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It's a long long way from Clare to here - the troubles, icons, tribes and the thunder of the mountain of life with Fergal Smith in The Celtic flatlands. 

 

 

Its 1980, its cold, grey and damp, Belfast Northern Ireland. There is fighting in the streets, a war, a horrible war, a horrible political war. ‘The Troubles’ spanned three decades, hundreds of people lost their lives. The Irish people wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic Of Ireland and the British wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Things were not good, Irish prisoners of war were dying of self starvation in British prisons because they were mistreated and their voices were not being heard.  Innocent people were being bombed and killed on both sides of the Irish Sea, they were bleak years that will never be forgotten, many died and are still mourned, their lives ended. An 18 year old Miss Smith, left she went to the ocean, to county Mayo and fell in love with Mr Smith, a slight tall man from London, they made a new life in ‘foreign lands’, away from the smog, smoke and the concrete, away from the bombs, murder and hatred. They started a small organic farm and 30 years later, still in love, healthy, their hands strong and with three children they are some of the most respected organic growers in Ireland. 

 

Fergal one of there children became the icon of surfing in Europe, he’s a small and beautiful man, filled with wisdom, he is the hard working son of a farmer. Born in the 80’s, in the country with fresh organic food, not hungry but passionate, his parents aren’t rich, he doesn't travel or have a tan, he wont talk about surfing and he likes the cold. I grow vegetables with Fergal, we surf together and want to live in a community together. Last year we grew 26 types of potatoes and 80 types of fruits and vegetables, we started a little organic community project, its small, we work hard in the rain and the wind, we buy the seeds, the shit and the tools, we eat really well and give the food away. When the waves are good we surf. Our Tribe, our partners, cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, we want to be change we wish to see in the world. 

 

Co Clare is the small, flat, treeless county, in the middle west coast. The end of autumn is close, the clocks gone back, its wet, the wind is wild, it is the Ireland that you imagine and we live the Irish you imagine, the house is on the top of a hill, the walls are thick, it gets dark early.  Animals, begging to be allowed into the warmth, the open stove, the heat that keeps our hearts and souls alive in the dark months. This life I thought was gone, past, living only in almost forgotten memories. Outside it is much the same apart from pockets of Americanism that have crept into the culture, the food is expensive and bad, its packaged, meat based and could last years, fuel and electricity is overpriced, half the houses are badly built. They were made in the Celtic tiger (boom times), there is poverty, there is debt but everybody smiles, they are happy people. The towns are real, full of kind and warm-hearted Celtic people. There is a greyness to the edges, a shade, but there is beauty full of a thousand colours, a history full of a thousand songs and stories, a forever in every community. 

 

Be the change we wish to see in the world? Mostly we spend our days, talking shit the field, we talk a lot, even whilst Fergal away in the midlands with his partner we talk for hours each day. His partner a philosophical woman, strong with a huge smile and a kind heart, she really gets it. There is a Norse feeling to their life, without the brutal wars and fighting. When they met Fergal had made a pact to be a monk, to live forever at Lackamore (the house where we all lived) to live without women, to live for the service of others, to be abstinence from worldly pleasures (excluding getting really barrelled) and to be buried on the hill. He believed it was going to be the rest of his life, he really did. When Fergal believes something it is his everything, it is his real world. During the Celtic Tiger Fergal used to ride for Relentless, drive the company land-rover, painted black with tinted windows, he would tow surf into mountain sized waves. It makes you question him, well it made him question him. The greenest man in surfing drove a Land-Rover and towed a jet-ski, but isn't that the biggest lesson to us, the man with the corporate contract from coca cola, gave it all up, stopped flying, towing, stopped non organic, stopped GMO, stopped meat and slavery and spends his days helping others. Didn’t he have the most to lose, we talk about those days often and as Levon Helm says ‘at all costs just laugh’. He said when he would drive to his parents farm in the country they would ask him to park the 4x4 around the corner as not to embarrass them. We talk about all parts of being and what life is about and it always comes back to fear. We discuss our basic impulsions and desires, his clean living, his stance on the environment and emotional calmness. This comes from working on his spiritual self, he meditates every day, spent months in yoga retreats, doesn't do social media and spends lonely nights at sea. This has all been achieved, it is not some blessing from the Celtic gods, it is trained living, his actions express his priorities, he wakes up early, walks his dog, and works on the farm, he works until dark, he likes tea and cake and  loves a chat. He finally gave into love and him and Sally will soon be joined by another member of the Smith clan, a boy or a girl we don’t know, they won’t tell us the name. Whatever it will be, it will bring light into the world. 

 

Be the change we wish to see in the world, we wish to see people eating healthy, we wish to see people united, we wish to see more trees growing and more animals being free, we wish to see more communication and more love. We live in a commune, we share common interests, possessions and resources we share the same vision of how we would like to live and change the little bit of the world we live in. Fergal would like to see no more jet skis or Land-rovers, would like people to fly less but he is the first to understand that it is a difficult change to make, capitalist propaganda and the social pressures from even the closest people around us makes living outside of the box difficult, there is no judgement, no negative energy towards those who don’t do as he does, this is hard, to feel so passionately, to make so many changes to your own life, to live within a set of boundaries but be so happy to those who live outside of them, this is the challenge, this is admirable. 

 

Surfing is normal and natural and it is part of our being, its why we have all chosen to live here, to be close to the mighty cliffs, close to the thunder of the mountain, Alieens, under the Cliffs of Moher, 700ft sheer, this is why we chose our commune, this is why we found each other, with our silent nod to Mickey, our brother who first made the place his love and muse, to Rivie, our sister who made us feel at home and gave generously and all our friends that we call family, but those magical cliffs, that have kept us alive, that have remained silent and kept its smile discreet, the vertical madness that stands so closely to our dreams. Fergal who believes that it is nature that owns the land, that it is inherited by each new born, that ownership is arrogant, he has with a hidden smirk a natural affection and well versed judgement become the current wolf of the magical lair, an inspiration, kind and driven has helped shade the worlds love affair with the wave that moved our minds, that broke backs, egos, boats and boards. She is the dog that doesn't bark and he the terrified master, not scared, but humble in the knowledge that she is the ultimate, and she just another forgotten nook in the almost limitless ocean. 

