We are still locked down and Claremorris hasn’t drifted any further towards the sea, so I’m still reminiscing on pre-Level 5 surfing days. The sunny respite today from this strange series of storms reminds me of one of my last day’s out, and yet despite the fine weather, it wasn’t the best day for surfing. So it goes with these things, the worst days for the everyday are often the best days for more alternative pursuits, and vice versa.
It was to Enniscrone, my last trip over county borders before the arbitrary boundaries withdrew but before the full-on suffocation of Level 5 kilometres. A beautiful day infused with autumn’s freshness, though not the best surf forecast. But sure a day at the beach is a day at the beach. My brother and I thought it might blow off the cobwebs from the night before, if nothing else. We met up with a friend whose experienced guidance on when to go is more useful to me at this stage of my career than a weather or surf forecast, the ways and nuances of which I haven’t mastered yet.
Despite the mediocre-looking conditions, we’d a promising start, we paddling out the back of the waves from the pier side of the beach. There’s a personal foreboding when my arms are tired not long after we head out in the first place, and it gets a lot harder after we all catch a wave, with varying levels of success. There were a few other lads out giving it a go as well and we all faced the same fate, endlessly paddling out into nothing, the waves breaking and battering us over the head.
Tou keep telling yourself you’re getting there, that it’ll just take a bit longer and bit more endurance than normal, until you look around and you’ve been going nowhere for ten minutes, and you put your feet down and you’re in shallower water than you were at the start. Heart-breaking stuff.
All the while being submerged in ever murkier waters, seaweed clinging to you, sandy water sticking to you, being baptised in foamy sediment. It feels like I spend more time with head submerged in wash than above the water, an endless cycle of diving underwater, shaking my head off like a young pup, holding my breath before dunking myself again and accepting the cold rush of ocean all over my head and into my ears. And then paddling again, against hope.
You kind of love it as well though.
After over an hour in the water, we admit defeat, few waves got and what were there weren’t great in any case. But it’s not all about the good waves. You can console yourself with that at least on hungry drives home. It’s not just scrambling for sheepish excuses, it’s just a part of doing it.
Regardless of conditions or personal performance, there was much to be savoured on the drive home. Not just desperate to rationalise what might on paper be a poor day at the office, as we know that there’s more to it than having every day go swimmingly. I felt great, physically, as you would having spent over an hour paddling steadily in the ocean, lying on a board under the bare sun, drenched and soaked in a fresh, pure, salty bath. Fresh air in the sky and nothing else only the misty haze of the sun. An incredible expanse of beach laid out for miles on end into the distance, and the beautiful view across Killala Bay, the raw beauty of the Atlantic Ocean washing over our heads.
We know we’ve had a good day, even if there was nothing remarkable about the surfing. My brother admits that sometimes his favourite part is getting battered. I don’t disagree. I had a load more written about all the intangible reasons why surfing is so good for the soul but I’ve taken them all back. They’re not for this article. The batterings need no greater rationalisation.
There’s a beautiful stretch of road on the N17 between Kilkelly and Knock, or maybe it’s between Knock and Claremorris, where a gap in the wide road opens up and you can see far down the plains of south Mayo and north Galway. It’s one that’s only come to my attention recently, and the small wonder it fills me with, a swirl of green patches of trees, fields, hedgerows, houses and the road, none of which would be too remarkable by themselves. Otherwise, it’s not my favourite stretch of road for reasons I’m still yet to fathom.
Nearing home and the sun continues to shine. We are exhausted but we are revitalised. You’re only as good as your last wave, and for today at least, we are worse than useless. This is just our latest baptism. We don’t care about next time and better days. This’ll do.