Meet the Mayo man who swapped pro surfing for organic farming
After a stormy Christmas weekend, when the Atlantic waves roared onto the shoreline of west Clare, the sea at Freagh Point is finally calm.
Too calm for Fergal Smith, a 29-year-old professional surfer-turned-farmer keen to start the mild morning on the surfboard.
The young man with an earnest face and a mop of curly hair has emerged from the whitewashed cottage he's minding at Freagh Point and jumped into an old Nissan Micra, his collie cross sitting in the back beside a baby seat reserved for Sunshine, Smith's two-year-old daughter.
Fergal was raised on an organic farm outside Westport run by his father Chris. He learned to surf on Achill as a child and, at 18, set out to become a pro-surfer. He was soon an Irish champion and was being paid by surf brands to chase the world's largest waves, from Tahiti to Australia.
"For someone from a Mayo farming background, to be taking on the waves of my dreams beside surfers I'd only ever watched on videos was a dream come true," he says.
But by 2011, Fergal was disillusioned and had become concerned about the impact this travel was having on the environment. He decided to reject the jet-set lifestyle in favour of returning to his farming roots.
"The last year I flew, there were 18 flights in three months, nearly all long-hauls," he says. "I didn't feel comfortable doing that anymore. The idea of professional surfing is the more you travel and more photos you get, the more they pay you. But we're surfers and we're meant to be caring for the environment and nature and this style of business is damaging nature. I asked myself 'what's the best thing I can do?'. Growing food and being involved in the community was the answer. It ticks so many boxes."
Rather than take over his father's farm, Ireland's leading big-wave surfer began to embrace Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), where consumers work with a local organic farm and pay up front for produce for the season or year ahead. The model is still in its infancy in Ireland, but is popular in England, North America and Germany.