 

There are aspirations and we dream, we don’t want to hide in the forest with dream catchers and tie-dyed t-shirts, we want to live in environmentally friendly homes with nice people and welcome the world, we want to help others cross boundaries, we are the children of the tide and we will push on, we should be living together and eating food from our garden, Eco-Homes shouldn’t be the second homes of city folk with 7 figure salaries, they should belong to everyone, poisonless food in supermarkets in poor neighbourhoods and in every school, each and every change we make and everything we do we should be being conscious of every soul. Things that are important to us, to Fergal and Mitch Corbett, friends, waves, food, family, but for Ferg its mostly food. Fergal is the farming man, his hands are in the ground, this half inherited, known before his conscious life dawned was something he would do for the most part of his life and he has, like most creatures of the wild experienced famine, each week he fasts for at least a day, to clean his body, to relate to nature, to remove the shit from his blood, three meals a day is franchised conditioning, they make rich people money. Veganism is hard for some people to understand and Ferg believes in it, he is not quite there. Those that get it, salute one another with pride, and each nod is a great feeling, we are friendly animals and eat animal friendly food, we are approached often with doubts, with curiosity and fear but always lovingness and within all of us there is a understanding of each other, of wanting to welcome each person. 

 

 

As the weeks go by and the days become shorter we realise there is too much messing around and that if something is to happen you just have to do it. The most important job is that we eat well and look after the ground, keep the soil full of nutrient rich minerals from organic, local places, this Autumn we spent 40 days just shovelling seaweed off the beach into the feild, it is part of the movement, part of the romance, because to be in love with everything, you have to work with love. 

 

 

 

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It's a long long way from Clare to here - the troubles, icons, tribes and the thunder of the mountain of life with Fergal Smith in The Celtic flatlands. 

 

 

Its 1980, its cold, grey and damp, Belfast Northern Ireland. There is fighting in the streets, a war, a horrible war, a horrible political war. ‘The Troubles’ spanned three decades, hundreds of people lost their lives. The Irish people wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic Of Ireland and the British wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Things were not good, Irish prisoners of war were dying of self starvation in British prisons because they were mistreated and their voices were not being heard.  Innocent people were being bombed and killed on both sides of the Irish Sea, they were bleak years that will never be forgotten, many died and are still mourned, their lives ended. An 18 year old Miss Smith, left she went to the ocean, to county Mayo and fell in love with Mr Smith, a slight tall man from London, they made a new life in ‘foreign lands’, away from the smog, smoke and the concrete, away from the bombs, murder and hatred. They started a small organic farm and 30 years later, still in love, healthy, their hands strong and with three children they are some of the most respected organic growers in Ireland. 

 

Fergal one of there children became the icon of surfing in Europe, he’s a small and beautiful man, filled with wisdom, he is the hard working son of a farmer. Born in the 80’s, in the country with fresh organic food, not hungry but passionate, his parents aren’t rich, he doesn't travel or have a tan, he wont talk about surfing and he likes the cold. I grow vegetables with Fergal, we surf together and want to live in a community together. Last year we grew 26 types of potatoes and 80 types of fruits and vegetables, we started a little organic community project, its small, we work hard in the rain and the wind, we buy the seeds, the shit and the tools, we eat really well and give the food away. When the waves are good we surf. Our Tribe, our partners, cats, dogs, chickens, pigs, we want to be change we wish to see in the world. 

 

Co Clare is the small, flat, treeless county, in the middle west coast. The end of autumn is close, the clocks gone back, its wet, the wind is wild, it is the Ireland that you imagine and we live the Irish you imagine, the house is on the top of a hill, the walls are thick, it gets dark early.  Animals, begging to be allowed into the warmth, the open stove, the heat that keeps our hearts and souls alive in the dark months. This life I thought was gone, past, living only in almost forgotten memories. Outside it is much the same apart from pockets of Americanism that have crept into the culture, the food is expensive and bad, its packaged, meat based and could last years, fuel and electricity is overpriced, half the houses are badly built. They were made in the Celtic tiger (boom times), there is poverty, there is debt but everybody smiles, they are happy people. The towns are real, full of kind and warm-hearted Celtic people. There is a greyness to the edges, a shade, but there is beauty full of a thousand colours, a history full of a thousand songs and stories, a forever in every community. 

 

Be the change we wish to see in the world? Mostly we spend our days, talking shit the field, we talk a lot, even whilst Fergal away in the midlands with his partner we talk for hours each day. His partner a philosophical woman, strong with a huge smile and a kind heart, she really gets it. There is a Norse feeling to their life, without the brutal wars and fighting. When they met Fergal had made a pact to be a monk, to live forever at Lackamore (the house where we all lived) to live without women, to live for the service of others, to be abstinence from worldly pleasures (excluding getting really barrelled) and to be buried on the hill. He believed it was going to be the rest of his life, he really did. When Fergal believes something it is his everything, it is his real world. During the Celtic Tiger Fergal used to ride for Relentless, drive the company land-rover, painted black with tinted windows, he would tow surf into mountain sized waves. It makes you question him, well it made him question him. The greenest man in surfing drove a Land-Rover and towed a jet-ski, but isn't that the biggest lesson to us, the man with the corporate contract from coca cola, gave it all up, stopped flying, towing, stopped non organic, stopped GMO, stopped meat and slavery and spends his days helping others. Didn’t he have the most to lose, we talk about those days often and as Levon Helm says ‘at all costs just laugh’. He said when he would drive to his parents farm in the country they would ask him to park the 4x4 around the corner as not to embarrass them. We talk about all parts of being and what life is about and it always comes back to fear. We discuss our basic impulsions and desires, his clean living, his stance on the environment and emotional calmness. This comes from working on his spiritual self, he meditates every day, spent months in yoga retreats, doesn't do social media and spends lonely nights at sea. This has all been achieved, it is not some blessing from the Celtic gods, it is trained living, his actions express his priorities, he wakes up early, walks his dog, and works on the farm, he works until dark, he likes tea and cake and  loves a chat. He finally gave into love and him and Sally will soon be joined by another member of the Smith clan, a boy or a girl we don’t know, they won’t tell us the name. Whatever it will be, it will bring light into the world. 

