The Balance of Tow and Paddle in Ireland Last Week

Dylan Stott

by on

Updated 71d ago

This big swell wasn’t really big. But all those colours on the charts sure set the resident pro surfers' into flying around this stretch of coast like swallows.

Forgive me a moment of reminisce; When I first drove down this coast where I now live, more than twenty years ago, I had just come from the North Shore of O’ahu. I was floored by the similarities between the two. Seven miles of coast, steep mountains that give way to a flat bit before the shoreline, the rain and rainbows, steep, powerful waves, and interesting people of great character.

Nate Florence came back for more after that insane foam ball ride last time out.

Nate Florence came back for more after that insane foam ball ride last time out.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

The costal roads here wind their way past beach-side dwellings, that look out on a thousand versions of surfing heaven, a version of the famous North Shore bike-path. Pick almost any day in the past two weeks to cruise down those narrow roads here, and just like there, you would rub elbows with some of the best surfers in the world.

You drive past a little blue van stuffed with boards and Andrew Kaineader, Noah Lane and Russell Bierke. A little further is fellow Aussie charger Zac Haynes in his rental. Conor Maguire, smiling in his tidy SUV and Gearoid McDaid in his practical estate vehicle.

Cillian Ryan and Ryan Watts, perched in their vans. Parked up looking too are the swimming lenspeople, frog people Conor Flannagan, Dylan TerMorshuizen and Megan Gayda with kits more tuned than any surfer’s quiver, they are ready to be swimming in the zone before any of these people paddle over the ledge.

Russ Bierke in front of some prime Irish real estate.

Russ Bierke in front of some prime Irish real estate.

© 2023 - Darragh Gorman

Darragh Gorman is parked up in the van, finding just the right angle. Gary McCall is buzzing around somewhere. A little further on is Nate Fletcher in his rental, his eyes, like everyone else’s, on the slab. Benji Brand is running around somewhere.

Squint and you could be in on the Coconut Palm shaded bike path in ’97, cruising by the big dogs of that day like Todd Chesser, Shane Dorian, the Irons’, the Ho’s the Little’s, all chatting in the sun, drinking mugs of coffee with top dog photographers like Scott Aichner and Darren Crawford.

Uncanny similarities of scenes and landscapes and vibes only becoming more uncanny over the years. A very unique vibe; a privileged, risk filled, confident vibe of fighter pilots about to start their day.

Zac Haynes sticking the drop and wrangling this monster.

Zac Haynes sticking the drop and wrangling this monster.

© 2023 - Megan Gayda

Then they are headed out, loping down the hill like lions getting loose on the Serengeti, the hunting party. The long-range lensmen set up like snipers in their studied firing positions, the frog-people swim out as they want to be there from the first drop. Others join the hunt, hunting ideal conditions. Hunting to prove they can hunt.

This is not Mullaghmore though, the biggest game is the most elusive. And even though you have seen some mind-blowing images from the best big wave in the world this season, this season is not that good. Those images you have seen all came from a very few amount of days, each containing a very few amount of waves.

Emerald Isle going gold.

Emerald Isle going gold.

© 2023 - Darragh Gorman

There are those out there around the world who love Mullaghmore and have missed her since 2020 when everyone got locked out, and Conor Maguire rode the biggest wave ever. Matt Bromley was one of those guys, waiting for the charts to turn the right colours, jumped a plane to arrive the day before the ‘big’ swell.

You also got guys like me, waiting for the wind to blow too hard to paddle, so I can slide through tubes on my weighted 5’8”.

And guys like Zak Haynes, leaving back to the other side of the world the next morning, just wanting one before they go.

"Nothing in Ireland comes easy with the wind and waves always changing. But when it comes together it’s amazing," says Matt Bromley.

© 2023 - Megan Gayda

Then all those slab hunters are here now watching a windblown swell peter in at half the size they were expecting, declared it crap. They left, off down that windy costal path to search for something else. A headland full of surfers and the photographers boiled down to a couple including Zak, and Matt Bromley, who had just flown in from South Africa, both keen for a Mully wave while they have a brief chance.

