The hard-earned thirst that comes with surfing Ireland’s heaviest wave.
The idea of a cold beer after a good surf is something that’s dear to a lot of us, but what constitutes a good surf can differ from place to place. For most surfers, a fun session with a couple of mates is enough to make us want to wet the tastebuds and relive our exploits among the waves, especially if the sun has been shining and the crowds have been sparse. But for the guys who’ve developed a passion for tackling the notoriously heavy left-hander known as Mullaghmore in Ireland, the concept of a good surf and the refreshing brew that follows is a completely different experience, one that’s more about celebrating survival against the raw power of the ocean and the elements than toasting their breezy, sun-soaked good fortune. Luckily, like the rest of us, they’ve got a faithful watering hole marked out, and with its warm bar and welcoming staff, this one happens to come in handy both before and after the session.
The Pier Head Hotel, as it’s known, is set back in the harbour at Mullaghmore, less than a kilometre from where huge Atlantic storm swells unload on the small summer tourist town’s famed stretch of reef. And it’s this proximity to such a strapping brute of a wave that has led some of the break’s longest serving devotees to develop a friendship with the hotel’s owners.
‘During the middle of winter when the weather is really shit they let everyone get changed inside and get all their boards ready,’ says Aussie transplant Noah Lane, who, since taking up residence nearby with his Irish girlfriend, has fallen in with the crew who regularly paddle Mullaghmore. ‘It’s kind of funny, it’s the foyer of a hotel and there’s surfboards everywhere.’
With the weather outside generally raging with sideways rain and freezing winds on the days Mullaghmore comes to life, the warmth and shelter of the Pier Head Hotel provides a much needed place for guys like Noah, Conner McGuire, Barry Motershead, Dylan Stott and various other chargers to get their gear together and their head spaces aligned.
‘It’s pretty scary,’ says Noah, referring to the prospect of surfing Mullaghmore at the size they’re after, which sits just below the line of being too big to paddle. ‘You see crazy shapes out there.’
Armed with eight-foot boards and decked head-to-toe in rubber, the crew leave the cosy confines of the hotel full of the nervous energy that comes with tackling a break that sits uncomfortably between a big open-ocean wave and a slab. But when they return to the bar, it’s a different story.
‘There’s always someone who’s had a wave they’re stoked on, so everyone is pretty buzzing,’ reveals Noah. ‘Most of the time everyone is just happy to be warm and out of the elements. But if it’s a good day there’s always a nice buzz and everyone will have a couple of pints.’
But just because they’ve survived the kind of thick-skinned tussle with nature that most surfers would go out of their way to avoid, it doesn’t mean everyone’s pulling out their rulers and measuring their manhood.
‘There’s not too many egos or anything, so no one is big-upping themselves,’ says Noah. ‘It’s more like: “Wow, I saw that wave you got!” or “How was that wipeout you took!” It’s the same kind of stuff as anywhere, I guess.’
Except for the beer—because as Noah points out, when in Ireland, you do as the Irish do.
‘I’d probably be lynched if I didn’t say Guinness,’ he says with a laugh when asked what his preferred drop is. ‘It tastes better over here. I would never drink Guinness in Australia, but because it’s cold and the beer is heavy, it seems appropriate. Some might have a hot whiskey or something, but Guinness would definitely be the beer of choice after a session at Mullaghmore.’