As a truly epic swell pumped through the Atlantic toward Western Europe this October, New York big-wave hellman Will Skudin traveled to Ireland to meet up with embedded Empire State natives Dylan Stott and Kurt Rist, along with a crew of top locals including Neil Britton, Peter Conroy, Shambles, Paul O’Kane, and Peter Craig. Two Billabong XXL Ride Of the Year nominations and innumerable new friendships later, the rest is history. Here’s a quick teaser from Will’s account of things, and look for the full story in our upcoming November issue…
Will Skudin: This was the same giant swell that hit Portugal and everything. When it gets that big, the swell charts are just black, pretty much. It’s just a big, blackish purple blob. So I was sitting around on my computer watching it, and I was with my girlfriend, Jen, just kind of chilling. I was on the fence about whether I should go chase the swell or not, because my big wave boards were in Virginia, since they just got done by WRV.
I looked into renting a car and driving to Virginia then driving back up to Washington DC to catch a direct flight to Dublin and then driving a bit in order to get to Donegal Bay the night before the swell. I was thinking it was just kind of ridiculous to do something like that, but my girlfriend just said, “Stop looking at it and just get on the road.” I had her on one side telling me to go, and then on Facebook, Dylan Stott also jokingly said to me, “Just drive down to Virginia, pick up your boards, and come.” So to have that coming from both angles at that one moment, it made me say, “Ok, I’m out of here.”
I had been to Ireland probably about 12 years ago on a …Lost surf trip with Ryan Carlson, Sean Killarney, Mike Nelson, and a bunch of New York guys. I was like 16, and I just remember it being like the most fun trip ever. So I always had it in the back of my mind how great it was, but then my life just sort of took me to Hawaii and other places. Then I went back to Ireland last year with my girlfriend. We just did the tourist thing, and I got to surf a little bit, but we mostly just kind of cruised around. So this was the first time I went there to chase a swell. I got in on October 26th, the big day was the October 27th, there was a two-day break, then Halloween was big again, and November 1st was giant. It was scary big on that morning. It was awesome.
I chose to go to Ireland and surf Mullaghmore for this swell because I knew it was going to be giant, and if there was a possibility that I could get barreled on giant waves, then I wanted to gamble my chips in a place like that. I didn’t want to go someplace that would eliminate the possibility of getting macking barrels. I’ve been chasing big waves for a long time now, and after surfing Tahiti this past spring, I realized that getting a giant barrel is the ultimate dream. It’s a feeling that you’re not going to get from a giant mountain of water that you just drop into.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything at all away from the stuff those guys in Portugal did. Those were some of the best, most professional big-wave surfers in the world. I have a personal relationship with Garrett McNamara. He trained me when I was young, and the stuff that those guys are doing, you can’t sit back and look at footage and photos and say anything negative about it. That swell was as big as the ocean gets, and if anyone was surfing it anywhere, my hat’s off to them.
When I got to Ireland, I didn’t know all the local guys there. But I knew Dylan Stott was a really good Jet Ski driver, and I knew Kurt Rist had been training. When you’re surfing big waves, you go as hard as you can while still feeling comfortable, so I was thinking, “I’m just going to not bite off more than I can chew.” It’s not until you start putting your wetsuit on that you’re like, “Ok, shit. Here we go.” But that’s what I live for. It keeps my blood flowing.
Whatever chemical things are going on in my body, I love the way it feels when I see giant swells. Especially when you’re traveling and meeting up with people who are professional. We weren’t putting ourselves in harm’s way. He had a good, fun crew out there. We were really focused on safety and making sure everyone came in safe. Dylan and Kurt and all the Irish boys made my trip possible and kept me safe and took me in with open arms, so I was stoked to be a part of that crew.
The wave itself there is a really difficult wave to surf. It’s far from perfect. It has lumps and boils and wedges, and it’s warping left and right while the wind’s blowing 25 miles an hour. Then it’s hailing. Then it’s raining. It’s Mother Nature at her finest. It’s always changing. The cool part about it was that, when it was your turn to grab the rope and catch some waves, it didn’t matter if it was raining or hailing or if the wind was blowing sideways: when it was your turn, it was your turn. And everyone was going. There was no communication with photographers or video people or anything like that. It was just “Maybe someone might get it.” There was no stopping of surfing. A lot of the waves we rode went unseen just because there was so much weather.
The most rewarding wave to me personally was the one I paddled into that ate me alive. Mullaghmore is one of the biggest, most difficult waves in the world, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a really tricky wave, so you have to negotiate the boils and the bumps, and you have to slow down between the two peaks to try to get barreled. So any wave that is successfully ridden and critical out there is super rewarding. My Billabong XXL wave was nuts, too. Me and Kurt both have Billabong XXL Ride Of The Year entries from that swell right now. We were just going wave for wave and trading off. It was really fun. I love doing that with people…
That’s all you get for now, boys and girls. And, believe it or not, Will hasn’t even come close to telling you the truly juicy stuff yet. So be sure to check out the rest of the story in our upcoming issue when it hits shops on November 20th.