Saturday 24 March 2018

Surfers descend on Mullaghmore

Up on a huge wave at Mullaghmore last Monday.
Up on a huge wave at Mullaghmore last Monday.

Thrill seekers, storm chasers, brave souls – the surfers who took to the waters off Mullaghmore last week certainly put this coastal Sligo village on the map.

As the storm battered the country, I imagine these hardy bucks were intently watching the wind and weather charts.

The rest of us battened down the hatches – and put another log on the fire – while these sea athletes listened with glee to the howling wind that would drum up some of the best swell ever seen in the North West.

Dawn patrols then descended on Mullaghmore, a convoy of vans and jet-skis, vital equipment that could double up as lifeboats if required.

For this is a death-defying sport. Big-wave surfing takes daredevil tactics to a new level.

But it's the buzz that they do it for. They can't think about the sheer size of a massive breaker when out in the water about to ride the wave of a lifetime.

They have to concentrate with all their might to ensure that things don't go terribly wrong.

Precision, timing, supreme confidence and years of experience all come into play.

For those of us watching from the sidelines – or cliff edge – this is some spectator sport.

Hundreds lined the coast around Mullaghmore last week. I joined the crowd on Monday last. I met surfing enthusiasts from around the globe.

Locals in rain jackets and boots had camera phones poised. Members of the national and international media were camped out. Professional and amateur photographers snapped what was hard to believe.

Many people arrived on their lunch break to get a glimpse of the men in action.

When a wave was caught, the crowd cheered.

When a surfer looked to be lost in the wall of white water, swallowed by the sea, people held their breath.

Moments later when a wave was mastered the crowd roared even louder, clapping with relief as much as admiration.

There was an air of excitement around the country lanes of late Lord Mountbatten's former retreat.

I even got caught in a traffic jam as a steady stream of cars looked for parking close to a good vantage point.

Later that evening, Sligo was on every news channel. RTÉ, BBC, Channel 4.

The draw to the North West was clear.

Irish big wave surfer Peter Conroy from Clare is an avid fan of the Mullaghmore wave. He told me: "The Pier Head Hotel almost ran out of lunches as there were so many of us in there."

Not many seaside resorts in the first week of January in the middle of one of the winter's worst storms could boast such business.

But Sligo's Mulllaghmore with its 40-foot seas has the power to attract a certain section to its shores.

Now thanks to the recent national and international media exposure, more surfers and spectators are bound to follow.

Sligo Champion