Exciting times at iSurfIreland
It has been an exciting month at iSurfIreland with our very own Seamus ‘Shambles’ Mc Goldrick being invited to a big pro contest in Hawaii ahead of the opening of the 2017 tourist season. In this blog, Shambles gives an account of his trip to the Mecca of surfing on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii and gives you an insight into what it is like to represent Ireland at the highest level.
” Since I started bodyboarding at twelve years old in Strandhill I have always wanted to go to Hawaii and surf Pipeline. Last February, I got a chance to do exactly that when I received an invitation to compete at the Mike Stewart Pipeline Invitational. Mike Stewart is a living Hawaiian legend, a nine-time world bodyboard champion and founder of Science bodyboards. Watching videos of Mike ripping it up in Hawaii at Pipeline is what inspired me and my friends to get into the sport in the first place all those years ago.
In 2011, after gaining some international publicity, I produced my first professional bodyboard video ‘Shambles: a day in the life, and subsequently got in touch with Mike Stewart and his UK distributor, Matt Daniels, who to decided to take me on board. I have been happy riding with the Science Bodyboard’s team ever since.
I never thought when I started bodyboarding I would ever be sponsored by Mike Stewart never mind get to meet the guy but that is exactly what happened when Mike came to visit me and fellow Science teammate Shane Meehan in Ireland in late 2011. As my bodyboard career was going from strength to strength I decided it was the perfect time to set up my own surf business with Eddie Moran in Strandhill. Teaming up with Science helped me build my bodyboarding career and iSurfIreland gave me the opportunity to begin coaching members of the public, sharing my knowledge and spreading the message of water safety and ocean conservation so we have safer and healthier beaches.
In February 2016, national champion and Science teammate Shane Meehan got invited to the first ever Mike Stewart Pipeline invitational in Hawaii, which was a massive achievement for an Irish bodyboarder. Then, in March 2016, I had a near career-ending wipeout at one of my favourite surf spots, Riley’s, in County Clare. Thanks to the quick thinking of my friends on the day I was safely transported to Limerick hospital after a brave rescue by the coastguard rescue helicopter and treated for a fractured femur. My incident even featured in an episode of Stop, Search and Seizure on Sky Living!
The support of my friends and family was indispensable and Eddie kept iSurfIreland running smoothly in Strandhill so, after six months of rest and physiotherapy, I eventually returned to the water in Strandhill and gradually became more able to start coaching surfing again and even catch a few small waves. Fast forward to January 2017 and world champion bodyboarder Pierre Louis Costes came to Ireland to surf Riley’s and I decided that it was as good a time as any to return to the place where I had been so badly injured the year before. My mate Fionn Rogers even posted this short video from that session. It was an amazing couple of days and it felt great to overcome my injury by returning to Riley’s.
The next time another one of my favourite waves called Mullaghmore broke I felt confident enough to go surf it – and catch one or two nice waves – although it had been more than twelve months since I last surfed the place. Soon after that, I got the email every bodyboarder dreams of getting. I received an invite to the Mike Stewart Pipeline Invitational – the world’s most prestigious bodyboard event – being held on Oahu, Hawaii from February 25 – March 10.
On the back of returning to Rileys and Mullaghmore I knew I was ready to go and compete at Pipeline. I knew the trip would require me to do some fundraising but talking with my sister I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I organised a successful music night in the Dunes Bar with special guests Rory O Dowd, Ian Borderly and Emma Burke. The community of Strandhill has always supported the local surfers when they attended international competitions, but I still was pleasantly surprised with the great turn out on the night. The fundraiser was a great start but the trip only became a reality when four amazing sponsors agreed help with travel expenses: Magicseaweed – the leading surf forecasting website – and Go Strandhill, Mammy Johnston’s and NOC Carpentry – all from Sligo. My dream of competing in Hawaii would not have happened without this support, so I would like to thank everyone in Ireland and abroad who contributed and especially Sinead Mc Goldrick, Peter Mc Corry, Ed Temperley, Neil Byrne, Neil O Connell, Daniel Mc Garrigle, Neil Walton and Jane Chambers plus David O Hara for their assistance.
It all happened very fast. Once I knew I had got an entry into the event I had ten days to fundraise, secure sponsors, do the media, book flights and sort accommodation. I don’t think I have ever had a busier ten days in my life, but in hindsight, it would have been very silly not to accept this invitation to surf in Hawaii and go represent Ireland for a second consecutive year at the big contest at Pipeline. The support I received was nothing short of amazing. It was all so exciting and after tying up the last loose ends, I packed got my boards, threw some t-shirts in a bag and headed with my dad to Dublin airport. I took a camera with me to keep a video blog.
I arrived in Honolulu Airport on Oahu more than twenty-four hours later. I got my bags and rental car and met up with Cornishman and fellow Pipeline invitee Dan Skajarowski, a good friend from County Clare. As it was very late, we headed straight for the north shore and slept in the car at Waimea car park for a few hours, got up at dawn, had a quick coffee and headed straight for Ehukai Beach park at Pipeline beach. We were both super excited because the forecast was for good surf for the next few days. There is certainly a special energy at Pipeline and it was all pretty surreal as we checked the waves and prepared our equipment to go for our first surf. There were about fifty of the world’s best bodyboarders and surfers already in the line up catching any good wave that came through. I spotted the man himself – Mike Stewart – and paddled over to say hello. Mike immediately began sharing his in-depth knowledge about Pipeline and told me the best places to sit and what waves I should try and catch. A little while later the Hawaiian water patrol arrived on jetskis and told everyone to leave the area as the contest was about to start.