 

Be the change we wish to see in the world, we wish to see people eating healthy, we wish to see people united, we wish to see more trees growing and more animals being free, we wish to see more communication and more love. We live in a commune, we share common interests, possessions and resources we share the same vision of how we would like to live and change the little bit of the world we live in. Fergal would like to see no more jet skis or Land-rovers, would like people to fly less but he is the first to understand that it is a difficult change to make, capitalist propaganda and the social pressures from even the closest people around us makes living outside of the box difficult, there is no judgement, no negative energy towards those who don’t do as he does, this is hard, to feel so passionately, to make so many changes to your own life, to live within a set of boundaries but be so happy to those who live outside of them, this is the challenge, this is admirable. 

 

Surfing is normal and natural and it is part of our being, its why we have all chosen to live here, to be close to the mighty cliffs, close to the thunder of the mountain, Alieens, under the Cliffs of Moher, 700ft sheer, this is why we chose our commune, this is why we found each other, with our silent nod to Mickey, our brother who first made the place his love and muse, to Rivie, our sister who made us feel at home and gave generously and all our friends that we call family, but those magical cliffs, that have kept us alive, that have remained silent and kept its smile discreet, the vertical madness that stands so closely to our dreams. Fergal who believes that it is nature that owns the land, that it is inherited by each new born, that ownership is arrogant, he has with a hidden smirk a natural affection and well versed judgement become the current wolf of the magical lair, an inspiration, kind and driven has helped shade the worlds love affair with the wave that moved our minds, that broke backs, egos, boats and boards. She is the dog that doesn't bark and he the terrified master, not scared, but humble in the knowledge that she is the ultimate, and she just another forgotten nook in the almost limitless ocean. 

 

There are aspirations and we dream, we don’t want to hide in the forest with dream catchers and tie-dyed t-shirts, we want to live in environmentally friendly homes with nice people and welcome the world, we want to help others cross boundaries, we are the children of the tide and we will push on, we should be living together and eating food from our garden, Eco-Homes shouldn’t be the second homes of city folk with 7 figure salaries, they should belong to everyone, poisonless food in supermarkets in poor neighbourhoods and in every school, each and every change we make and everything we do we should be being conscious of every soul. Things that are important to us, to Fergal and Mitch Corbett, friends, waves, food, family, but for Ferg its mostly food. Fergal is the farming man, his hands are in the ground, this half inherited, known before his conscious life dawned was something he would do for the most part of his life and he has, like most creatures of the wild experienced famine, each week he fasts for at least a day, to clean his body, to relate to nature, to remove the shit from his blood, three meals a day is franchised conditioning, they make rich people money. Veganism is hard for some people to understand and Ferg believes in it, he is not quite there. Those that get it, salute one another with pride, and each nod is a great feeling, we are friendly animals and eat animal friendly food, we are approached often with doubts, with curiosity and fear but always lovingness and within all of us there is a understanding of each other, of wanting to welcome each person. 

 

 

As the weeks go by and the days become shorter we realise there is too much messing around and that if something is to happen you just have to do it. The most important job is that we eat well and look after the ground, keep the soil full of nutrient rich minerals from organic, local places, this Autumn we spent 40 days just shovelling seaweed off the beach into the feild, it is part of the movement, part of the romance, because to be in love with everything, you have to work with love. 

 

 

 

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The art of illusions - Looks beneath the white lies of Mickeys photography, during a week lost in the Atlantic with Fergal Smith, Tom Lowe and Patch Wilson.

Look at perfect waves in magazines, or watch a surf movie. You'll see shot after shot of stand up barrels, huge hacks, aerials and turns. Photos and videos leave impressions on us, they inspire and conjure stories. Images capture moments. Right or wrong; each moment hints at a tale that is imagined and translated by the viewer. 

From the minute these images were pressed, judgments were made. I'll bet the first thing you did flicking through this mag was look at the photographs. For as long as surfing has been business, professional surfers and photographers all over the world have manipulated our judgments, publishing single frames of made or un-made barrels, landed or un-landed airs. As with all photos ever taken, they only capture A MOMENT. They don't tell the real story. The photograph can lie.

This article is not unlike any other, so take from it what you will. If we can't be that person in the picture, we experience our own interpretation of it, second hand. We do our best to suspend disbelief and join in vicariously for our own taste of the event.

Read a book, watch a film, or talk to somebody about almost anything, you'll try and relate by imagining how you might have dealt with a similar situation. Every day on our friends' facebooks you see them partying, surfing, dancing or whatever. The point is the photos posted make suggestions about their lives that viewers pass judgment on. 

It’s a good thing, makes you ask questions. It’s the same with surf photography, it provokes similar questions. It's so easy to imagine that if you were in that frozen situation you would be ripping, would have pulled in earlier, pushed harder off the bottom or top. But the reality is that if it looks head high its double over head, if it looks heavy its psychotic. 

The shots from this particular Atlantic mission are classic examples of how photographs lie, create an illusion of perfection, and don’t tell the whole story. A one week chart, a new culture, three girlfriends, 25 surfboards, one boogie, three London market musicians, 6 Mac books, 4 guitars, one mandolin, three rent a cars, one lovely landlady and a cartoon of UM BONGO. 

Fergal, Tom, Me, Mick and Patch have been friends and traveled together for many years. We visit the same spots around the same time of year, have similar tastes in waves, food, wine, coffee, music and life. I hope the photos tell that story. 

What you can't tell is that one of us had come from the job centre in Cornwall, two from four feet of snow in Co. Clare, one’s been in situ alone for months already, and one had travelled from some other Atlantic nowhere. You can’t see what they have sacrificed to be here. The love, money, work, the opportunities, just a few of the things surrendered to be surfing, to be there in that moment.

The atmosphere in the water when we are together is super exciting and honest. We all know the others level of surfing, when they are pushing themselves, when they are scared, stoked or gutted. We pull each other up, wake each other up, and occasionally break up and make up. 

