“We watch the swell lines marching down the coast,
the offshore wind sends sprays of water dancing off the back of each wave,
mounds of water moving into the bay.
Hoods pulled up,
hands stinging in the icy winds.
The sun warms our faces as the spray kisses our skin.”
~Hannah Stocks, excerpt.
Our only plan was to head up the North West coast of Ireland in search of empty waves and to test our new Finisterre women’s suits in the best conditions we could find. Three friends, one van, unknown paths soon to become well-trodden, foreign faces soon to become familiar.
With every great adventure comes the highs and the lows, the twists and the turns. A few miles in, excitement got the better of us and we accidentally refilled the van with diesel. Faced with the choice to either laugh or cry, we decided to laugh (at our own stupidity?) and took it as a sign to slow down and enjoy every moment.
The further north we ventured, the emptier and wilder the landscape became. In the darkness, howling winds, and pouring rain we set up our new home by the ocean. We slept elbow to elbow, knee to knee, tucked in like sardines under a pile of blankets.
All night the van shook in the wind; the cold creeping in, determined not to let us forget that it was winter. The next morning however dawned bright, revealing a beautiful deserted beach despite the lack of promised swell. Fire lit, coffee brewing, we took in our new surroundings. Determined to find a wave, we checked out different breaks; venturing down narrow, winding country roads, reversing into hedges and walking for miles along empty beaches. Eventually we ended back where we set up home the night before. The evening was crisp and still with a few small peelers rolling in; without hesitation, we jumped in the ocean and played around until the red sky faded.
The following day, the swell had still not arrived. After a morning on the wave hunt in the horizontal rain we decided to stay put. We found a spot and waited patiently for the tide to come in and the swell to hit, hopeful it would be before nightfall. Van bound, surf hungry, we told stories, played cards, laughed uncontrollably and drank copious amounts of tea. Dusk soon arrived but still no waves. Looking back, it is those moments in between that you come to treasure the most. That evening we heard that a spot south of us would be perfect in the morning, leaving us torn. Hedge our bets here or chase waves down the coast?
Whilst mulling it over in the local, sipping on hot whiskeys and listening to a few traditional Irish musicians singing ballads by heart, a lone voice sang ‘the faster you travel the less you see…’. We knew we were in the right place, whatever the swell brought for us the next morning. We were only just starting to unearth the hidden depths of this land and its waters. We couldn’t leave yet.
The dawn brought new swell; it wasn’t as good as we were expecting but we paddled out anyway, alone in the line-up, save for a curious seal. We looked out across the Sound, barren mountains looming in the distance, forests meeting the sea and illuminating the coast with their autumn glow. The spray of the offshore wind stung our faces and the first few submersions were mind numbing but after a while we forgot about the cold and our suits became our second skins.
Afterwards, it took a while to thaw out and we laughed at each other hopelessly trying to wriggle out of our suits. Our hands became futile and our feet felt as though we had left them out at sea. After warming up by a fire, we headed far north of the peninsula following the coast road carved out by deep sea inlets. The swell was peaking and a storm was rolling in across the Atlantic. We stood at the edge of the land breathing it all in, filling our lungs, humbled by nature’s untamed energy.
In Gaelic, 'to fill our senses with the world around us' is described as ‘aoibhneas’; in that moment, we were doing exactly that.
The north wind stinging our cheeks.
The smell of salt and kelp.
The cry of the gulls above.
The last of the sun’s rays catching the crest of the breaking waves.
The immense feeling of being present in that very moment and not wanting to be anywhere else.
On a trip like this, what happens along the way is what really counts. We didn’t get the waves we dreamt of, but we came home contented. Wind burnt faces, two rolls of film, and a certain feeling of aoibhneas.
~ Sophie Bradford
Film Ashley Beer | Music Samyel Dervish Dance