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With a monster low looming in the Atlantic, John Carter and Timo Mullen hatched a plan to try and catch one of the last winter storms as it roared into Ireland.

Words: John Carter, Timo Mullen // Photos: John Carter.

JC: “There are a few athletes and media crew in the surfing world that always seem to be in the right place at the right time. And as a windsurfer, with unlimited resources you could pretty much track every mega big wave forecast on the planet if you wanted. A few buttons clicked on a laptop and the world can be your oyster. Obviously though you need the motivation, the drive, the time and cash to follow swells and chase down those XXL sessions. Kai Katchadourian and Thomas Traversa are good examples of sailors who are often in the thick of the action when a headline-grabbing swell hits, using their experience and years of acquired knowledge to know when to hit the green light to score those sessions in Cape Verde, Jaws and other big wave locations.


The reality of doing that for nearly all of us is out of reach though, and we have to compromise on what spots we can choose from. Some locations are within our grasp, and some are probably just there for those that really want it. Jet-setting round the world is not feasible for most of us, but there are plenty of spots within striking distance in the UK. Closer to home, every winter I try and keep an eye on what’s going on in Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland. The trips to Ireland and Scotland are a bit more elusive due to the cost, but they are much more likely to deliver those truly epic days.

Timo Mullen has his Irish set-up quite dialled in and will most likely head to his native shores between ten or twenty times each season to sail his favourite breaks or track down big swells. I can’t go every time, but that’s the nature of the beast. Normally I get the call just before he is going as he is checking forecasts and travels options right until the last minute, to ensure he scores. Then, if I decide not to go, there is that fear of missing out which can torture you all the next day as you wonder what’s going down. The excitement of the chase is all part of the game when it comes to big wave missions and once you have booked a trip, then you really start to get more immersed in that particular forecast and what it might deliver.

So after missing out on several big storms over the winter, I finally decided to pull the trigger and join Timo on one of his Irish missions in early February. This forecast was being labelled a triple storm extravaganza and we were looking at the third storm in a run of Atlantic action that was set to send a large north-west swell towards Ireland. Timo sounded particularly bullish about the prospects of this forecast, claiming the fifteen feet swell with an eighteen second period was going to be very big and really clean at Magheroarty up in the north-west of Ireland. The storm was tracking its way from Nova Scotia up towards Iceland, then brushing past Ireland. We had heard that there were a few big wave surfers that had flown in for sessions at Mullaghmore in Ireland, so this swell was definitely credible. What caught my eye was the fact there was going to be plenty of wind and that it could potentially be very clean with the cross-offshore direction forecast.

Green light

As usual the day before was spent pondering whether to click the button or not on an EasyJet flight flying from Bristol to Belfast. Several times I had all my details filled in, with my finger hovering over the confirmation button, only to chicken out at the last moment and let the session expire. I was waiting for Timo’s last minute expert opinion to see if it was worth my while to go. Seven hours before the flight was due to depart, I finally clicked purchase after Timo had persuaded me that this could be one of the best sessions of the winter.


To make this trip happen, we were looking at arriving the night before, then spending one whole day in Ireland at the beach, then flying back that same evening. You definitely need to be highly motivated to travel over to Ireland just for one day’s sailing. After booking tickets we had to drive two hours up to Bristol, check in, jump on a one hour flight which landed into Belfast around 8:30 p.m., then a two and a half hour drive to the Óstán Loch Altan hotel, close to Magheroarty, so we would be at the spot when we woke up in the morning. By the time we had made it to the hotel way past midnight, I was frazzled and didn’t even order a pint of Guinness from the bar that was still open. At least we would be fresh for the morning and at the spot ready to roll. How Timo keeps up the enthusiasm to do this trip over and over again is beyond me, but his passion for windsurfing has always been relentless. Sometimes the only way he can do what he loves best is to jam everything into a day trip so he can be back in the UK for family and work. So if that is what it takes, he is prepared to go the extra mile to follow his passion.”


Timo Mullen: “I guess people think I am a bit crazy when I chase nearly every decent Ireland forecast, but in my mind I don’t think I am. I have a full-time job and a family, but I look at these trips as my windsurfing work. I have to take my chances when I come along and if I don’t I would hardly windsurf. There have been hardly any decent days in Cornwall this winter. I have probably wave sailed twenty to thirty times in Ireland. In my mind everyone else are the crazy ones, who have not made the effort! It does make it a lot easier that I have family in Ireland as well as my gear over there. I travel to the airport with just a backpack, so that makes life a lot easier.

Travel abroad is more expensive these days since Covid. It has almost forced my hand to stay at home. You do lose a bit of the consistency you get when you go somewhere overseas that is well-known for being windy, but at least we still have quality waves over here if you are prepared to search.

I would say since my hip operation, I have probably sailed more in Ireland than I have in the UK. I have probably windsurfed in Ireland seven or eights times a month in world class conditions, so for me these trips definitely worth it. It keeps me busy through the windsurf season in the northern hemisphere and works for me.

Making the call on this trip was a no-brainer. The forecasts were calling this as one of the best swells of the winter. Surfers leave the likes of Hawaii to come and surf giant waves in Ireland. The Irish swells are on the map for them these days. This swell in particular was forecast to be one of the biggest of the winter. It was big, but it was not the XXL big that we were hoping for.”