You cannot see the thought behind this trip. The chart that needed to be absolutely perfect. The resulting undesirable swell direction. The wind one compass point off the mark that ruined most sessions. You can't see the hellish rip, the nightmare paddle out, the angry locals or taste the morning coffee. You can't feel the cold breeze or hear the thunder in the night., the apprehension, the thousands of years of culture, hundreds of years of humanization, blood, sweat or tears. You can’t see the cleanest streets or the town with the drug habits, the smile from the pretty barmaid or the old man's nod. The history, the reasons why, or the ecstatic expression on a friend's face when he pops off the shoulder. 

I suppose it’s a beautiful thing, to take from the image what you want. I'm just saying read between the lines a little, look past the guy in the wetsuit. Surfing can be majestical or philosophical, often both, an escape, a lifestyle, an art or a job. It can simply be a laugh with your mates or an excuse to be alone.

The truth behind this flawless looking right-hander is that the barrel wobbles, it slabs wildly through every section. It's heavy and you can't see that or feel the consequential tension as we sit in line and wait. If you don’t pull off in time or don't make the barrel, 15ft sets break wide, washing and dragging you for hundreds of meters along the rest of the point. 

Your arms are sore, back aches and feet are full of urchins. Your head is full of images of barrels and wipeouts. Fergal struggles to put these memories into order, Patch has bad knees and heart palpitations, Lowey thinks too much,  I don’t sleep at night and smoke too much. You don’t see that. Rivie (Mickey’s girlfriend) makes the most epic veggie food, takes the most beautiful cloudscapes and is the force behind good in us all. You don’t see that. You don’t see the hours of scouring the Internet, the Skype calls, the waiting, the broken boards, the training, the sun burn, the loneliness, the arguments, drunkenness, compassion, understanding, the love or hysterics.

All great artists create to create; not to tell the whole story but merely to illuminate a particular aspect of it. Some of the most beautiful, bewitching and innovative pieces of art, writing, music and photographs are experiments. To be a successful artist you have to be brave, to give it a go, to walk the line, you have to dance. Mickey’s photographs dance, his angles and colors are on the leading and bleeding edge of surf photography. He is the most amping and exciting person to be around when the waves are on. You don’t see that or hear his hoots.

Is it possible to see the full true story in a photograph? If it was would we still like or even take them ourselves? Is that the reason? Does it entertain us on a deeper level, our brains reaching out for the truth? Does it give us hope? Can we subconsciously put ourselves into the image and really imagine what it feels like? Does our imagination run away with us? Does it even matter? It's certainly art, it's incredible. 

Some people see life through images, some through sounds, some like to taste, drink or feel. It’s a wonderful thing -  variation, the different spices of life. Audiences take and make their own meanings of every artistic endeavor. Artists merely cast their ideas to the world and let them run free. Long may they continue to do so.

 

 

  

 

 
 
 
 
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Wavelength 2014

“I got my license back, now I can go back out for creel. It was something I missed since retiring, didn't think I’d miss it so much”.

Jimmy, a local fisherman and our host for coffee, was telling us philosophically that after retiring he missed the ocean, the boat, the birds and the cold on his face, he missed standing up all day in the wind with no one for a yarn but the hard-faced sea gulls that sit out the winters like the lovely people that live there. His local accent, soft and smooth; his words kind and simple. He didn’t know that as he spoke he voiced something that we all thought, that we all knew was true and within us, that the smokey walls or our soul could not quite articulate. He, like Hemingway and the Old Man himself and the sea, thought it unnecessary to talk too much whilst at sea. His warm home was on the northern shores that slope to face the harshest North winds, his views were unchallenged and it was clear where his wisdom came from. He showed us his creel nets and the chickens that had just hatched, as we said our thanks and farewells he offered us rooms in his home for our stay and we knew he meant it. 

We left Jimmy and his Creel pots and walked the coast thinking the wind too strong and that we should be somewhere else but then the Nordic Gods’ eyes shone bright, and when they do they shine on us one and the same and with the sun and smiles we were treated to some twinkle twinkle. A long and fast left with almond then open tubes, we shared the surf with a few new and local friends and when the tide changed and killed the waves we shared some story and some water of life, standing on the cliff  near the sunset-coloured rocks with a tipple of the good stuff, this is what it’s all about. Hidden from roads and the scene, these moments are not easy and if it was everyone would be doing it. 

On the cold clear evenings, camping and van life are at their best, us surfed out lucky fellows grateful for the day’s sunshine sit with a lit fire and take it in. Al, Noah, Chris and I all from separate worlds are more than happy about our current situation. Noah, a self proclaimed globe trotter and beer enthusiast and we all believe him, without two half pennies to buy any new surfboards but with local ale warming his seafaring soul his finances seem the last thing on his merry mind. Far are the days of charging the world junior series, far are the days of Kirra, Mc Donald's, goon bags and 20 minute heats. He has seen the magnificent maze of the Celtic lands and colours of winter and, like a thunderbolt in a clear sky, home isn’t home any more. It’s dinner time and wraps again; spinach, lentils and kidney beans, no dishes and some local hard liquor. 

The darkness and our hearts are warmed by the burning logs, it’s March, cold and late, but we have our feet all resting barefoot at the fire’s edge. We know we should be sleeping soon but there is an excitement around the camp. It seems that the day should go on forever and all are fully understanding that these times are what we strive for, that the waves, women and wine are well and good but it’s everything that we chase, these still moments when strangers become friends, the warm stomachs and clear nights are what we will remember in our rocking chair days. 

Someone always sleeps in and as the sun rises slow like the shadows of sharks on a seabed we see the world like all lost sailors did, like Slocum, Crowhurst's and Crusoe, we see the world with new eyes of those explorers, and like children. We wake Al from his dreams and decide on the day, without the strictest of plans as real travel requires maximum unscheduled wanderings. Al is used to beautiful winters of the North, beyond the wall, he seems haunted by the beauty of the landless latitudes and is one of the rare ones that stays in a storm. That and being able to talk the finest secrets out of even the tightest lipped rock-strong folk, the places he knows seem like they are borrowed fairytales but they’re not. He pays more than money for his visions. It takes us a while to break camp, mornings always do. We are not in a rush, the waves will come but first we need coffee and some bread. 