Dan and I made a little camp on the beach and waited for our first heats. I sat and watched the heats before mine very carefully in order to study the conditions. The Pipeline contest was composed of back to back heats that lasted twenty minutes. In the four-man heats, the top two progressed to the next round and the bottom two are eliminated. You can catch up to ten waves in your heat but only your two highest scoring waves are counted. Each wave is marked out of ten with low scores awarded for an incomplete rides or wipeouts and a perfect ten being given for a successfully completed wave that the judges felt couldn’t have been surfed any better. The judging criteria is based on the speed, power and flow of the manoeuvres performed on the wave.
In my heat there was a young up and coming bodyboarder from California and two well-established competitors from Austraila and the Canary Islands. I knew it would be a tough heat and the pressure was on. It had always been my dream to compete at Pipe and now that it was minutes away from happening I was trying to stay still and calm and simply focus on the present moment. Me and the other competitors paddled out and shook hands in the channel and wished each other well. The camaraderie and good sportsmanship on display made me proud to be a bodyboarder.
When the hooter sounded and the heat got underway, I found two waves with scoring potential but each wave ended in a wipeout. Eventually, I found a nice set wave that offered up a nice barrel followed by an airbowl for an invert air. With a combination of a scoring tube ride and an aerial manoeuver I knew I was in a strong position. I backed up my high score with a quick barrel on an inside wave with a few minutes to go, but it wasn’t until I was walking back up the beach and the announcer gave my name in second that I knew I had done enough to progress to round three. It had not been an easy heat but I was over the moon I made it through. Dan surfed brilliantly in his first heat and came in first place making it through to round three in style.
In my round three heat, I was up against three local Hawaiians. I wished the Hawaiian guys the best of luck as we got in the water and the guys were very respectful although fierce competitors. Conditions weren’t as great as my previous heat but I did manage to secure a good wave with two solid man0euvers on it. I knew if I got a second solid score I would have a good chance of progressing to round four but it wasn’t to be. As the last five minutes ticked down I was in third position and no waves were on the horizon. It was a sinking feeling but in the end it was down to mother nature. The buzzer went without me catching another scoring ride and I knew my Pipe dream was over. As I sat on the sand analysing my loss, I decided I would do everything I could to return to Pipeline next year and do better. I believe I still did well for someone who had broken their femur less than a year ago, but I also knew I could do better and go further in the competition.
Dan also came third in his round three heat and while we were both happy with our round two performances we each wondered at the what ifs. You can see the highlights of day one of the competition
You can see the highlights of day one of the competition here.
Dan and I went and surfed at Pipeline again as the sun was setting. Afterwards, as I sat on the sand enjoying my first Hawaiian sunset I remarked on what a special and memorable day it had been.
The next day, myself and Dan arrived to the beach to watch the finals of the drop knee and women’s bodyboard divisions. You can watch the highlights of the second day of competition here. It was an intense and entertaining day of competition. The conditions for the drop knee final were epic and many people on the beach were calling it the greatest drop knee final in history. After this, the waves went flat for a few days so Dan and I took off to explore the rest of the island. When the surf came back up, we had the unforgettable experience of watching the final day of the event at Pipeline live from the beach. The contest went off in epic conditions. We saw some amazing heats and an unforgettable ten point ride by current world number on Pierre Louis Costes from France. I even got the chance to do the commentary for the finals with Mike for Facebook Live on Science bodyboards. In the finals, Jeff Hubbard from Kauai managed to beat fierce competition from Iain Campbell from South Africa, Alex Uranga from the Basque Country and Ben Player from Australia to become the new Pipe champion for 2017.
It was an amazing day, not just for ourselves but for the entire global bodyboard community. Dan and I spent the rest of our stay getting up at five am to try and get to surf Pipe before the crowds. On the north shore, there are loads of great places to eat and everyone seems to be into surfing and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. The people are super friendly and everyone, not just the surfers, are keen to show you the meaning of Hawaiian Ahola, a word with many meanings, but to us it meant hospitality. Before I knew it, I had to drop Dan to Honolulu Airport so he could begin his long journey back to Ireland. I was sorry to see him go but I knew he was busy with getting his surf school, The Green Room in Lahinch ready for the season ahead. Come to think of it, I only had two days left in Hawaii myself.
Usually on a surf trip when one of your mates leaves to go home early that is when the best surf of the trip arrives and, unfortunately for Dan, that is exactly what happened. I arrived to Pipeline on my last day to be greeted by an eight to ten foot north-west swell. It was my last day in Hawaii so I was going to make the most of it. I surfed Pipe three times that day and I only managed to get whiplash from a severe wipeout once, so I was pretty happy with that. As all good things come to an end, I had to say good by to Hawaii and my beloved north shore for now and promise her I would return again some day. It was a crazy trip so thanks to all my supporters and all the amazing people I met in Hawaii, and thanks in particular to Mike Stewart for the inspiration and the opportunity to come to Hawaii.
Leaving wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed getting back to Strandhill for our weekend surf sessions with our regular winter surfers. The day after I arrived back it was Eddie’s birthday, then we had great craic taking part in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Sligo Town. I was surprised and delighted when one of my waves at Mullaghmore was given an entry into the Nomad Bodyboards Big Wave award, again being the only Irish man in the competition. Check out my entry here.
Most recently we attended a screening of the award winning environmental documentary ‘Atlantic’ in The Model Sligo in association with County Sligo Surf Club plus the fantastic Rennafix-Zero Gravity Skate-a-thon fundraiser. But I will still miss Hawaii and wish to go back there next year.”
If all this talk of Hawaii and bodyboarding has left you motivated to give it a go and get in touch. iSurfIreland are the only surf school in the country offering regular bodyboard lessons from professional coaches and instructors using top brand equipment. It may not be Hawaii, but Sligo is certainly a bodyboarder’s paradise. Until next time.
Slan and Mahalo.