Photos: Wild Ireland
So far I've spent three-and-a-half months in Nazare and the season, according to the surfers, has been very average. There's been some huge days but nothing extraordinary. Incredible moments but nothing all-time. There have been no Biggest Wave World records broken.
At this stage I have two or three weeks left in what has been my first full winter in Portugal. During that time I packed my bags and cameras and chased a Jaws swell, sat back in anger watching the WSL run and then postpone the Peahi Challenge in historic monster waves which I should have chased. That swell was similar to the 'Biggest Wednesday', 28th January, 1998 - a swell I did chase and shoot.
Since I finished The Big Wave Project back in 2017 I've been as active as possible and documented some great swell events. Like my first trip early last year shooting Mavericks which was an easy 20-to-30 feet, then the 'Ramon' swell at Cloudbreak, Fiji, the Right in West Oz in flawless 15-to-25 feet with Jake Osman, Bradley Norris and Dan Corbett.
The most recent trip was Ireland last week. Well....the left slabbing wave which is Ireland’s premier big wave spot is on another level. It's an incredible chunky, beautiful beast of a wave. The Teahupoo of Europe! Logistics there ain't easy but finally we - that being Nic Von Rupp, Rapael Tapia, and myself - connected with the right people and the Irish hospitality shone. It was a hit and run mission as the same swell would hit Nazare the following day. So we needed to film all day last Tuesday and then have an early night, get up at 1am to drive to Dublin Airport back to Nazare for a perfect 50-to-60 foot swell.
The best laid plans...
For me Nazare never happened. After that grueling overnight journey, I got into Lisbon around 10.30am only to deal with immigration for an hour-and-a-half. There must have been six plane loads of tourists before I got served. Fucking nightmare!
By the time I got back to Nazare and set up my Red camera it was all too late. But! The day before I was truly blessed.
The big old Irish beast awoke to what the locals said was the best swell in years. We arrived at at the spot at 7.30 am where it was grey, cold, and wet, but it was offshore. The swell was building, the tide was high, and so there was no rush to get out there. Around 9am we went down to the harbour which is just around the corner to check in with our ski driver Mike Hamilton. He was all ready to go with the ski on the beach next to the water. Nic Von Rupp was suiting up so I decided to do the same. 10 minutes later in 4 degrees air temp (with a wind chill below freezing), the sun came out. I ran around like fish out of water grabbing shots of the lads prepping up and racing out there. Then, grabbing my water housing and camera I jumped on the ski and, in short, I shot some of the most exciting surfing of my career.
It was truly an incredible day of waves and surfing. Breaking from 8 to 25 feet - quite a range, eh? - with stiff offshore winds and the sun was out for most of the day. Local grommet Conor Maguiree stood out big time. As did New Yorker Will Skudin, plus Taz Knight, Tom Lowe, Barry Mottershead, Ollie O'Flaherty, Peter Conroy, and Dylan Stott.
Conor was locking into monsters while Barry had one of the worst wipeouts I've ever shot. Rapael got the best wave of his life and Nic got some nice bombs too. The only negative was when local lad John Monahan pulled into a 15 footer and cleanly exited only to cop the full brunt of the lip. John ended up with a spiral fracture of his femur, two broken ribs, and a head injury, and he's probably out of the ocean for at least a year.
But it was one of those days I live for. So where am I at with work? Over the last two years I've bagged lots of great big wave moments, so I'm considering The Big Wave Project II - maybe even a TV series as an extension of the original? That's my big question that I'll need to answer over the next few weeks.
In the meantime here's a series of screen grabs from a swell that I'll always consider one of my most memorable.
Ollie O'Flaherty on an early morning time warp
Jesse Davies struggles to keep his fins clean as the foamball clips his heels
Will Skudin releases his dump breath.
Chins to the deck
Barry Mottershead falls from grace with God
Swapping horsepower for hand power, Taz Knight scrapes into this bomb and grabs rail off the bottom...
...settting himself up perfectly for the barrel. Holding a solid line through the pit, Taz' progress was halted by a clamping section.
Also, Taz' Wikipedia page lists his many surfing achievements and notes he's now "pursuing a career in escorting". Swellnet wishes Taz all the best with his new role.
Peter Conroy in sequence. Setting it up...
Conroy made the wave, exiting with the spit.
Another wave that's worthy was Tom Lowe's paddle entry. "One of the best paddle waves I've seen," frothed Tim.
Nic Von Rupp on yet another paddle entry.
Will Skudin (I think) under the waterfall.
Conor Maguire on one of the biggest waves of the day.