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COLD CALLING: GEAROID MCDAID’S WILD WINTER SURF



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When most people think of surf films, they think of of suntans, wahines and the glitter of sunlight sparkling off of bluegreen tubes as they fire along coconut palm-fringed shorelines.  

But as any seasoned surf nomad can attest, the reality for many wave chasers around the world is often surprisingly different from this. Air and ocean currents operate entirely under their own sets of natural laws, which often means that, depending on the location, the most appealing times to expose oneself to the wind and the waves can actually prove rather rubbish for the surfing itself. In other words, in a lot of places, if you want great waves, it’s out with the summer - in with the winter. 

 
 

That’s certainly the case here in Ireland; blessed with steep submerged offshore reefs and a coastline met by the full force of unbroken Atlantic swells, our western shores are home to some of the most coveted waves and breaks in the world. The only catch? The water here, much colder than that Waikiki fantasy even in summer, is even more bone-chilling in winter – the heart of the Irish surf season. From September to May, powerful swells of 8-12m or more storm the Wild Atlantic Way coastline, and savvy surfers with nerves of steel can be found suiting up and paddling out at frigid spots like Bundoran and Mullaghmore

Despite the wealth of perfect peelers, world famous Irish surfers remain few and far between – go ahead, just try to think of one – and it’s not altogether hard to see why. After all, as skilled as their tropical sea brethren though he or she may be, the cold water surfer’s brand of hanging ten can be safely said to be considerably… less glamorous. It can seem as though the adrenaline-pumping paradise we boast right here in our own backyard is doomed to remain the preserve of a select, hardy few. 

 
 

That’s where Misery Loves Company, the new film from wave rider and movie maker Clem McInerney, starring Irish pro surfer Gearoid McDaid, comes in. 

 
 

On the search for swell: Gearoid McDaid (L) and Clem McInerney (R). Photo by David Olsthoorn On the search for swell: Gearoid McDaid (L) and Clem McInerney (R). Photo by David Olsthoorn 

Gearoid is Ireland’s only fully professional competitive surfer, flying the green, white and gold for wave carving prowess from Chile to the Canaries and everywhere besides. He holds the record for the youngest person ever to become Irish Surfing Champion, winning his first national title at just 16. Having recently placed 3rd in the Las Americas Pro Tenerife, McDaid looks poised to change public perception of cold water chargers in the surf world for the better. 

But no one said it would be easy.  

 
  • Becoming the youngest Irish Surfing Champion means spending lots of time in the cold, battering sea. Photo by Clem McInerney
 

Against a backdrop of mist, freezing fog, and heavy winter skies, a wetsuited, salt-crusted twosome make their way into howling winds and waves that look bent on pulverising anyone foolish enough to go near them. 

Cameras and surfboards in hand, the pair have spent the better part of seven long months documenting the dreary, storm-battered yet somehow undeniably compelling winter surf season along Ireland’s west coast. 

The result is spellbinding. 

At just four and a half minutes in length, Misery Loves Company manages to perfectly capture the strange allure of Irish surfing, showcasing McDaid’s exceptional talents as a waterman whilst simultaneously drawing upon the Wild Atlantic Way’s hauntingly beautiful scenery.

 
 
Gearoid McDaid strolls through a snow-covered section of The Burren. Photo by David Olsthoorn
 

Images of Gearoid’s artful linework, drawn across the faces of slab after slab of leaden seawater, are interspersed with moments snatched from the unlikely surroundings: a snow-blanketed road to the beach; a heron cruising the hushed landscape. There’s also an eye-watering wipeout or two, naturally. 

It’s an inspired, lyrical piece of filmwork, and one that, in its very making, proved extremely challenging for subject and cinematographer alike. 

“There were lots of times where it was hard to actually go surfing in some of the conditions,” McDaid says of his time spent working on Misery Loves Company. “There were even days that we did film for hours in the water just to see after that because it was so windy and raining so heavily that a lot of the clips were unusable. Definitely one of the hardest things (about) the area we live in is the weather.” 

Clem McInerney, the film’s creator, agrees. “It is never easy to shoot here but life was made much easier by the super high calibre of surfing of Gearoid.

 
  • Winter swells bring hefty, glassy waves to the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo by Clem McInerney
 

Gearoid’s dedication to helping Clem get all the right shots despite the miserable days was inspired by an admiration for the documentarian’s passionate ethos, which makes sense when you consider that the two met whilst surfing the same waves day after day at their local spot – Lahinch in County Clare. 

“He’s one of the keenest guys out there,” Gearoid says of Clem. “He is super committed and will drop everything at a moment’s notice and chase a swell… which is what we did a lot for this movie!” 

Chasing swells, as it turns out, ended up resulting in some rather noteworthy moments for the film.

 
 
Chasing swells. Photo by Clem McInerney
 

“Some...shots were really memorable,” Gearoid recounts. “One of the best was standing on the sea stack at the Cliffs of Moher with big swell lines coming at me and Clem shouting at me to stay still while he got the shot.” 

“I might add this wasn’t the only time Clem tried to kill me for a shot,” he laughs.  

But Clem defends his actions, born, he insists, of a love for the beautiful scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way. “We’d sometimes get lost and over-excited about the waves,” he says, “but we (had to) remind each other to look around and to take in our stunning coastline.” 

“One of the particular things I am proud of in Misery Loves Company is the fact I got to show parts of County Clare that people would not generally know,” he goes on. “To hear people gasping at some of the aerial shots and asking where they were was so rewarding for us. I was delighted to say in some instances that it was ten minutes up the road from my house in Lahinch!” 

This local pride and regard for the natural wonder of Ireland’s west coast is the thing that shines perhaps brightest in the film, elevating the work above that of a sparkly surfer’s showreel. 

 
  • The Wild Atlantic Way's scenery inspires adventure of every shape and size. Photo by Clem McInerney
 

“We wanted to have our own personality in our movie,” says Gearoid, pointing out the choice to employ locals in the creation of the film as much as possible. “It was really cool to have our music composed as well; Clem got (Clare musicians) Conor Crimmins and Dermot Sheedy to make the music, which is very rarely done in surf movies!”

Still photography by local David Olsthoorn and illustrations by David Dineen also enhance that down-home feel, highlighting the respect that Clem and Gearoid have for their roots. 

“My favourite place to surf is still Strandhill,” Gearoid stresses. “It doesn’t have the best waves in the country but it’s where I grew up surfing and learnt to surf so I always enjoy (it) the most.”

 
  • Gearoid surfing off the lip at a secret spot in County Clare. Photo by Clem McInerney
 

Peppered with these 'perfectly imperfect' breaks, the Wild Atlantic Way, it seems, has a knack for sweetening the pot for those who dare to venture out along the coast and roll with whatever the weather chances to throw at them. 

“It’s really not easy here,” says Gearoid, “that’s why getting a good wave and Clem getting the shot makes it so much better for us.”

“We know the hardship it takes but the reward outweighs that every time.”

 
 

Learn more about how and when to catch the best waves on the Wild Atlantic Way, and then get planning your own epic surf trip. 

 

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