Harty sings the praises of the storm chasing shenanigans in Donegal.
“I fancy a go at that Storm Chase,” said Dave (not his real name because I know he’ll be offended by this). “It looks like just my sort of conditions.” Dave, a gram or two short of 105 kg, was never going to be in line for an Olympic trial or the freestyle circuit. Pumping is for losers, as is turning round or doing anything but hunkering down against a good blow. He’s good at that. To not be the last man standing when the gales sweep in would be an indelible stain on his manhood.
He’d been watching the action from Donegal. Yeah these top Johnnies can do a bit of that twisty spinny stuff, but when it comes to handling a bit of power, he was a match for anyone.
As images starting appearing from the event, most of the windy world stood back in awe and granted the 8 gladiators demi-god status. This was so good for windsurfing. It was like Wimbledon. Inspired by the artistry of Federer vs Nadal, you fall back in love with the game, head down to the public courts, and for 10 minutes play out of your skin.
Storm Gareth was such an expansive chap that it was windy pretty much everywhere across the British Isles; so everyone with a half a mind on the prize, could chase their own storm. Spurred on by the glorious super slow mo 4k footage, they could dare to think that yes … with a different path in life, a house by the beach, a little more time to practice … they too could have sipped from the Red Bull cup.
Dave too had been out in Gareth, although 500 miles away off the UK’s south coast. He was rightly proud of his foray. There were gusts of 40-45 knots. That’s proper breezy. A 3.7 was a bit big and with 8° air and water temperature, decidedly wintery. But in truth what the south coast received was a passing visit from Gareth’s younger and far less butch cousin.
Take what we got and double it – actually treble it for Donegal. They say the camera can’t lie. Oh it can – it can be darn right deceitful. Film doesn’t come near to capturing the true strength of the wind nor the sheer brutality of the environment – just how dangerous and incredibly difficult it was – and how cold. When someone says they’ve surfed Jaws, well done; but if they’ve surfed offshore, shark infested, icy Mavericks in N. California, extra super well done. Freezing water doubles the scare factor, saps energy and renders extremities numb and useless.
North Donegal, as it is wont to do, copped the storm full on. When low pressure winds get much above 50 knots, very weird things can start to happen – and they were getting gusts of 70. A westerly wind at Magheroarty has blown across the mountains. Great lumps of air drop out of the sky, ricochet across the water, smacking you like machine gun fire (especially if hail is involved) getting under the board, blowing you out of the water and then deserting you completely. The weirdest sight and one that wouldn’t be music to big Dave’s ears, is how often they found themselves off the plane using 3.2s. And being under-powered on tiny kit amidst 30 foot bombs is even more exhausting and scary than being over-powered. When you’re forced to use a 3.2, in such conditions, comfort isn’t something you even contemplate. “Wild and out of control! Yup that’s a 3.0!” said Robby Swift.
Standards of everything keep soaring. It’s so hard to be extreme these days – but believe me, this was extreme. On the Sunday at home I was out in ‘Gareth-ette’ doing a Dave and imagining myself in a heat. I left the beach. After making it through 3 foam barrages unhooked, my forearms were already pumped and my grip less forceful than a toddler’s when I flew off the next one and got more air than anticipated. Coming down in one piece would be a victory let alone contemplating a double forward – and this was in 30 knots less than the Storm Chasers. The challenge for them was like making it to the top of Everest; whoopee – but then someone telling them they now have to complete an iron man triathlon. The level of fitness and skill demanded was off the scale. I had eyes on the beach on the Tuesday. My Donegal buddy Gerard was there and told me it wasn’t actually that good. Not the sailors – the conditions. The famous reef was out of control and ‘unsailable’ in the afternoon as the tide dropped and swell increased, so they moved to the beach break. I love the Mags beach break, but it can be very random. With the crazy wind, it was even more so with waves washing everywhere, mixing with swell and forming huge close out sections. Big Dave would not have got off the beach – and if he did, he’d have wished he hadn’t. All I can do is add my cheers to Jaeger and the boys for pushing the bar up yet again.
On a personal note, I wasn’t initially that joyful when I heard Magheroarty had been chosen for the event. It’s my beach. Obviously it’s not. Even though my Northern Irish mum took me on holiday there when I was a brat; and even though I’ve been running courses there since 1989, I have absolutely no rights over it at all. But that couldn’t prevent a pang of protective jealousy. It was a ‘I knew them before they were famous’ moment like when I saw the band Genesis in a pub in Guildford in 1972. I also thought, this is where I run ‘introduction to waves’ courses – what a PR disaster! Or maybe not … depending on whether you like a challenge. Dave, are you up for it?
Peter Hart – Originally published in the May edition of Windsurf