Monstrous, crashing swells, howling winds, a wild and weather-beaten coastline and a lone figure on a board - riding it all in his stride.
Watch the trailer for Beneath the Surface
A jaw-dropping watch, RedBull.TV’s documentary Beneath the Surface follows big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton as he chases the wave of a lifetime off the Wild Atlantic Way.
“The Atlantic has always been known as the place for the perfect storm”
An incredible insight into the mind of a surfer who strives to come face to face with some of mother nature’s most gargantuan creations, this British father-of-two is no stranger to Irish shores having spotted big-wave potential 13km off the Wild Atlantic Way in 2010.
“It looked big from a distance, then as we got closer it was giant.” This was Andrew’s first encounter with the elusive wave he’d spend the next five years thinking about.
“Standing up 60 feet, there was so much water moving, I was definitely on edge,” Cotton recalls of that first sighting. Where most of us would consider ourselves lucky to even survive such an encounter, to Andrew it was merely an introduction. In the winter of 2015 he rounded up a troop of surfers and sailors who, just like Cotton, were ready to devote the entire Irish surf season to waiting for and chasing this mammoth wall of water.
Sizing it up - Andrew checks out a swell
As to why this jagged, wind-carved coastline is so adored among surfers? “Surfers don’t just want to go to the same spot – I think Ireland really lends itself to that” says Cotton. The Wild Atlantic Way has “wind and weather that the rest of Europe just doesn’t get in the same way. It’s had some of the biggest waves on the world stage, and definitely has the possibility of more, it’s just a matter of time.”
Team member Matt Knight had seen the potential of the west coast’s waters after sailing the area in search of waves himself. “We spotted this reef and as we were going past it, this thing reared up… [so] if two of us are thinking that’s a ride of a wave, then maybe it is ride-able.”
The hunt was on.
All aboard - Andrew on the chase
The Science of the Sea
Decamping to a coastal idyll on the Wild Atlantic Way however, was a tougher feat than you might imagine. Braving bitter cold and extreme weather, the team had to eat, breathe and sleep the patterns, swells, wind data and sea conditions needed to accurately profile the scale of the wave they believed was out there. Not to mention the added challenge of dealing with waters that were relatively uncharted in the surf world.
“Everywhere I’ve surfed has taken years to work those things out, and we’re trying to do something from scratch.” Working on the data needed to catch the wave meant that Cotton and co were also gathering information that would benefit future surfers, giving them the crucial intel they’d need to identify just when this coast’s unique inhabitant might appear.
The layout of the seabed provided pivotal clues too. “The physical underwater shape of the rock really is what makes the wave what it is and the speed and shape that it breaks at. It’s that sudden, abrupt change from deep water to shallow water that is going to make it pitch and stand up in the way that it does” notes Matt. Cotton had to work at familiarising himself with these crystalline waters and the unique rock formations beneath them to understand just how and with what force the wave could potentially manifest.
Braving the elements, scene from Beneath the Surface
“The ocean is a serious place”
While all of this unprecedented research and data arms Cotton with the benefit of knowing how and when to strike, it doesn’t protect him from the force of the elements or from the sheer might of the wave taking over. “You need to think about not just how good the waves could be, but how quickly they can go wrong. And I’ve seen it first-hand.”
“It’s probably the worst few seconds of your life, knowing that a wave, 40-50 feet, is going to unload in front of you.” With the stakes so high, it’s easy to wonder why anyone would burden themselves with such an ambitious and daring challenge but on watching the film viewers will find that Cotton simply lives to surf and has immense respect for the ocean.
With his steely resolve practically radiating from the screen, it’s impossible not to will him on with every thundering swell.
“This wave is fickle, we know it’s fickle, I could go a whole winter without catching a big wave but it could mean that I could get the best waves of my whole life.”
“This is about living something as well as achieving it”
Documenting Andrew’s relentless pursuit of the wave and revealing his multiple attempts at seizing the moment when conditions start to align, the film showcases the awe-inspiring strength of human endeavour, as well as the raw and rugged beauty of this mesmerising coast.
“That’s the thing about mother nature, you can’t control it and that’s exciting.”
Unpredictable, uncompromising and thrilling to watch, Cotton’s epic hunt illustrates what can happen when human tenacity and nature’s raw power are ideally matched. And a more daring sparring partner than Cotton, mother nature would struggle to find.
To watch Red Bull’s fascinating film in full go to Beneath the Surface. Or watch Andrew explore more renowned surf shores in Donegal, Clare and on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Wild Atlantic Way showcases a host of unrivalled surf spots for every level of surfer, check out the very best places to catch a curl here.
Watch more of Andrew's trips along the Wild Atlantic Way & find out what big-wave surfer Ollie O'Flaherty thinks of these stunning surf shores