It’s been compared to the monstrous big waves of the Pacific. But for Conor Maguire, an Irish surfer, who has claimed what may be his country’s largest ever swell, it was almost on his doorstep at Mullaghmore in County Sligo.
The biggest question for Maguire was not whether he wanted to try it, but whether it was socially acceptable to go out in the midst of a national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the end, having asked the permission of the local council and in coordination with the RNLI, it was deemed appropriate for Maguire and his support team – including five jetskis for safety.
Surfers in Ireland and Portugal, which both produce gigantic waves, had been watching the storm swell from Hurricane Epsilon, which they realised would push massive waves towards the Atlantic coast and the small number of places in Europe where waves over 18 metres (60ft) can form.
“Originally when I saw the swell on the charts, I was like: ‘Oh fuck, of course it would happen during lockdown,’” Maguire told the surfing website Magic Seaweed of his potentially record breaking wave.
“So typical. My main concern was not to offend anyone or put pressure on the hospital system or anything like that.
“We contacted Sligo county council and got permission to surf, spoke to the coastguard. We had four skis and a paramedic on hand; two spotters on the cliff. We couldn’t have been any more safe, and [it was] the perfect time to take a good crack at it.
“The original idea was just to have respect for the locals and not to offend anyone. My friends are based in the area and we spoke to a lot of the locals before and they were buzzing people were out there. And the headland was like an amphitheatre; there were cars all the way around. Everyone was in their cars, adhering to Covid protocols, as were we. In the harbour, with the safety briefing, we had masks on and all that stuff. It was pretty professional.”
The area, which generally produces waves of 6-9 metres (20-30ft) in height, was hit by a rare coincidence of conditions: the swell from the hurricane on top of a mid-Atlantic depression which produced waves breaking almost a mile out and touching, perhaps, 18 metres in height.
“You could see it the whole way coming in. In the middle of the bay [Maguire’s jetski tow-in driver] was like: ‘Uhhh, okaaaaay,’ and I thought: ‘Oh fuck.’ Then he just picked me up, did a loop and slung me in like a big pendulum … When I was dropping down, it kind of felt like I was dropping 30 or 40 seconds, I was going and going.
“The wave itself, it was smooth, man. I felt like butter or something. It was pretty easy … I just kind of stood there [laughs]. But it ended up catching up with me in the end.”