fish by weight in the ocean… that would be a dull film. But at least give Trump a hug. I think he needed one. Hell, hug him and take him surfing. Bodysurfing even. How much better the world would be if he was Ol’ Don the bodysurfer, whomper of the local Mar-a-Lago shorie? There has never been an evil bodysurfer. It’s philosophically impossible.

What would you do if you could go back in time now? Who would you hug? What would you change?

The place we are today in surfing is new. We can no longer divide the world in two. No longer does a surf world oppose a regular world. No longer can we escape our reality to a live out a fantasy. “Only a surfer knows the feeling,” is stale. We can no longer pretend we don’t contribute to the mess this has all become, and there is no longer denying it is a mess. We can’t even loose ourselves pouring over an issue of SURFER. SURFER is dead along with human touch.

I’ll miss that denial. That escape.

When this, too, is your escape, and it's torn away from you, again. Nic Von Rupp in Ireland a couple years ago.

When this, too, is your escape, and it's torn away from you, again. Nic Von Rupp in Ireland a couple years ago.

© 2020 - Tim Borrow.

I’ll miss the “leave everything behind,” the “get on the road,” the “hop in the plane,” the “I’m goin’ surfin” attitude. From The Endless Summer, to the XXL awards. From the road trip to the strike mission - the whole circus - is over. I’ll miss it. Because I have met so many amazing people that I truly love simply because we love the same bunch of rocks. All called there by the charts like sailors to Sirens.

Now that we have had available to us as surfers, custom, catered surf holidays, private islands, private boats, private tours (whatever your level) as well as steely jet jockeys that arrive, sleep deprived and racoon-eyed, at dawn at any big wave spot whenever it is breaking, I’m of two minds. I saw humans shut down and the earth take a breath. My Uncle died of Covid and friends said Covid didn’t exist. I’m across an ocean watching the land I come from burn. I watch this on a tiny screen and feel like a refugee watching suffering in the city they left from an uncomfortably, yet safe, house, in an uncomfortable, yet safe, country.

Two minds. All those surfing Mullaghmore this year will be those with more time committed. If you travelled and are in the lineup, you will have earned it. A lonely two weeks of big big nothing. No surf. No craic. A giant goddam hotel bill. Then, depending on the level of lockdown, you might be restricted further along with the rest of the population

If you have been on a wild, carefree, wave scoring travel mission by land sea or air over the course of the past sixty years you should consider yourself lucky. If you’ve ever been scarred by the reef in Bingin, managed a set wave at Pipeline, walked down the cliff at Blacks, jumped off the boat at Cloudbreak, got sand in your ears at La Graviere, Long Beach, or Ke Iki, got whipped into waves at Nazere or Jaws, or bodysurfed the shore dump in front of your hotel when you went on holiday. If you ever discovered a wave you think no one else has surfed … hell if you have slid down a wave and a smile spread on your face before March 2020, pat yourself on the back. You did well. Count your blessings.

In March I saw a world without airplanes in the sky or boats in the ocean. There were no cars on the road. I saw more birds, foxes, dolphins, whales, badgers, and hawks than I ever did. I could feel the earth breathe.

I thought maybe this is it. Maybe the time of humans is over.

But then July and August kicked in and I was probably not the only one who saw the holiday rush, the fever to have fun while not being able to get on a plane. In Ireland, staycation became buzzword and every outdoor adventure service was booked out in a frenzy once lockdown eased. It went from hearing hawks pierce an atmosphere otherwise free of traffic noise to a screaming, splashing, ice cream licking, car traffic, boat traffic, foot traffic, summer having frenzy. Fun summertime swells went unridden as the entire surfing population of Ireland became employed, some despite better efforts. The money spenders were out and about and they were not in Spain. They stayed and spent their money and elected officials patted themselves on the back for the economic recovery.

And the whole time we were warned.

Those hoping for a taste of Irish slabs are being urged to stay away, even once lockdown breaks.

