When you think of Irish surfing, what images conjure in your mind? Is it heaving, hefty Mullaghmore? Is it those emerald back-lit tubes? Do you think about the country's world-renowned big wave safety team? Or Powers of Three?
Whatever image springs to mind, Ireland's influence on surfing, and the talent it showcases, is undeniable. Rippers, chargers, photographers, videographers – Ireland has a close-knit community focused on driving and pushing forth progression on their home turf. But the irony's not lost that as clips and edits of some of the hardest charging Irish surfers go viral, the euros had, for a time, dried up.
Refreshing then, that Ireland's most affable and accommodating charger Conor Maguire has just signed up with Red Bull Ireland, following Gearoid McDaid's signing with Rip Curl a few moons ago.
Anyway, we caught up with Conor to talk a hard winter at home, whether Mully needs regulating, in with Red Bull and any Olympic hopes.
How was the past winter in Ireland? Seems there was a few decent days going down but also, quite a bit of work?
The past winter at home has been a whole lotta work. It's been especially cold, stormy and highly unpredictable.
Driving up and down the country in search of sheltered nooks and crannies sums up those months pretty well. With plenty of swell slamming our coast during the winter, we weren't short of opportunities to get in the sea.
We weren't short of opportunities to get in the sea. It was just whether you were arsed getting cold or not
It was just whether you were arsed getting cold or not. There've been one or two dreamy wee runs to keep us ticking over in between the chaos though. We had few special paddle days at Mullaghmore, where the wind swung offshore just in time for an hour or two of fun, on low tide, before the last glimmers of evening light.
It's a place like no other when there's golden rays dancing on the water with snow on the mountains behind you. It's also pretty unique place when the dark clouds roll in.
Mully’s this world-renowned slab, it's notoriety attracting the global big wave contingent – is there any sort of regulation? We all know the Irish lads are accommodating, but is there a point when you’ve thought, ok, enough is enough, we need to organise the lineup or someone’s going to get hurt?
Yea, I mean, it's no secret that Ireland has some amazing waves when everything lines up, so it's not surprising that more and more people are travelling here in search of 'empty Irish perfection'.
Mullaghmore has gotten busier at a slower rate than other breaks along the coast which can be mobbed on a good day in Autumn.
Mully has probably taken a little longer to get crowded than everywhere else because it's so scary and looks horrendous even on the good days. It is also almost always windy and you're never guaranteed to score.
The vast majority of people that have come over to surf Mully are quite respectful. I don't think there's too much regulation needed as the wave tends to do the regulating for us. There have been one or two occasions where people with very little or no experience in heavy waves have put themselves unknowingly in harms' way, blissfully unaware of the consequences.
From what I've seen, those who respect the wave normally get the bombs
On a few rare occasions, it's been because somebody should've stepped up and said, 'you shouldn't be going out here'. From what I've seen, those who respect the wave normally get the bombs. There have been so many amazing surfers here over the years that have really raised the bar as to what is possible out there. It's been a pleasure watching and learning and I look forward to every winter when they return to try and soak up some knowledge.
How do you decide whether it’s a tow or paddle day?
It all depends on how crazy we're feeling on the day! [laughs] It usually has a lot to do with the wind. If it's absolutely howling then it's terrifying to paddle.
Trying to get into a solid wave with strong wind blowing up the face on a huge board can be like opening your jacket at the top of a multi-storey building.
So if we've already had a good paddle day we'll most likely tow. If there's a really high period and super low tide then the wave comes in extra quick and thick and folds over on itself, making it near impossible to get into. In saying that, Will Skudin paddled one of the biggest, thickest waves ever there on a huge period swell so maybe we need to grow a pair and just go for it.
And congrats on the Red Bull deal, you must be stoked?
Thanks, Jason. Yeah, I'm over the moon. They're an amazing brand to be with and everyone I work with at Red Bull are amazing and very passionate. It's an honour to represent them.
You’ve had a few big wave nominations from the WSL, have you ever thought about making a stab at the Big Wave Tour?
It would be amazing to have the opportunity to compete against the best guys in the world. Seeing what Tom Lowe has done in the last few years has really inspired me. Before Lowey got on tour, I hadn't really thought about it much.
Tom developed and honed his big wave skills in Ireland so it feels like much more of a possibility having grown up watching him improve here.
Ireland is home to so much talent. You look at the big wave guys, yourself, South African transplant Barry Mottershead, Dylan Stott, Gearoid McDaid’s busy making a huge name for himself. But there’s also so much more than the raw surfing talent, some incredible filmmakers, photographers and a top-class safety crew with Peter Conroy at the helm – how do you feel the surf scene is in Ireland right now?
The Irish surf scene is really good at the moment. I had the pleasure of attending Shoreshots (Irish Surf Film Festival) a few months ago which showcased some incredible short films.
Seeing my mates doing cool shit inspires me, at least
I think they're in their sixth year and the standard this time round was the highest ever. It's really cool to see close friends put something together that would hold it's value on a world stage. The Irish surf scene is obviously small and as a result, quite tight knit. Everyone is kind of doing their own thing which triggers inspiration in others I think. Seeing my mates doing cool shit inspires me, at least.
Is anyone talking Olympic hopes right now? Or very much keeping it loose?
I'm not sure if anyone here is thinking about the Olympics. I'm not anyway. Unless it's going to be 20ft kegs. I know I'd love to see Gearoid there representing Ireland.
I think there's only 20 spots available (2 per gender per country) with a place reserved for the host nation, Japan. You would assume each country will pick their favourite CT surfers which leaves little room for the lesser known surfing nations like Ireland.
Maybe we could get Mick to change his flag back to his roots and get him to surf with Gearoid? That would be a sick team right there. Glenn Hall as coach
There's been a lot of talk of surfers switching flags to get a chance to compete in the Olympics. Kanoa Igarashi has guaranteed himself a spot by switching to the Japanese flag and Tati Weston-Webb is now Brazilian, apparently. I'm sure this will cause some tension in certain countries but I know the Irish wouldn't care. Maybe we could get Mick to change his flag back to his roots and get him to surf with Gearoid? That would be a sick team right there. Glenn Hall as coach.
What’s next in the world of Conor Maguire?
I'm writing this from the comfort of a high stool in a very quiet Sydney Airport. I'm spending the next few months here so we'll see how that goes. I've always wanted to come here and check the place out so I'm already over the moon even though I haven't surfed yet.
Cover shot by Mikey Corker.