A Decade of Reflection at Ireland's Giant Hell Slab

Dylan Stott

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Updated 52d ago

Senior Irish Surf Correspondent Dylan Stott has become the self proclaimed ‘safety guy’ out at the Emerald Isle’s horror slab Mullaghmore. But he’s been through a lot to get there, and has been part of some of the wildest sessions to go down at this beautiful slab. As another session threw down a couple weeks ago, which is what the pics here show, Dylan reflects on a decade under the Irish hood.

It is 2013. It is the future. You have made it to the future, for it was ten years ago, when Hallo Week (Will Skudin’s brainchild, my edit) came out and we met. Remember, dear reader? We all went out with masks and surfed and revealed ourselves when we came in.

I look at the start of that edit again and I can see that I am surrounded by friends. And I can see fear in me, even through the mask.

Related content: January Hasn't Stopped Pumping

All hallow Mullaghmore! Two epic sessions went down back in 2013 for the visiting New York crew alongside lreland's local contingent.

A month or so later we were deep into the 2013/14 season. Mullaghmore was medium to big a lot of the time, which was worst of all. “Because surfing there,” I said back then, “even at it’s biggest and meanest, is now a solid concrete reality. And if it’s not at its biggest and meanest – we paddle it, which scares me even more.”

Some things don’t change.

Easky Britton got the biggest wave of her life and her cousin, Neil Britton got the cover shot of the article, backhand, digging his toes into the wax to turn down towards the foamball, on one of the roundest wave I’ve seen until that point.

Neil Britton sticking it on the backhand all those years ago.

Neil Britton sticking it on the backhand all those years ago.

© 2023 - Aaron Pierce

Some of the shots in that article are all time wall hangers, Christian McLeod’s among them. Two frames stand out of Barry Mottershead standing alone down on the bluff, arms raised, as empty kegs of interminable sizes fire off beyond.

In contrast to the petrol hub-bub, there was Fergal Smith. “Fergal sits in the lineup at Mullagh’s like a monk sits on a mountain. He is happy, calm, contented. Sometimes he whistles a light little tune as he looks around, soaking in the beauty of Donegal Bay.

He’s the only one who just seemed to ignore the carnage, he’d float above it. The rest of us were in the trenches. "Mullaghmore was in fighting form. Cain took a beating, Ollie caught a rail at high speed which slapped him flat, giving him a small concussion and making him very grumpy – Conor (Flanagan) got his board and leash wedged around his testicles, which hurt him so badly he puked before he even surfaced. All of those were session ending wipeouts, but Paul was there every time.”

Mully has been alive this winter, especially during the month of November.

Mully has been alive this winter, especially during the month of November.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

Paul O’Kane. I breathe a sigh of relief just thinking of those days. As scared shitless as I was during every session back then, I’d yet know the responsibility of being scared for everybody.

“Paul is there for us. Like a good Godfather he falls into the protective roll of paternity. If the crew is going out, Paul is there first, waiting patiently in the harbour, ready to help get everybody else’s shit together. If we need advice, or to borrow a tool, we don’t waste time asking anybody else – straight to Paul.

He is an essential part of all the fun we have. He gets plenty of waves, but surfing is not his priority. He wants everybody else to get waves – and he wants everybody to make it back to celebrate with hugs and high-fives.”

More than any other peer, I wanted to be Paul. It took me nearly ten years to figure out why. A couple years back, 2021 I think, I dived off a ski to rescue a non-responsive young guy. He came around five minutes or so after Taz Knight got us both with his ski. We were about halfway to the harbour when he looked up at me with recognition and said “Dylan?”

Will Skudin taming a Mully monster from a recent swell this winter.

Will Skudin taming a Mully monster from a recent swell this winter.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

As soon as the ambulance got him I broke down and cried.

A bit after that, like a broken bone comes back when you’re old and it rains, a memory needles its way back to me. I was 15, in New York. 1993. I was a lifeguard. I lied about my age to get the job. I had been working about a week when we got a call and sprinted away from the ocean and got in Gerard’s Pontiac, an old rusty thing, but it had a V-6 and we roared the one mile exactly to the end of the road, where we got out, and once again ran away from the ocean, toward the bay.

