Photographer: KELLY ALLEN
SURFERS RIDE BIGGEST SWELL TO EVER HIT BRITISH & IRISH ISLES, RAISE THE BIG WAVE BAR IN THE PROCESS.
1 December 2007
As Ireland was battered today by the largest ocean swells ever predicted by the Marine Institute’s weather buoys (14 metres), a group of four surfers braved the stormy conditions to successfully take on the biggest waves ever ridden in the British and Irish Isles, off Mullaghmore Head, south Donegal Bay, Ireland. Duncan Scott (Newquay, Cornwall, UK), Alistair Mennie (Portrush, N.Ireland), Gabe Davies (Newcastle, UK) and Ritchie Fitzgerald (Bundoran, Co. Donegal, Ireland) motored out at first light on two jetskis to await the arrival of the massive, storm-driven swells.
With manageable winds forecasted for the early morning, ahead of the arrival of the full brunt of the storm, the surfers had a fleeting window for tide, wind and swell to coincide favourably. The session produced what appears to be the biggest ridden surf ever recorded in the British and Irish Isles. It was, for these surfers at least, the ‘perfect storm.’
‘You could wait years for another opportunity like this. None of us have ever seen a more promising forecast to tow into some of the biggest waves of our lives,’ commented Portrush’s Mennie.
The surfers had been watching the internet weather and swell forecasts for days in anticipation of the swell’s arrival.
According to surfing community website, Surfers Village, “Computer-generated wave forecasts, using information picked up on the Marine Weather Buoy Network, showed that waves with a significant height of up to 14m, about 45 feet, could occur in the seas to the west of Ireland were. Previously the biggest waves recorded by the Marine Institute’s data buoys were at the M1 Buoy to the west of Galway Bay on 17 January 2005, waves of 13.4m, about 40 feet.
The unique bathymetry of Mullagmore Head, where open-ocean swells jackknife up over a shallow reef ledge, magnifies these swells vertically. The deepwater volume and energy of the swell is forced upwards, translating into several wave faces ridden over the 60 foot mark. The crew, all professional surfers and watermen, chose to utilise the jetskis as both launch vehicle, propelling them into the unbroken waves, and as a rescue tool.
‘There is a physical size barrier to what size wave a person can paddle into by armpower alone, and today exceeded that limit – the waves just move too fast. We have trained extensively with the use of jetskis as rescue vessels to enable a safer approach to very demanding oceanic conditions,’ stated Scott, chairman of the British Towsurfing Association. He added, ‘It was incredible to be out in the ocean with so much energy running through it. It was an unforgettable session.’
Combined with the technology was the surfers’ own dedication. Years of surfing development and travel to locations like Hawaii, Mavericks in Northern California and Dungeons, off Cape Town, South Africa, have fostered both an appreciation and respect for the oceans’ power. Today they returned to the beach buzzing with adrenaline, having successfully challenged a wrathful sea and surviving, and raising the big wave bar even higher.
Recent surf spot discoveries like Aileens, beneath the imposing Cliffs of Moher, and today’s Mullagmore session have put Ireland’s big wave potential firmly on the global map. In a reversal of traditional perceptions and travel routes to big wave locations, surfers from Hawaii, California, Australia and South Africa are now journeying to surf in Ireland. Today’s session will cement Ireland’s growing big wave reputation.