I have spent many a moon on these fair shores and it’s my intention to spend many more until the wind has gone from my sails, until the flakes of snow have fallen, until I’m old and happy to watch the world from a mix of memories and make believes. When I first passed my driving test I came here singing like a sky lark in spring and I found out what real waves looked like, full of power and feeling. I was grateful and excited that I was now a child of the tide. 

We surf again, eat and walk the coast. Then in the afternoon we watch a few locals surfing a right point, they arrive together, surf together and smile together, we leave them to it. Around the corner, the sun is going down, we are semi-surfed out but the wind and light has come good and it’s too beautiful not to be in the ocean. With a little luck and coffee we surf a heavy, fast, hollow left that with the backlighting looks like the pipeline days of Gerry. 

A few weeks before we had all been brought together to make some magic with Finisterre, to camp with the merry bunch of men that make up their army and after the parade had left we carried on. Chris McClean directed Beyond the Scars, Uncommon Ideals and Urchin Howl and it’s a wonder how his mind works, he was a native to the harsh northland, related by blood or romance and it seemed during those days, fog creeped over his mind and maybe it’s content or maybe he wonders if it’s a place he’s meant to be. His green eyes, old smile and van kept us going for as long as she could and in her time she did us proud. It seems that at lonely fringes like these hearts grow responsive and sympathetic, some of the kindest most warm and lovely people I have met have been on the far corners of the land. Every single person we meet welcomes us with talk and story about the days to come and gone by, they advise best they can and seem happy that we are enjoying their fair coastline, happy that we are acting like children. 

Our last night in flora-less landscape was a wonderful farewell as the cloudless sky unfolded around us and night crept in we prepared for the subtle sleep that camping brings, the sharp and cold night, mysterious and deep arriving slow but with it came a wonder that none imagined. It seemed the sun’s work wasn’t done and the maze of darkness had fooled us, for what we were about to bear witness was something the Norse thought was the shiny armour of the Valkyrior and the Romans called the Goddess of Dawn but what we knew to be the Northern Lights. The night seemed to go on forever and even though the sky was warmed with colour we lit a fire and forgot ourselves in the gift that seemed to be born like the waves in the breeze. 

This is what travel is about, discovering surprises and marvels, unexpected madness and blessings from the big pond. When the time to leave comes and the longing of stillness disappears, all a little flat from the excitement, all grateful for the stars and the moon, we are not shy in expressing how much fun we had and how happy to meet new friends, share food, sleep and magic but all happy to be going.

 

 
 
 

....


CHRIS NOBLE 

 

 

Anyone that has travelled to the Scottish North Lands will have seen this man in the line up. Many years ago you might have heard him or maybe been on the end of a lesson in surfing etiquette, you might also know he is multiple time national champ and gets really barreled. I initially saw Chris on my first ever trip to Thurso as a kid; 15 minutes after I passed my driving test I was in the 1.1l polo with everything I owned on the roof undertaking the pilgrimage that many before me had done. It was windy for 14 days, horrible and wet, I was camping but I loved every single moment of it. On my last day north of the border the wind swung and up until that point they were the best waves I had ever seen. It was probably 4ft but at the time I was calling 10-12ft. I didn’t know what real waves looked like. It was better than I had seen in the videos and it was that day in October, 10 years after I had first stood up, that i truly fell in love with riding waves.  

 

Chris was there that day and has probably been there most days before and after, I remember him clearly. He is short for a Scottish hero, his words are kind and well thought, his accent harsh but you can feel the love in it. Chris never knew me then but I knew him. I was so impressed with everything about his set up, all I could do was hope one day I might be physically able to sit on the peak and paddle into one of those beautiful walls of Cold water. 

 

In the winter, ice blocks float from the River Thurso and into the line up. It’s harsh, grey but also on occasion when the waves are on you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. When I have seen Chris in the years since that day in 2004 he seems to have calmed down, not in a less progressive way but in a way that only the ocean can calm you. When I asked him questions they were what you would imagine a old Hawaiian to answer with love and respect for all things. It seems he is happy where he is now, with children, a wife and working offshore, sure he would like to be on every session but life is more than that. At 40 Chris is still the national open champ and says that his fitness is owed the help of Personal trainer Ash the weekend warrior. Life on the oil rigs is not the place for a national champion to be training, Scotland has none of the financial floods to help surfers like its neighbour. Thurso has two sorts of surf shops, a cafe and a camping shops that sell wax.

 

This September the Scottish people above 16 will vote on the future of their Country and whether they want to remain part of the United Kingdom. It seems sad to put another boundary on a map but totally understand that in these times of cultural evaporation the proud people of the North are trying to do everything they can to hold on to what they hold most highly.

 

 

 

Chris, anyone that has been to Scotland will know you by name and face, it’s a small community there and when there are waves you are in the line up, how does it feel to be the name and face of Scottish surfing? 

 

It's funny really, most of the time I'm just looking to get a few waves without any fuss. I guess there's a bit of responsibility that comes along with being recognised. I never really realised this until the past few years. All I was doing was going surfing, it's the waves that are recognised, I just happened to be there! When I first moved up I guess I was much more social but also more vocal, as times moved on I try to make a little space in the line up, be a bit more positive and explain where things are falling over to people who don't seem to understand.

 

 

When the big comps did events in Scotland and everyone was taking over, were they always considerate towards the locals? How have you felt the travellers that come up now are?

 

How I act can and does have a direct impact on how the guy sitting next to me is going to act. At the end this turns into a big circle, if I don't care how I act towards someone else then why should they care about how they act with others or myself in the water? It can be really frustrating dealing with the same bad etiquette from different people every swell but you have to let it go or else you just end up paddling about in a bad mood and what's the point if you feel like that?

