Fergal Smith has braved waves that few surfers dare. We caught up with the world-renowned Irish surfer to hear his story and find out why he’s returned to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way to pursue his passions.
Image via InPursuitOfOutstanding
Surfers from around the globe know Fergal as a go for broke surfer who has tackled waves from the warm South Pacific to the wild Atlantic Ocean. Having travelled the world, he has returned to the west of Ireland in search of a simpler life.
Take a look at this this video from Desillusion Magazine (a surfing and skateboarding magazine that champions aesthetic and innovative stories), where Fergal talks about discovering contentment in the great outdoors of the untamed west.
Fergal is clear on what saw him return. “The waves drove me back. There’s really great waves here,” he starts. “I’m from Westport and I grew up on the west coast, but I’m also really into growing food, so I made the decision to settle into life in County Clare to do both.”
Big wave surfing on Aileen's Wave off the coast of County Clare
The coast has captivated him. “The waves in Clare are like nowhere else and there’s a lovely community here. It’s also quite a condensed county, so everything is close. I can garden all day then jump in the water for a surf. That’s what it’s all about really.”
Near Lahinch, Fergal works with the community and with visitors in two gardens; one is an organic vegetable garden and the second is a community garden with flowers, herbs and an orchard. Visitors have been known to stop for a couple of hours, only to end up staying two or three weeks.
“Some visitors just want to hang in the garden and that’s really nice too. You hear some amazing stories. Solo surfers and travellers who visit the garden get to meet people who let them know if there’s a gig on and they share lifts to places,” Fergal says. “It’s an easy way for people to stay in touch.”
Other visitors are taken back by the stark landscape and wild unpredictable weather. “I’ve lots of Australian and American friends and people come from different parts of Europe who think we’re kind of crazy. If you didn’t grow up in this environment, it would probably seem a bit mad.”
The landscape of the Wild Atlantic Way has influenced who he is. “People often say I’m a big wave surfer, but I wouldn’t really say that. I’m more a product of my environment,” Fergal explains. “People think what we do is gnarly or scary or dangerous, but I grew up on the west coast so I’m well used to being outdoors. That kind of shapes you and who you are.”
The Bridges of Ross, County Clare
Pointing to his childhood he continues, “My dad is big into hillwalking and we’d spend a lot of time out in the wild weather in the mountains. You know that nature is a whole lot more powerful than anything else. It shapes your attitude.”
It’s clear that Fergal is passionate about surfing, GIY (Grow It Yourself) and living more sustainably, so we have to ask, is the Wild Atlantic Way a good place to pursue your passions? “Definitely,” he says. “It’s just the elements, isn’t it? When you see nature and all its awe, it’s inspiring what it can do. It leaves you very humbled. You can imagine anything is possible when you’re here. It leaves you open to change.”
Image via Sea Stoke
Fergal says in Clare you can expect to meet friendly, happy people. “The locals are quite grounded and live by a simpler way of life and appreciate where they live. They’re out walking the coast. They are very aware of their environment and really care about where they’re from.”
We ask him to share his Wild Atlantic Way hidden gem. “The Burren isn’t really a secret, but it’s amazing. You can just head in and get lost. You’ll never have a bad day getting lost in The Burren. It’s pretty inspiring. I think the joy of travelling is not having that many spots on the list and just go where the road takes you. Don’t be afraid to alter your plans and see where you end up. That’s the most fun bit about travelling I always reckon.”
For new surfers Fergal has some recommendations. “Every beach on the west coast has waves for beginners, although some are better than others. There’s Lahinch, Doonbeg, Fanore or any of the beaches along Spanish Point are all good for it.”
Fanore Beach by Raymond Fogarty
But don’t expect waves on demand. “It can take a long time for special waves to wake up. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and that’s what makes Ireland so special. It’s not here all the time, so you just have to come with an open mind and keep your eyes peeled. Ireland has some great magic, but especially if you’re patient."
If you’re interested in surfing on the Wild Atlantic Way, check out these ideas or find a feast of food stories here.
Image Credit: Fergal's vegetable shed via Fergal Smith