The Broadcast / Family Frontiers: An Irish Road Trip

Family Frontiers: An Irish Road Trip

Cramming the family into an old van, Ambassador Sally McGee set off to explore Ireland's ancient landscape; connecting with fellow Finisterre ambassadors who are balancing raising kids with the all-consuming passion of a surfing lifestyle.


5 min read

Words by Sally McGee

Photography by Tom Bing

Last year we bought an old van off a retiring electrician from Middlesbrough. It’s maybe the smallest van you can get that still has three seats in the front – perfect for our family. It’s a simple way to travel; being so small, it’s not the easiest but it’s cozy and always feels like an adventure.

Through the eyes of a five-year-old, everything is totally new. And, in the same way, everything is the same. Ireland could be Indonesia. Every corner we turn, every green field, limestone reef, or fire-warmed pub is a new memory, a new experience, forming who he is and forming who we are. Every person we meet and connect with is a new friend. And that feeling is contagious. Our son helps us see the world through his eyes, and not take anything for granted.

We are always carefully treading the line between a family holiday and a full-on surf trip. We’re still constantly refreshing the forecast, checking spots in the rain, pulling on cold, wet wetsuits and heading out to experience new places – but then we might be hitting the swimming baths or skipping that onshore grovel session for a museum or park too. This trip felt like more of a reccy; a chance to travel at a slightly different pace from usual, covering more ground and getting the lay of the land. Building connections with land, sea and people.

The ability to tap into Finisterre’s involvement in Irish surfing culture was a privilege we didn’t take for granted. The van was there to sleep in, and we did use it, but when that rain came, our wetsuits and jackets all wet, a six by five by three-foot space gets hard quickly. So we took up some fellow Finisterre Ambassadors on their offers of a warm, dry bed.

We are always so grateful for the hospitality shown to us and we actively want to give it back; for the friends we’ve made along the way, they too have a home in the North East of England like we had in Ireland. Watching the sunset from Easkey Britton’s cabin overlooking the sea and hearing the rain on the roof as we sip tea and read books after a memorable day surfing is an incredible privilege. Following Matt Smith up a winding mud track in the sunset, Conrad and Rose the dogs racing us up to the cabin, is a night worth remembering. Sipping wine by the fire under candle and moonlight is restorative in a way that any parent knows is needed.

We always wonder what the teachers imagine our son’s life to be like when he is not at school. Do they picture him cooking outdoors wrapped up after a surf? Or feeling secure sleeping in a different place most nights. Having to manage and conserve water use for days at a time, building fires for warmth. Developing a passion for reading and telling stories through experimenting with writing outside of the classroom. Painting, drawing, creating in place of screen time, finding confidence to connect with adults and kids alike. Watching the best barrel riders in the world clocking up seven seconds of tube time at world famous surf spots. To be a part of something so special as surfing, and all it gives him, feels hard to describe.

Traveling with a child certainly isn’t always easy, it would be dishonest to pretend that it is. There are needs and wants we have as surfers that aren’t necessarily in line with the needs and wants of a child.

It’s a lonely experience to always paddle out solo. The days of having a surf buddy to discover spots and share experiences with are currently on hold. Now we catch glimpses of each other surfing and head out alone mostly. It’s difficult to have to miss a session because you promised your son a surf at a sheltered beach break, but perspective is always needed. Investing time in our family means that we are nearly six years into parenthood and still doing this every chance we get. One day soon it might be all three of us paddling out together and sharing in that joy.

Surfing is a part of our family, and spending time with friends here who are also raising kids felt like a special connection. It was great to strike down to County Clare and catch some waves with Matt; drink cups of tea and watch the kids play while we span yarns of Pacific coast memories. We also got some lovely time out of the water with Easkey, but our windows in the water looked like they weren’t going to align. I was really excited by the thought of sharing a session with her and was happy to cross on the reef a couple of times and see that infectious post surf smile.

Being a Mum and a surfer is a journey we are both navigating and sometimes those surfs have to be grabbed when the opportunity arises. On the way back to the ferry things somehow aligned; one last pulse of swell and a favorable window of wind made for a memorable session together. We shared a moment in the dusk: perfect tide, no wind, beautiful light and a pulse of Atlantic swell that felt exactly like what we came to Ireland to find. That shared experience solidified a connection that we can’t wait to build on.

This trip was a bit of everything. Cold and wet, warm and cozy. Abundance and scarcity. Scarily intimidating to fun and playful. As always, the hardest bit was getting the key into the ignition and getting on the road… and, as always, the rest followed.


Share on Facebook Share on Twitter