 

Looking back the highland open was a pretty special thing, sure there were a lot of negative connotations about bringing 144 of the worlds best surfers to a quiet town on the north coast of Scotland but it's not like it was any major secret either. The line up is always going to get more and more busy as wetsuit technology improves. To have the chance to watch some of the best surfers in the world come and surf your home waves is pretty inspirational, I guess the dynamics of the line up changed when they were in town. The first contest really raised the towns interest in surfing and I think it made a lot of people realise just how good their waves are, before that the most of people took surfing and surfers as a bit of a comedy act.

 

There is a big rivalry between England and Scotland and now with the referendum on independence coming up, has the tension in the water grown? Will you vote?

 

Haha, having tension in the water is one thing and voting in the referendum is quite another! Yes there is tension in the line up, again not everyone understands or possibly cares about the finer points of visiting another surf break or understanding that the guys who do surf there all of the time have given up a lot to be there when there is a swell running. 

 

However being asked if you feel that the country you have called home since you were born should be a country in its own right or should remain as part of a larger country is quite another.

 

I don't mind saying I'm in the yes camp, I don't believe for one minute that anything will remain the same either way after the referendum so we either vote yes, choose our own government if we don't like what they're doing we can vote and actually make a difference. Vote No and let Westminster make all of our decisions for us.

 

 

Scotland will always be Scottish right, that’s not what the referendum is about; it’s about money and power. Independence is a big deal and not to be made a joke of but what about world equality? Why do you think we are so hell bent on imaginary boundaries that we call borders? House / Town / District / County / Country… surely we are all people? 

 

Maybe that's what a lot of people are missing; Scotland will always be Scotland yes. Will it be Scotland as Scotland a country in its own right or Scotland as part of Great Britain? All my life I've classed myself as Scottish, any time I filled out something that's asked my nationality I filled it out as Scottish. Try doing that online, there is no such thing as a Scottish nationality.

 

Politics is about money and power, that is not the question that's being asked. The question is do the majority of Scots want to see themselves as Scottish or British?

 

That's a well-travelled view, we are all people on top all the same. Although underneath there are a lot of different beliefs, views, opinions even religions. While surfing allows us to cross the majority of these boundaries with ease as we all share a similar goal. If you don't like your neighbour or they don't like your dog or whatever you'll soon find a wall or fence between you. It just keeps getting bigger on every scale.

 

That of course is the short version!

 

You have multiple national titles, including the current open, but make a living from surfing? Considering Scotland is featured in almost every mag in the world why do you think there is no money in Scottish surfing? 

 

I'll be 40 next year, I still don't feel like slowing down. I guess I ache a bit more the next day than when I was 20 but with age comes experience and confidence. 

 

No you're right, there's no money in Scottish surfing, maybe it's because we are so far away from the UK's surfing financial heart? When you look at where the UK's surf industry is based the apple doesn't seem like it's fallen far from the tree (Newquay). Although that may change as the Scottish Surfing Federation grows there has been a renewed focus on introducing kids to surfing and developing their skills, this is something that has been missing over the past 10 - 15 years. 

 

Who knows maybe we'll see more support for kids in the future allowing them to push themselves on an international stage.

 

The Apple and the tree thing, do you think it works both ways, I mean surely its funny when you are getting 10 second barrels on your own and the apple tree is 2ft onshore?!

 

 

The original question was about why didn't I think there was any money in Scottish surfing. That poses the financial hub as the tree and the recognition and money as the fruit. You can apply that thinking in different ways, I wasn't looking for either so my fruit was simply to go surfing in some good waves. It was a pretty simple formula, find some good waves, settle down and build a life around that. I didn't see the need to spend loads of time and money chasing a dream that I could live daily.

 

 

You are involved with the Scottish Surf Federation (SSF), is there anything that the surfing world could help you out with? Equipment? Advice? Do you really want surfing to grow in your area? 

 

 

I used to be involved with the SSF but I stood down due to workload against home family time. This being said I still try to help out where I can. Do I really want surfing to grow in my area? What I've found is that I don't have a choice whether surfing grows or not, it will. No matter how hard you try to run away from it it's getting bigger all the time. That was one of the reasons the SSF went into hibernation, fear of more people starting to surf. There are already enough people surfing, well that didn't slow anything down it just took away the structure! 

 

The SSF is there to support the local clubs and to represent surfers on a formal level, whether it's something that needs to be pushed back on a national level or to represent local clubs with environmental energy companies.

 

 

There are stories of the early days of surfing in Scotland about woolen jumpers and cling film. What’s the secret to sub zero surfing? 

 

Personally I don't see that there is a 'secret' to cold water surfing, it's just surfing. I guess if you grew up surfing somewhere with warm water where you could spend all day playing in the ocean. When we were kids we used to go swimming at the beach, it was pretty cold until you went numb then you were 'ok' for a while... Not too long though! I got a wetsuit for my 13th birthday so I could go swimming in the harbour for longer. The first thing I did was to run a freezing cold bath to test it out, that didn't go quite to plan, I never realised water actually came inside the suit! 

 

So that's it, I don't know if you would say that we were born with it or just grew up dealing with the cold. Either way that is just part of the deal if you surf here, it's either windy, rainy, frost, snow or hail sometimes all of these in one session. The guys at Lunasurf and Finisterre make some of the best kit available so to have them support me makes things a little easier.

 

It seems that you are happy, and over the years are turning into a very wise father and grandfather of Scottish surfing, has this come from having children, or has the ocean taught you heavy lessons? How ws it when you first moved north? How were you received by the local community? Now you have a family and seem like a very happy human do you push your kids to surf? 

 

I think it's the changes that have happened and how they have impacted on me that have led me to where I am just now. When I was younger all I wanted to do was go surfing we would sit down the beach all summer long hoping for there to be waves, waiting for every tide, maybe when the tide comes in, maybe when the tide drops. Day after day, week after week, twelve weeks was the longest I waited.

 

Now I have so much more to do with my time that although I'm waiting and watching every day it doesn't seem to consume me the same, probably makes for a more balanced lifestyle.

 

There have been so many changes since I have moved north, the first year I stayed in a backpacker hostel in town. I used to get changed into my suit and run through town to surf and back again; I had quite a few funny looks! But it was nice, before I moved away all of my friends were surfers so that's pretty much all we spoke about. When I first moved away you could go to the pub and have a normal conversation with people not all revolving around surfing or waves, it was pretty refreshing.

