Excerpt from ‘Tender‘, a book I wrote with 2 x bodyboarding world champion, Pierre Louis Costes
When Pierre first arrived on the Emerald Isle in 2007, he had no idea he’d soon become entwined with waveriding history. An almost unheard-of run of autumn weather saw the coast blessed with three straight weeks of offshores, sunshine and swell. Combined with a motley crew of waveriders – the kind that has come to typify the country’s surfing population at any given time – on hand to wring every last barrel of the dreamy conditions, the stage was set for something magic to happen. It just took near-tragedy, a sleepless night and the culmination of years of patient exploration for the stars to align.
The morning before Pierre’s arrival, inimitable Cornish waterman and creative Mickey Smith was out walking along some cliffs in County Clare, in the country’s mid-west. His sister was in hospital with her baby Riley after a birth rife with complications, and Mickey had barely slept a wink. “I got up early and decided to walk every inch of a stretch of coast I’d only wandered in sections,” he explains. “I walked from dawn thinking of them, and right on dusk I looked over a clifftop and life was never the same for me again.”
The wave he’d spotted – a hair-raisingly shallow left-hand slab breaking cartoonishly close to a rock shelf – represented the kind of perfection bodyboarders have scribbled on their school books for decades. With light fading, Mickey resolved to return to the freshly-named Riley’s the next day, camera in hand, with some crash test dummies to test the waters. Thankfully, he knew a few guys, including an en-route Frenchman, reckless enough to put their bodies on the line.
“One of the greatest memories in my bodyboarding life was the day I surfed Riley’s,” Pierre recalls. “Along with Shaun Pyne [Cronulla charger], Tom Lowe [Cornish big-wave surfer] and Paul Morgan [South Coast New South Wales hellman], it was an unforgettable day surfing a new wave with friends, and Mickey screaming his lungs out in the channel. It was sunny and that golden late afternoon light made things look unreal. I feel grateful to have lived that day, and to be part of Ireland’s surfing history.”
In the years since, Riley’s – and another wave Mickey helped usher into the world, a towering right-hander dubbed Aileen’s, located below the majestic Cliffs of Moher – have become synonymous with the country’s surf scene, attracting big-name waveriders from around the globe. With that has come the usual trappings, including film crews, sometimes crowded lineups and jetskis. But, as Pierre discovered, 10 years after his maiden trip, some things never change.
“I was so stoked to surf this wave again with the lads,” says Pierre who joined Portuguese slab-hunter Nic Von Rupp and Irish rippers Tom Gillespie and Seamus Mc Goldrick in the lineup. “Everyone got bombs and it made me fall even more in love with Ireland. The vibes when you’re surfing in Ireland are amazing. There’s so much respect for everyone, with all the locals in the water, freezing cold and charging on to dry rocks like it’s a regular thing.” Mickey concurs. “There’s always the odd dickhead, like everywhere, but mostly everyone’s tight, buzzing on all aspects of their experiences together,” Mickey says. “Surfers swap and ride bodyboards at slabs and vice versa at the points. There’s mostly no prejudice or bullshit. I feel very lucky to have been a part of that, long may it last.”
But, where Ireland’s waveriding culture might be unique, the country’s story features a well-worn narrative across the globe – that of an intrepid bodyboarder dedicating their life to the search, and discovering a wave that further opens the door to what’s possible in the ocean.