A young Irishman nominated for the world’s top big wave surfer award is struggling to pull together enough cash to attend the prestigious ceremony.
Ollie O’Flaherty, 24, from Lahinch, Co Clare, has been shortlisted for the celebrated Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards held in Los Angeles next month.
The science graduate is among just five surfers from around the globe in the running for the top prize after riding a massive 50ft swell off Mullaghmore Head in Co Sligo just weeks ago.
“It’s pretty amazing, yeah – it’s a massive honour to be able to represent Ireland,” he said.
But O’Flaherty, who barely funds his extreme surfing by giving lessons, said he was trying desperately to get sponsorship to cover flights and accommodation so he can fly the flag for Ireland at the awards ceremony.
“I’m pretty much on the breadline from what I’m doing,” he said.
The NUI Galway graduate, who has broken his leg, dislocated his ankle and torn ligaments in pursuit of his passion, also believes the award would help boost Ireland’s reputation as an international surf destination.
“This will help give us the respect we deserve,” he said
The big wave finalists saw off competition from more than 1,000 surfers in the running for the annual contest on May 4 which carries a US$15,000 (€11,246) prize.
O’Flaherty, who was taught to surf by his uncle Alan Coyne at the age of just four years, was a last minute entry after catching the huge breaker, which was recorded on film, on March 8.
UK surfer Andrew Cotton is also among the finalists for a wave he caught at Mullaghmore Head on the same day.
Describing the thrill, O’Flaherty said he left Lahinch at 5am to get to Co Sligo where he was towed into the extreme swell by a jet ski.
“A lot of things went through my mind before I let go of the rope to catch the wave,” he said.
“Then I just thought, I’ve put a lot of time and effort over the last year or two – hours of training and thinking about it – and the wave only lasts 20 seconds.
“So I just thought this has got to be worth letting go, so I did.”
O’Flaherty said he couldn’t put into words the feeling of catching the wave.
“It’s not just those 20 seconds, it’s the two weeks afterwards when you are just numb with a smile,” he said.
“It’s only now I can look back and go: ’did that even happen?’
“It’s a real personal thing, and that’s the adrenalin that I feed off. That will keep pushing me to go back more and more now.”
Asked what he would do with the prize money, he said: “I’d put every cent back into surfing – I’ve broken every one of my boards already this year – seven boards.
“So, I’m down to nothing.”