 

Again the first year I moved here one month I surfed for more than half of the days, every day was offshore, it was never smaller than head high and every day I was alone. Now there is a core of guys who surf here on every swell. With forecasting getting better and better there are a lot more travellers arriving, some come for a swell or some stay for a bit longer to get a real taste of it. It was hard for me to start off with having so many people around all of the time but once you get your head around it I think you end up in a better place. I don't think I have been alone, but really can't talk for other guys.

 

 

I wouldn't say grandfather; there is still a few guys like Iain Masson (seven time Scottish Champion, and still last year made the finals) a generation or two older than me who visit regularly. I still look up to these guys, seeing how life has changed for them but when they visit they are simply stoked to be here surfing, it's a big inspiration seeing these guys maybe not going as hard but still pushing boundaries. 

 

I guess that's one of the biggest changes for me having a family and working away from home, surfing’s almost booked. There are times where I have maybe missed a swell or two and I get an hour or two when it's chest high and onshore or the tides wrong, I'm so stoked to get out in the water where as before when I had more time I was a lot more fussy. I love spending time with my kids playing at what they want to do and yes, if either of them wanted to go surfing I'd be so stoked to watch them. It's not something I push with them though; I want them to go surfing because they want to not because they want to make me happy.

 

....


CHRIS NOBLE 

 

 

Anyone that has travelled to the Scottish North Lands will have seen this man in the line up. Many years ago you might have heard him or maybe been on the end of a lesson in surfing etiquette, you might also know he is multiple time national champ and gets really barreled. I initially saw Chris on my first ever trip to Thurso as a kid; 15 minutes after I passed my driving test I was in the 1.1l polo with everything I owned on the roof undertaking the pilgrimage that many before me had done. It was windy for 14 days, horrible and wet, I was camping but I loved every single moment of it. On my last day north of the border the wind swung and up until that point they were the best waves I had ever seen. It was probably 4ft but at the time I was calling 10-12ft. I didn’t know what real waves looked like. It was better than I had seen in the videos and it was that day in October, 10 years after I had first stood up, that i truly fell in love with riding waves.  

 

Chris was there that day and has probably been there most days before and after, I remember him clearly. He is short for a Scottish hero, his words are kind and well thought, his accent harsh but you can feel the love in it. Chris never knew me then but I knew him. I was so impressed with everything about his set up, all I could do was hope one day I might be physically able to sit on the peak and paddle into one of those beautiful walls of Cold water. 

 

In the winter, ice blocks float from the River Thurso and into the line up. It’s harsh, grey but also on occasion when the waves are on you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. When I have seen Chris in the years since that day in 2004 he seems to have calmed down, not in a less progressive way but in a way that only the ocean can calm you. When I asked him questions they were what you would imagine a old Hawaiian to answer with love and respect for all things. It seems he is happy where he is now, with children, a wife and working offshore, sure he would like to be on every session but life is more than that. At 40 Chris is still the national open champ and says that his fitness is owed the help of Personal trainer Ash the weekend warrior. Life on the oil rigs is not the place for a national champion to be training, Scotland has none of the financial floods to help surfers like its neighbour. Thurso has two sorts of surf shops, a cafe and a camping shops that sell wax.

 

This September the Scottish people above 16 will vote on the future of their Country and whether they want to remain part of the United Kingdom. It seems sad to put another boundary on a map but totally understand that in these times of cultural evaporation the proud people of the North are trying to do everything they can to hold on to what they hold most highly.

 

 

 

Chris, anyone that has been to Scotland will know you by name and face, it’s a small community there and when there are waves you are in the line up, how does it feel to be the name and face of Scottish surfing? 

 

It's funny really, most of the time I'm just looking to get a few waves without any fuss. I guess there's a bit of responsibility that comes along with being recognised. I never really realised this until the past few years. All I was doing was going surfing, it's the waves that are recognised, I just happened to be there! When I first moved up I guess I was much more social but also more vocal, as times moved on I try to make a little space in the line up, be a bit more positive and explain where things are falling over to people who don't seem to understand.

 

 

When the big comps did events in Scotland and everyone was taking over, were they always considerate towards the locals? How have you felt the travellers that come up now are?

 

How I act can and does have a direct impact on how the guy sitting next to me is going to act. At the end this turns into a big circle, if I don't care how I act towards someone else then why should they care about how they act with others or myself in the water? It can be really frustrating dealing with the same bad etiquette from different people every swell but you have to let it go or else you just end up paddling about in a bad mood and what's the point if you feel like that?

 

Looking back the highland open was a pretty special thing, sure there were a lot of negative connotations about bringing 144 of the worlds best surfers to a quiet town on the north coast of Scotland but it's not like it was any major secret either. The line up is always going to get more and more busy as wetsuit technology improves. To have the chance to watch some of the best surfers in the world come and surf your home waves is pretty inspirational, I guess the dynamics of the line up changed when they were in town. The first contest really raised the towns interest in surfing and I think it made a lot of people realise just how good their waves are, before that the most of people took surfing and surfers as a bit of a comedy act.

 

There is a big rivalry between England and Scotland and now with the referendum on independence coming up, has the tension in the water grown? Will you vote?

 

Haha, having tension in the water is one thing and voting in the referendum is quite another! Yes there is tension in the line up, again not everyone understands or possibly cares about the finer points of visiting another surf break or understanding that the guys who do surf there all of the time have given up a lot to be there when there is a swell running. 

 

However being asked if you feel that the country you have called home since you were born should be a country in its own right or should remain as part of a larger country is quite another.

 

I don't mind saying I'm in the yes camp, I don't believe for one minute that anything will remain the same either way after the referendum so we either vote yes, choose our own government if we don't like what they're doing we can vote and actually make a difference. Vote No and let Westminster make all of our decisions for us.

 

 

Scotland will always be Scottish right, that’s not what the referendum is about; it’s about money and power. Independence is a big deal and not to be made a joke of but what about world equality? Why do you think we are so hell bent on imaginary boundaries that we call borders? House / Town / District / County / Country… surely we are all people? 

