Fergal Smith on the economic ruin of his homeland and his heroics at giant, sub-zero Mullaghmore.
What's going on up there Ferg? The economy still holding in?
Yeah, I'm buzzin'. Let the economy burn, I say! It's bringing us all back to earth.
Really. How so?
Well, we were all dickheads when we had money weren't we (Ireland stabbed itself in the heart with a massive housing bubble and an investment banking scam)? Now we're getting back to being actual communities again. It's not really cool to be driving around in a brand new car 'cos no one has that money any more and if you do you're some pretty wealthy dude who's basically ripped someone off along the way. Everyone knows it's not real that kind of money, so yeah, it's 'um kind of gone. Great. And the Irish have always been poor. I think it just kind of suits us.
You've toiled hard these last few years to build a profile as a legitimate world class heavy-wave surfer. How's that going?
Kind of, I was just trying to make career I suppose. And being from such a remote place you gotta push so much harder for anyone to actually notice what you're doing and I was just pushing and pushing. Finally I got a good contract out of Analog and things were cool but I also knew deep down that all I really wanna do is live in Ireland and surf here and not be too caught up in the media scene anyway. I got a three year deal out of them and almost instantly they pulled the plug (Analog cut its entire surfing program) but I still have the contract which is brilliant and it's made me think that surfing, it's not a load of shit, but trying to chase after this dream all the time, you know, I could keep regenerating every year if I wanted to but it's almost not the point. I'm at the point where I just really enjoy surfing when the waves are good and pushing my surfing as best I can and not stressing on it. Basically, I made a decision to grow veg (veggies) in a major way. That's my whole passion besides surfing and I've grown my own food and set up a community garden. Like today I'm going to buy a pig to motivate the land. I've got other sites going on, I've got such a huge community of young people that want to get involved and there's no money in it but that's actually more substantial to me than any of it. The surfing is not taking a back seat in any way but to strive just for media coverage and to get my name out there doesn't interest me at all.
…which makes your recent efforts at giant Mullaghmore all the more interesting. You clearly haven't lost your passion for paddling giant freezing slabs.
Well, I think if anything because I'm not as concentrated on travelling and getting coverage, things happen when they're meant to happen for a start. But also you focus on the things that really matter. And the things that really matter to me are those couple of rare sessions and the things that I'd like to achieve goal wise are to, yeah, paddle into the biggest paddleable heavy waves I can. And that's the drive but it just happens more organically. There is no pressure that it has to happen for sponsors it just happens because I want to do it.
Can you tell us about the wave itself, 'cause it looks big, black, freezing and pretty much as inhospitable as it gets from where we're sitting.
The wave at the start of the clip was a massive day and heaps of people were towing it and it was the first time I'd paddled it any good really. There were way bigger waves than that but that was just by chance the one I managed to get. You can easily wait an hour an hour and a half for a wave and the last wave in the clip was caught after three and a half hours. That session in particular was the start of March and that's the coldest the water gets (four to five degrees celsius). You just sit there for three and half hours and your body uses up loads of water trying to stay warm, you get so dehydrated, and I remember at the end of that session my kidneys and stomach were just cramping up so bad cause I hadn't gotten any liquid in my body left. You just totally start to shutdown. Thing is, we're still kinda immune to it as well. You've lived here and gone through every winter and it's just that mental thing where you know you'll be all right and you just keep your eye on the prize. It takes hours and hours of putting your body through absolute torture but for me it's worth it. I enjoy the challenge and putting your body through its stages, it's pretty cool to see how much you can take.
When I visited a few years back you wouldn't even hang our wetties out. You'd let 'em freeze solid in the back of your car!
I kind of have this thing thing to justify my laziness where - so many people get so hung up on having a dry wetsuit and that's so hard in Ireland. It's hard to have anything dry so it's not really a fun position to be in to need a dry wetsuit to surf. And it also just shocks you into the weather. It's already got your body working, got you thinking, you know, to prepare for the water whatever it is. I don't think there is any point getting too hung up on trying to avoid the cold here because you can't really, you might as well just embrace it and adapt. That's why I don't travel anymore. If you go away in the wintertime it's great getting a break and you're loving it while you're there but when you come back it's the worst.
How do you feel now? Do you feel like you've achieved legitimacy for yourself and the Irish big wave scene?
I don't really think about it anymore. I just feel lucky to be surfing and getting good waves and whatever everyone thinks about it doesn't really bother me. Everywhere I go in the world everyone knows Ireland and it's waves now and they're really supportive. The thing is, I don't think we're that good surfers at all, we've just got really good waves and we're just dedicated to surfing them and if you work hard enough you'll get good waves. We're not trying to outdo each other or progress each other, it's more just we've got these waves and to be involved in them as best you can, that's the goal for us.
- Jed Smith