Peter Conroy was already out towing with young charger Callum Curtin, taking advantage of the few sets and the crowd’s hesitation.

Taz Knight was keen to get out and whip some, and then suddenly, so was I. At the same time then, Matt Bromley and Zac Haynes were suiting up with couple others, including tube specialist Benji Brand, to paddle, gale winds be dammed.

Taz Knight has settled right in at home in Ireland since his move from N Devon.

Taz Knight has settled right in at home in Ireland since his move from N Devon.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

There is a way to tow and paddle at Mullaghmore. It is not easy. It takes experienced driver to know what waves are good for towing and paddling and what ones are for towing – and for a bit I thought it would be a straight up tow session, it was small and windy enough to miss the paddle take-off, but would rear up on the inside in great, dark, big barrels.

But then the paddlers started getting some, and Matt asked for some space. I was buzzing, in the way when you go out without expectations and find yourself scoring. We didn’t want to stop completely just because some goofy-foot pros prove it's paddle-able.

So we had a quick pow-wow out there, “you guys paddle into whatever you want, we’ll deal with it,” I say, which translates to, “burn the tow-guy if you can, and he will eject or straighten out.”

18-year-old Robbie Goodwin, one to watch out here.

18-year-old Robbie Goodwin, one to watch out here.

© 2023 - Darragh Gorman

Thumbs up all round. Taz had the bright idea of telling the other tow team out there what we just discussed. More thumbs up.

Taz finds me a couple nugs, and when I look up next, Callum is coming in deep on a tow board and Bromley takes off on the peak in front of him.

Uh oh, worst case scenario… the moment slowed down due to implications. If Callum crosses in front of Bromley and wrecks his wave, this could start some dreaded schism between two camps, ending a decade long ceasefire.

Through the spray, you can see the moment Callum and Matt found themselves on the same wave. Callum traded

Through the spray, you can see the moment Callum and Matt found themselves on the same wave. Callum traded "political disaster for a more personal one," according to Dylan.

© 2023 - Peyton Willard

But he didn’t, to young Callum’s credit, he understood the implications of the moment, he hit the brakes stuck to a line that was too deep. He traded political disaster for a more personal one.

Matt spent a good portion of his wave looking behind him as Callum cartwheeled up and over the falls, he kicked out with a look that said “was that… bad?”

Adrien Toyon under one thick lip.

Adrien Toyon under one thick lip.

© 2023 - Gary McCall

“No, I said, “that was what we just agreed on.”

The costal roads here wind their way past beach-side dwellings, that look out on a thousand versions of surfing heaven.

I went after Callum on the ski. No injuries, but he looked like he was five rounds deep with a tougher opponent. “What happened?” He asked me.

“Well,” I explained, “Me and Taz told Matt and them to go on any wave and we’d deal with it, straighten out, did we not tell you?”

“No”, he said.

“Sorry.” I said. “My bad. But uh… you are going to have to let it go.”

Benji Brand and one big bottom turn.

Benji Brand and one big bottom turn.

© 2023 - Megan Gayda

He looks at me, allowed his face to form one more grimace, and then he did, he let it go.

It was an unfortunate scenario that was totally my fault. Callum went out and got another whip. Nobody got in his way this time, but he took the lip of a low tide beast right on the back of the head. I picked him up again. Now he looked nine rounds deep.

“How old are you?” I asked. I have probably been asking him this for years with the same reaction from me.

Noah Lane in full control.

Noah Lane in full control.

© 2023 - L: Gary McCall. R: Megan Gayda.

“Eighteen.”

“Holy s***.”

The poise. The ability to shrug off what happened. I was shocked at the maturity. I felt I owed him something, so I told him about the technique a Frenchman named Sanchez told me, years ago, about the art of sliding through tubes backside on a tow-board at Mullaghmore.

And now also, I’m going to end with a compliment to the youth. With all the talent running around surfing in new and previously impossible ways, the most impressive thing I’ve seen in this run of swell is the emotional maturity of young Callum.

Few know how to manoeuvre through an Irish keg like Gearoid McDaid.

Few know how to manoeuvre through an Irish keg like Gearoid McDaid.

© 2023 - Darragh Gorman