 

Maybe that's what a lot of people are missing; Scotland will always be Scotland yes. Will it be Scotland as Scotland a country in its own right or Scotland as part of Great Britain? All my life I've classed myself as Scottish, any time I filled out something that's asked my nationality I filled it out as Scottish. Try doing that online, there is no such thing as a Scottish nationality.

 

Politics is about money and power, that is not the question that's being asked. The question is do the majority of Scots want to see themselves as Scottish or British?

 

That's a well-travelled view, we are all people on top all the same. Although underneath there are a lot of different beliefs, views, opinions even religions. While surfing allows us to cross the majority of these boundaries with ease as we all share a similar goal. If you don't like your neighbour or they don't like your dog or whatever you'll soon find a wall or fence between you. It just keeps getting bigger on every scale.

 

That of course is the short version!

 

You have multiple national titles, including the current open, but make a living from surfing? Considering Scotland is featured in almost every mag in the world why do you think there is no money in Scottish surfing? 

 

I'll be 40 next year, I still don't feel like slowing down. I guess I ache a bit more the next day than when I was 20 but with age comes experience and confidence. 

 

No you're right, there's no money in Scottish surfing, maybe it's because we are so far away from the UK's surfing financial heart? When you look at where the UK's surf industry is based the apple doesn't seem like it's fallen far from the tree (Newquay). Although that may change as the Scottish Surfing Federation grows there has been a renewed focus on introducing kids to surfing and developing their skills, this is something that has been missing over the past 10 - 15 years. 

 

Who knows maybe we'll see more support for kids in the future allowing them to push themselves on an international stage.

 

The Apple and the tree thing, do you think it works both ways, I mean surely its funny when you are getting 10 second barrels on your own and the apple tree is 2ft onshore?!

 

 

The original question was about why didn't I think there was any money in Scottish surfing. That poses the financial hub as the tree and the recognition and money as the fruit. You can apply that thinking in different ways, I wasn't looking for either so my fruit was simply to go surfing in some good waves. It was a pretty simple formula, find some good waves, settle down and build a life around that. I didn't see the need to spend loads of time and money chasing a dream that I could live daily.

 

 

You are involved with the Scottish Surf Federation (SSF), is there anything that the surfing world could help you out with? Equipment? Advice? Do you really want surfing to grow in your area? 

 

 

I used to be involved with the SSF but I stood down due to workload against home family time. This being said I still try to help out where I can. Do I really want surfing to grow in my area? What I've found is that I don't have a choice whether surfing grows or not, it will. No matter how hard you try to run away from it it's getting bigger all the time. That was one of the reasons the SSF went into hibernation, fear of more people starting to surf. There are already enough people surfing, well that didn't slow anything down it just took away the structure! 

 

The SSF is there to support the local clubs and to represent surfers on a formal level, whether it's something that needs to be pushed back on a national level or to represent local clubs with environmental energy companies.

 

 

There are stories of the early days of surfing in Scotland about woolen jumpers and cling film. What’s the secret to sub zero surfing? 

 

Personally I don't see that there is a 'secret' to cold water surfing, it's just surfing. I guess if you grew up surfing somewhere with warm water where you could spend all day playing in the ocean. When we were kids we used to go swimming at the beach, it was pretty cold until you went numb then you were 'ok' for a while... Not too long though! I got a wetsuit for my 13th birthday so I could go swimming in the harbour for longer. The first thing I did was to run a freezing cold bath to test it out, that didn't go quite to plan, I never realised water actually came inside the suit! 

 

So that's it, I don't know if you would say that we were born with it or just grew up dealing with the cold. Either way that is just part of the deal if you surf here, it's either windy, rainy, frost, snow or hail sometimes all of these in one session. The guys at Lunasurf and Finisterre make some of the best kit available so to have them support me makes things a little easier.

 

It seems that you are happy, and over the years are turning into a very wise father and grandfather of Scottish surfing, has this come from having children, or has the ocean taught you heavy lessons? How ws it when you first moved north? How were you received by the local community? Now you have a family and seem like a very happy human do you push your kids to surf? 

 

I think it's the changes that have happened and how they have impacted on me that have led me to where I am just now. When I was younger all I wanted to do was go surfing we would sit down the beach all summer long hoping for there to be waves, waiting for every tide, maybe when the tide comes in, maybe when the tide drops. Day after day, week after week, twelve weeks was the longest I waited.

 

Now I have so much more to do with my time that although I'm waiting and watching every day it doesn't seem to consume me the same, probably makes for a more balanced lifestyle.

 

There have been so many changes since I have moved north, the first year I stayed in a backpacker hostel in town. I used to get changed into my suit and run through town to surf and back again; I had quite a few funny looks! But it was nice, before I moved away all of my friends were surfers so that's pretty much all we spoke about. When I first moved away you could go to the pub and have a normal conversation with people not all revolving around surfing or waves, it was pretty refreshing.

 

Again the first year I moved here one month I surfed for more than half of the days, every day was offshore, it was never smaller than head high and every day I was alone. Now there is a core of guys who surf here on every swell. With forecasting getting better and better there are a lot more travellers arriving, some come for a swell or some stay for a bit longer to get a real taste of it. It was hard for me to start off with having so many people around all of the time but once you get your head around it I think you end up in a better place. I don't think I have been alone, but really can't talk for other guys.

 

 

I wouldn't say grandfather; there is still a few guys like Iain Masson (seven time Scottish Champion, and still last year made the finals) a generation or two older than me who visit regularly. I still look up to these guys, seeing how life has changed for them but when they visit they are simply stoked to be here surfing, it's a big inspiration seeing these guys maybe not going as hard but still pushing boundaries. 

 

I guess that's one of the biggest changes for me having a family and working away from home, surfing’s almost booked. There are times where I have maybe missed a swell or two and I get an hour or two when it's chest high and onshore or the tides wrong, I'm so stoked to get out in the water where as before when I had more time I was a lot more fussy. I love spending time with my kids playing at what they want to do and yes, if either of them wanted to go surfing I'd be so stoked to watch them. It's not something I push with them though; I want them to go surfing because they want to not because they want to make me happy.