MEET: Megan Gayda, Photographer Swimming Those XL Irish Slabs

Jason Lock

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Updated 13d ago

Last season we heard about Megan Gayda. An Essex transplant now residing in Ireland – who swims out at those macking XL Irish slabs to shoot. “One time, swam from the car park to this heavy wave.” she laughed. “Don't think anyone does that.”

Megan's also put in time windsurfing across the Emerald Isle, including Mully. “Oh I've been out there like, four times,” she says. “Hungover. So had to redeem myself a week later, I love the nerves from being out there, it's such a buzz.”

And swimming from the car park?! “Took what felt like a week but in reality, was like 20-30 minutes or so. Just wanted to get some footage of those lot on a paddle day.”

Fruits of just putting in the time.

Fruits of just putting in the time.

© 2021 - Megan Gayda.

The crux of it all though? Megan's swimming out at these places as a ways of getting started in surf photography. And we think that is absolutely wild, inspiring and an insane testament to just doing it. Dig the interview below.

Hey Megan, how'd you end up in Ireland?
Well I'm originally from Essex but have been living in Ireland for eight years. When my brother was six or so, he started wind surfing and he ended up getting sponsored so we travelled around a lot. 10-years-ago, I left school, got a job at McDonald's [laughs] I love chicken nuggets.

Anyway saved up enough cash over six months to move to Kerry in Ireland, we'd windsurfed there a lot. Moved to Croyde for a bit to teach surfing then over to Indo for a bit – the classic UK story, you know how it is.

Back to Ireland to teach surfing and have been here cruising around doing different jobs – right now, I'm a builder! I'm an absolute tomboy, used to go away for windsurfing and surrounded by boys – to be honest, I'm more manly than most of the boys. Got no trouble throwing myself into situations I have no business being in [like swimming and shooting Mullaghmore...] If the boys are out at Mully, why can't I be out there?

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

© 2021 - Megan Gayda.

How did you begin to get interested in surf photography then?
Well, I wouldn't say I ever got started, about four months ago I bought a camera. I got bored of watching the boys at Mully and thought I'd put myself to some use. Right, bought a housing, started swimming. I know nothing. I just want to be out there. Clem's [McInerney] been feeding me info and I'm picking up everything. Been getting voice note tutorials [laughs] it was like learning Chinese! Slowly getting there... I am right at the start.

And how much do you get in the water now?
Much more when I was younger. Went through a stage thinking I was Ann-Marie from Blue Crush. I know that movie off by heart. Gone real in and out of it, start frothing, stop. One of those stages right now where there's so much going on – my life revolves around it still. But I want to focus on my photography.

But not a lot of people think 'I want to start out in surf photography, let's shoot the heaviest wave on the planet... and swim there too...'
Yeah, well, I absolutely love it out there. I've windsurfed it twice and swam it once with a GoPro, was frothing out on the shoulder. It's so sick seeing it. You see it from land and it just doesn't do it justice. I want to be there having the shit scared out of me. A load of people said, 'go shoot the beachies,' probably should have done that to start with to be honest. [laughs].

Mully though, how do you even prepare for something like that?!
My approach is like, don't even think about it. Just go and do it. I went and picked Taz Knight up the other day because he didn't have a car and was heading into town, and he just said, 'jump on a ski with me'. I was like...ok! I asked Conor Maguire if it's alright.

The boys are legends, they were like, 'yeah no worries'. Hopped on, it was 4 degrees in my four year old 6mm suit, no gloves. And I just thought, 'f*** it, I gotta do it'. I was freezing, got the camera set up. Off I go. The journey out was out of control. Bouncing on the back of the sled, couldn't see anything. We got to the line up and I saw it then and was like 'oh...shit...it's pretty big' [laughs].

But we were out there. Taz dropped me at this spot and I just stayed there. Saw some absolute bombs come through. I stayed in that spot for two hours. Two hours. I started to shoot to get some stills.

This mad wave came through. And thought 'ah that's going on my head'. Popped out the other side and saw Taz whip towards me – grabbed the sled got dragged out [laughs]. Wasn't sketchy at all but you got to be on it constantly. Was treading water for three hours total. Was like leg day at the gym.

So what makes Mully special then?
It's just...amazing. In every season. You go down on the rocks and find that sun bathing spot and it's all heated and the sun's reflecting on you. It's incredible. Every time I'm out there now...look, I know there aren't, but it just feels sharky [laughs]. It's cold, dark, crazy, magic.

How many times have you been out there?
Oh like, four times. Sailed out there with my brother. Was uhhh on the back of a huge night out to be honest, wasn't feeling great. Anyway, my method there was like, don't think about it. Sail out. We got out there, I got in the sea amidst these huge swell lines, hungover. Watching my brother go nuts.

Anyway, a week later, had to redeem myself. Realised how close you could get to the barrel without being in danger. That was a special day, was sunny, got a couple ones. Swam out with the GoPro on another time, swam right from the car park... no one does that [laughs]. Took what felt like a week but in reality, was like 20-30 minutes or so. Just wanted to get some footage of those lot on a paddle day. I love the nerves from being out there, it's such a buzz.

The last time though, swimming with the camera, that pumping - just can't wait to be out there. I remember right at the end of the last session, I just laid on a board and felt like something from the Titantic, or Castaway. And well, I'd gone four layers deep on fake tan in the morning [laughs] drifting out to sea, slightly hypothermic but at least I looked tanned...

Amazing. And look, you're one of a handful of female photographers who swim out at Mully. How does that make you feel when you hear that?
I mean, calling me a photographer is a bit much...

Ok, aspiring photographer!
Maybe, I'm the only female photographer to fully wind it and swim out there? I don't know, honestly, girls should just send it out there. Katie McAnena actually was the first girl to windsurf out there and she's an absolute charger, and also Eliz Clyne for towing it this summer. If you want to go out there, go. Actually, speak with the safety team first... that's important.

Sit on the shoulder and you can determine how deep you can get. The view is sick. It's terrifying, but hopefully soon I'll have a better fins, kit, impact vest... but anybody, women, men, girls, boys – go send it.

And yeah, I swam out on a smaller day but on the bigger days – no chance. You need a ski. Getting on a ski will save you about a two-day paddle [laughs]. I feel like this is a dear diary journal entry [laughs]. Nah, just give it a try, go speak to the team, tell them what you want to do and see what happens.

We recommend following Megan's journey, HERE