Across the sea in my home country George Floyd, another black man, was murdered slowly by another gang of white cops while screaming for his mamma. The cities started to burn and then the whole west coast. Everything last dam remaining thing became politicised. My Uncle died of Covid in Jersey City and it is hard to even think about that.

All this is connected.

Now, as Ireland is going back into national lockdown this morning, Trump has escaped his hospital quarantine room to go wave to his supporters from a air tight SUV with two Secret Service agents. Survive a disease that has killed a three hundred and fifty thousand people, and declare yourself anointed by some divinity. Then it’s just a matter of climbing up on the throne.

And while all this drama and fire rages on… the waves have been flat. Now though, here comes the interesting part. When the waves start firing, how are the nutcase strike mission population going to behave, how will they be received? Those driven surf travellers who, in my experience, have never let anything stop them from the chance at one of the most mystical of surfing’s thrills, a big ass barrel. The chances of you arriving by plane are getting less and less and those that do manage to get here will have to quarantine for two weeks. Anybody following the rules will not be on a strike mission. You will be isolated for two weeks, in winter, in Ireland

The chances of you arriving by plane are getting less and less and those that do manage to get here will have to quarantine for two weeks. Anybody following the rules will not be on a strike mission. You will be isolated for two weeks, in winter, in Ireland. You are allowed to go on a walk, as long as you are by yourself. Most countries have similar rules. If you are travelling to any of them, you will have to know the rules.

Maybe you are asking what Gary Kohner asked: "I was thinking of coming (to Ireland) for a couple of months and I was planning on isolating for two weeks… I appreciate everyone’s kindness towards me and wouldn’t want to jeopardise that. Maybe I should wait until next year? I appreciate your honest feedback and have been on the fence because the last thing I want is to bum you guys out.

A question applauded for the right attitude. The answer is, if you come and isolate yourself, follow the rules and guidelines of the time, you will receive the kindness you expect.

All those surfing Mullaghmore this year will be those with more time committed. If you travelled and are in the lineup, you will have earned it. A lonely two weeks of big big nothing. No surf. No craic. A giant goddam hotel bill. Then, depending on the level of lockdown, you might be restricted further along with the rest of the population.

Lockdown has swung in right as this beast was flipped on to the charts.

Lockdown has swung in right as this beast was flipped on to the charts.

Dylan TerMorshuizen, a man who takes fine surf photos and could not wait to get back this year says: "As a foreigner who’d love to be stuck on the other side of the Atlantic, I think traveling to any island at this stage is extremely selfish and short-sighted…. It may help the surf community if Dylan is able to put out a measured word which recommends that people thinking of traveling to surf should stay the fuck at home. We can all surf our favourite spots when it doesn’t have the potential to kill anybody."

If you go through all that, and if still manage to luck into a swell and wind window that is over the horizon on even the longest of long range surf charts. If the lockdown is at a level where you can travel to the surf. Hell. You know how good those after-work surfs feel? It’ll be like that first surf session after getting out of prison.

Pre-yesterday's announcement, Peter Conroy, Irish trow safety legend added: "Everyone is more than welcome but you have to quarantine for two weeks if you are coming from anywhere outside Ireland. If people living here in Ireland can’t surf because lockdowns I can’t see why anyone flying in would be able to."

Mr Conroy's credentials...

Dr. Clemins Moll said: "I have planned to come to Ireland like every other year. However the most important thing as a traveling surfer is respect the locals. This respect has to be in and out of the water. The health of local communities is at risk with every traveller who could bring the virus along. Especially when not quarantining and visiting pubs/restaurants. Surfing doesn’t cause a major risk, but all the interactions you have with the locals do pose an unnecessary risk. And as a responsible person I postponed my trip to a time when traveling will not pose a threat to local communities."

And Ollie O’Flaherty adds: "I welcome everyone who comes here if they come with respect and humility, but if, in the middle of a pandemic and current restrictions, someone turns up on a bloody surf holiday, there is going to be words and they won’t surf at my local… I’m not trying to be a dick it’s just the reality and I guarantee the surf community mostly feel the same… hopefully (that) doesn’t offend anyone."

The cover image of Conor Maguire by conorflan.