Lives gladly spent chasing moments of transcendence
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Cliffs Of Insanity:A Winter on Ireland’s Big Waves
By Simon Lewis
Transworld Ireland, £14.99
Review: Simon Lewis
For those of us whose surfing experience begins and ends with the purchase of a trendy t-shirt at one of the numerous high street clothing emporia to have successfully exploited the board culture so vividly portrayed in Duggan’s chronicle, the thought that it should be played out on Irish shores is at odds with our perceptions.
When we think of west coast surf we imagine the glamour of California, and bronzed bodies effortlessly riding waves to a Beach Boys soundtrack. Not for us land-loving posers the freezing waters and life-threatening rocks of Clare and Donegal.
Even for those a little more curious about surfing, the nearest most get to the experience is by watching a few short clips on YouTube, but in Cliffs of Insanity Duggan gives a voice to those often blurred and faceless images whose personalities are as hidden in those videos as the dangerous rocks and coral that linger beneath the surface.
Centring on the life of a young Mayo surfer named Fergal Smith, whose talents are quickly earning him world renown, Duggan traces a winter on the desolate and beautiful shores of the Irish coast, where a small band of dedicated surfers from this country and beyond pursue some of the Atlantic’s biggest waves.
This is a life of bitterly cold days, hours spent drifting in freezing water in the hope of catching a heavy wave and the sometimes dire consequences of poor decision-making when a choice made in the blink of an eye can land you with broken bones and near drownings.
The names Aileen’s and Riley’s suggests pubs to most folk, but to Smith and his fellow travellers they speak of two of the wildest waves on Ireland’s west coast and the few seconds of exhilaration they offer to those who can ride them balanced precariously on a surfboard.
Through his excellently drawn observations and the words of the surfers he interviews, Duggan brings those moments crashing home to the reader, both the rewards of successfully conquering Aileen’s under the awe-inspiring shadow of the Cliffs of Moher and either the pain or fright, or both, when a miscalculation is made.
Duggan allows his collection of surfers to explain the elemental pull.
“Sometimes surfing can seem like the most frivolous pursuit in the world,” Duggan writes at the start of a chapter. “It is, after all, about nothing more than chasing an intensely personal wish for escapism, about spending hour after hour in the water for a few seconds of transcendent experience.”
Yet to these guys, whose number includes Mickey Smith, a Cornish man whose brilliant pictures feature on the cover and within this book, surfing is, as one of them puts it, “all about the addiction of chasing the next big wave and hopefully it will be better than the last one.”
There are contradictions, however, as the lads at the centre of Duggan’s book readily understand. The waters are getting more crowded as a new generation of Irish surfers emerges, their fascination for Aileen’s and Riley’s bred watching the likes of Fergal Smith, filmed by his namesake Mickey Smith courtesy of his sponsors, on YouTube.
Ironically, that burgeoning appeal for surfing will scarcely abate if the quality of Duggan’s book is properly recognised.
IF you're not a big fan of fantasy and despair at all the wizards and dragons on TV, on film and in books, then you should blame John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Or, go back 1,000 years and blame the unknown author of Beowulf, with its monsters and kings. Or, go back another two millennia and blame Homer's epic tales of gods and heroes.
IRFU chiefs fear any boycott of the Heineken Cup or a similar European competition by English and/or French clubs could result in a €12m hit and place the union and the four provinces in a perilous financial position.
THEATRICAL stalwart Catherine Mahon-Buckley has surely earned the title of Mammy of Cork pantomime season now that she is directing her 20th seasonal show for the Everyman. Mahon-Buckley is directing Jack and the Beanstalk for the theatre, and says that every five years, a new generation emerges.
SCIENCE and art don't always make the easiest bedfellows. However, when photographer Mick Mackey travelled to the sub-Antarctic island of Bird Island for a 30-month stint as a field biologist he was able to utilise his eye for detail to capture images that are not only technically proficient, but also vibrant, occasionally quirky and highly evocative.
The grandmother of a toddler with Down's syndrome has been waiting a year for a response from the Taoiseach and three government ministers to correspondence about disability cuts referred to them on her behalf by the troika.