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Film captures massive waves as Sligo, Donegal coastline gets battered

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AN international crew of surfers and filmmakers came to Donegal and Mullaghmore, County Sligo, to tackle some of the biggest waves reputed to ever hit the north west coast of Ireland. Richie Fitzgerald from Bundoran played host to the steely-eyed stuntmen of the sea and the people behind the lens. It was the last shoot of a feature documentary with the working title of `Wa

Story: Dylan Stott

AN international crew of surfers and filmmakers came to Donegal and Mullaghmore, County Sligo, to tackle some of the biggest waves reputed to ever hit the north west coast of Ireland.

Richie Fitzgerald from Bundoran played host to the steely-eyed stuntmen of the sea and the people behind the lens.

It was the last shoot of a feature documentary with the working title of `Wave Riders' that has already been a year and half in the making.

The film project came to fruition thanks to part-financing of ?250,000 by the European Union through the Interreg IIIA Programme managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by the ICBAN Partnership and by Northern Irish Screen, the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann, the BBC and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

"We needed a big drama finale," says director of the film Joel Conroy. "We were scheduled to stop shooting two months ago but we hung in there hoping for the best. It was a gamble but it paid off."

The documentary film with the working title `Wave Riders’ is a cross border co-production between Joel’s company Inís Films based in Dublin and Derry based Besom Productions headed up by Producer Margo Harkin.

Huge swell

Weather experts said this monster of a storm was the biggest in ten years. It raged across the North Atlantic with the huge swell aimed directly at Donegal. With the local winds offshore, the situation was ideal. Two teams of surfers used jet-skis to assist them as they hurled each other into crests that were arguably the biggest waves ever ridden in Europe. Tow-surfing is an effective but dangerous technique that requires decades of experience and training.

Two tow-teams were out on the water on Saturday, with the support of a semi-rigid boat and an expert water patrol lifeguard on a third jetski. One team consisted of Donegal man Richie Fitzgerald and UK big wave expert Gabe Davies. The other, Portrush man Alistair Mennie teamed up with South African Duncan Scott.

"The waves were bigger than our hotel," says Jason Baffa, a filmmaker from Los Angles who flew in to head the cinematography from the water. "I was in the semi-rigid boat all day, which was a bit of a contrast from my last destination in Costa Rica. But the things I saw . . . it’s a different world when you’re out there."

It was a perfect day of world-class big wave surfing.

Dylan Pickett headed up the water patrol on a third jet-ski strictly for the safety of the surfers. Ten years of experience in the big waves of Hawaii gave him an invaluable perspective on the big wave at Mullaghmore.

"It was about as dangerous as it gets. I’ve seen it as big in Hawaii, but it’s different. It’s warm there and people are watching. Ireland is a surfing frontier. It’s lonely, cold, and scary. I was worried for the surfers out there; I know first hand that iron nerves can lead to trouble."

The huge media coverage and the importance of Saturday as a major event in the surfing world will consolidate the north-west coast of Ireland’s reputation as a major surfing destination.



Wave Riders is scheduled for release in early Spring 2008.