I got a phone call on Sunday night from my friend Peter in Co.Clare. ‘The Cliffs are on, you got to get down here!’ I had never even seen Aill na Searrach break, the infamous big wave break at the Cliffs of Moher. A crew of big wave surfers were over from Hawaii, the Malloy Brothers were flying in from California and local tow-in legends Richie Fitz, Gabe Davies and John McCarthy had all seen the chart and were planning a tow-in session on Tuesday.I’d seen the chart too, I had to catch up with work at college but its not every day you get the opportunity to see Aill na Searrach break, Ireland’s version of Jaws?! It didn’t take me long to pack up my van and head south.
The night before I felt so excited. The plan was that I’d go out on one of the jetskis and have a look at the wave up close and personal, maybe get a feel for it…I met up with Keith and Chris Malloy in Doolin, they were frothing too and said it could be the perfect opportunity for me to tow-in with some of the best in the world. I could be the first woman to surf it, make history! I hadn’t even thought of it like that… All I had were the stories and images in my head of this beautifully dangerous and powerful wave that made it all feel even more mysterious. I just went out there soaking up the energy in the ocean with an open mind and no expectations.
It’s such an unbelievable set up. The highest cliffs in Ireland rising vertically out of the ocean and dark shapes moving in from the horizon, hitting a ledge in the reef and pitching all of a sudden, detonating at the bottom of the cliffs. Just sitting in the water watching it all is thrilling. It was mind-blowing watching and learning from the masters of tow-in, setting themselves up so deep in the barrel, 15-20ft faces. I’d never towed in before. I didn’t have any of my own equipment. … After about 3 hours it was starting to get dark and I was getting really cold. I was about to give up on the possibility of catching a wave, when my friend Dylan from New York managed to hijack a jetski, borrow a tow-board and called me into the water! I was frozen but I thought, what the hell, I’ll never know the feeling if I don’t go, right?! The straps on the tow board were too wide, I was stiff from the cold and was wearing Chris Malloy’s life jacket which was miles too big for me. Ready to rock! (Chris later admitted that he wanted to tow me in but he was too freaked out that he might come all the way to Ireland and end up killing me!)
I put my faith in my driver, the cliffs and the ocean and said to myself everything will be cool as long as I don’t fall. All I have to do is let go. The first wave we towed into I didn’t know when to let go, Dylan kept looking back shouting ‘let go’ but I couldn’t hear him, I just thought there was no way I was letting go too soon and stopping dead at the top of the wave. When I finally let go it was amazing, it feels totally different to paddling in. Its like a different sport. I had survived my first attempt, caught my first wave and warmed up, I wanted more. It was so addictive I wanted bigger and deeper. This time we waited till a good set was coming and Dylan whipped me into the first one. It felt completely surreal, the sensation of the wave growing behind me as I dropped down the face and the cliffs looming up in front of me seeming to grow larger. And the speed, what a buzz to have so much speed. I felt totally vulnerable and invinceable all at once! I rode the wave all the way in and that was it, I was hooked. I’d never felt such stoke, a pure adrenaline rush, my blood was on fire, I didn’t feel the cold anymore and my legs were jelly. I had no idea how big the wave was until I saw the photos later, I couldn’t believe it! It was the biggest ride of my life. I wanted to go back out and catch an even bigger and better one, I felt I was just getting the feel for it, but it was getting too dark and the jetski was low on fuel so we called it a day. And what a day.
I’d made History, the first woman to ride Aill na Searrach, my first time ever to tow-in… Now I need a jetski to fuel my new-found addiction! I have discovered a new passion in life and I’m determined to pursue it, learn as much as I can, train, get the equipment and get back out there. This is only the beginning.