There was a boy there, about 10, nearly drowned, and in choking gasps, said “my Dada, he’s in there,” and pointed to the bit of the bay that was five foot deep, but the soft gloopy muck goes on forever. You can touch the bottom but you can’t stand.

The two of us went into the muck with our feet. Making outward circles from this bathtub of a capsized styrofoam boat. I felt a fat body with my feet, pulled him to the edge, and started CPR. We took turns working on him, the dead man, with the boy screaming for the twenty minutes it took for the ambulance to show up and relieve us. There was a fishhook through my elbow that I hadn’t noticed.

Like Italian, the language of tube riding is one that requires hands to really tell a proper tale.

I put that awful scene in a deep drawer. Hell, I was a lifeguard, gotta deal with those type of things right? I’m no psycho-analyst, even if I did believe such a profession, with qualifications, should exist, but I will say that incident did lead me to becoming the annoying safety guy. I spouted on to everyone who would listen and who wouldn’t, I lectured the crew when there was a session with no safety. And I know now, it might have had a thing or two to do with that dead father in the muck, all those years ago.

I wrote about Conor Maguire borrowing a board from Richie Fitzgerald and surfing Mullaghmore for the first time. “Conor stole the show, surfing with the poise and style of a man with far more years and experience."

Some things don’t change.

Your author Dylan Stott participating in some role reversal, charging!

Your author Dylan Stott participating in some role reversal, charging!

© 2023 - Gary McCall

I had a good year. The best of years. It was Mullaghmore three times a week. I put a long edit together with collected clips and bootlegged Nina Simone tracks and won some awards, followed my own movie around Europe awhile. I bought fancy sunglasses and once ate a hundred euro steak outside in a square where you could see the fishermen. I felt like Hemmingway.

I’ll tell you about the day I truly fell in love with Mullaghmore. “Some strange things happened in the last barrel, but as everybody whose tried knows, it is impossible to describe on paper a play-by-play of a barrel without sounding like an ex school-boy football hero on a bad blind date.

Like Italian, the language of tube riding is one that requires hands to really tell a proper tale, so all I can give you is the image I had of looking at my backward surfboard after the foamball blew the fins out, I was bodysurfing, sort of half on, half off the front of the board.

Neil's cousin Easkey on the wave that earned her a nomination for the 2014 Billabong XXL Ride of the Year.

Neil's cousin Easkey on the wave that earned her a nomination for the 2014 Billabong XXL Ride of the Year.

© 2023 - Aaron Pierce

I expected pain then, that kind of pain that comes moments after you realise you're in a bad spot. I almost closed my eyes but couldn't like a car wreck so I got to see it all as that big board spun back round and under my hip, and I came out like a sidesaddle seal, hips and hands and legs all awkward. And before I even stopped gliding in the channel I knew I was very close to the top of the stratosphere, that place where the wax starts to melt. I could hear Daedalus clearly, whispering a warning in my ear that I was far too high.”

I was dramatic then. Some things don’t change.

This session you are seeing pictures of? Basically the same ol’ things happened. Because the same things happen, just in new ways. I just looked through ten years of my words, fifty thousand of them. Three quarters of a million of you, dear reader, read some or most or all of those words. During this swell nothing happened that’s not already published. Nothing unusual for Mully anyway. And everything happened that was usual was just better than usual.

Dylan Stott just about visible while dwarfed by this beast.

Dylan Stott just about visible while dwarfed by this beast.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

So happy New Year, dear reader, my resolution was to write differently – I don’t know in what way - so I will, right after my greatest hits. But I’ll always hang on to the two themes that run through all the work I’ve done with MSW. Fear and Friends.

It’s starting to get late so let me leave you with what I wanted to leave you with. The themes that link all these stories from the past will pervade into the future. Themes, friends and fear. That fascinates me because friends do not pretend to eliminate fear. There is no elimination of fear.

“Fear is completely natural. To deny fear is like getting close to a fire and denying that fire is warm. Not only that it would be odd to deny that fire is warm. It’s nice to be next to a warm fire, usually.” — Allan Watts.