In the zone

JC: “With a hearty Irish breakfast inside us from the hotel, and feeling relatively fresh, we hit the road on the final short drive to Magheroarty, where the first view from the road above would soon tell us if we had made the right call. Parking the car on the roadside, we looked down excitedly on perfect pluming waves breaking on the reef by the pier. The swell was predicted to rise all day, but at the same time the spring tide was set to fly out, and the wind forecast to increase to over 40 knots. It was easily mast-high, but hard to tell exactly how big from our distant lookout.

Aside from a few fishermen, we were the only ones at the break, although Timo’s brother a.k.a. Windsurf Magazine editor Finn Mullen was heading up to join us around midday. His journey was not quite on the same scale as ours, but still quite a mission for a few hours of sailing. The fact Finn had also made the call to drive up reaffirmed that we were in the right place as I am sure he would not take a decision like that without thinking it was going to be a solid day of sailing.

First session / warm up act

After checking the conditions for half an hour or so and weighing up the wind and the way the reef was working, Timo decided it was time for the first session. The sets were solid mast high with a few bigger ones and the time invested in checking the conditions seemed worth it as we were alone at the beach and Timo would be alone on the water.”

Timo Mullen: “When you pull into Magheroarty, you get a bird’s-eye view of what the waves are doing. It always looks amazing from the top of the hill. As we arrived at the lookout point, a massive mast-high plus set rolled in, which was a good omen for the day. When I saw that I knew it was on. It never looks that windy at the reef from the beach and the conditions can be quite deceptive. My test is to walk up to the pier where you are level with the break and where you would be sailing. That morning it looked like 4.7m weather from the beach, but on the end of the pier it was definitely 4.0m weather. To be safe I opted for my 4.2m to go with my 84-litre Severne asymmetric wave board. I felt with that combo I would be guaranteed not to be floating around. The wind was very southerly and quite offshore, but there was plenty of wind to make it sailable. As long as I am powered and can get where I want to go in the lineup, that is the key for me in cross-offshore conditions, especially on a reef set-up. You need to be able to put yourself at the start of the wave. It helped a lot that it was really windy and I could choose where I wanted to be on the wave. It was low tide for most of the day, which makes the wave almost too perfect and there were no sections. It was just a perfect peeling left hand wall. That made it hard to get any aerials that day, but I wasn’t complaining.

I know the reef at Magheroarty like the back of my hand. I have been wave sailing there since I was fifteen-years old, so that is thirty-five years. You just know where you have to be in the line-up. The key at Magheroarty is the wide waves are normally the better ones, and they are quite easy to spot. They hit the reef and give you a longer wall.

It was so windy that morning that is was quite difficult to sail out the back, so I would just rest in the water while I waited for the good sets. I sailed in the morning for about two hours just because I knew the wind was going to pick up after midday. It was good to get that session in, it was still wild, but not as full tilt as later in the day.”

Wild and windy / the main show

JC: “By midday, as Finn rolled into the car park, the wind was starting to really howl. Both brothers rigged tiny sails and headed out form the beach in almost Storm Chase conditions. I tried to shoot from the end of the jetty briefly, but once I popped my lens over the wall I was hit by 40-knot gusts, which made holding the camera steady impossible. I retreated so I was facing the reef with the wind on my back, but it was still a tough afternoon behind the camera.”

Timo Mullen: “My brother Finn arrived around lunchtime. The wind notched up then to another level and I de-rigged my 4.2m and switched to a 3.6m and also dropped down to my 79-litre Severne board called the ‘Project Scott’ after its designer Scotty McKercher. That is an insane board and a treat for me to be able to use it. It has to be windy for me to be riding a 79-litre. My brother is probably ten kilos heavier than me and he was on a 3.5m, it is pretty rare he uses a smaller sail than me. By the time the wind increased, it had also changed direction to dead south-west, which is the perfect direction there. We sailed for nearly three hours maxed out on some of our smallest sails in dreamy mast high plus Magheroarty.

I never used to enjoy sailing in cross-offshore conditions overpowered, as it can make cross-off feel really horrible. Recently though I have been using the Severne S1 sail when it’s really windy in the smaller sizes. It is a four-batten sail, which makes the sail a little bit softer and more forgiving for wave riding. I don’t sail cross-onshore on my 3.6m that often, as I try to mostly sail cross-shore or cross-off. I find that changing to the S1 in the small sizes has helped a lot when I sail cross-off when it’s nuking. Now I really love these conditions.

When it’s wild weather, everything is a bit more extreme. With so much wind and solid waves the danger level creeps up. If I were on the same sized waves on a 4.7m, I would be hitting aerials a lot more. When it is so windy, it feels a bit more dangerous. You just have to be wary of your gear being blow around and hitting you if you crash. Your equipment has a mind of its own when it is that windy.

It is always fun sailing with my brother because he is completely fearless. He always puts himself in the right spot on the wave and sails to a high level. We were the only two guys on the water. We don’t get to sail together as much as we used to, so it was really nice to share the session with him.

People always talk about a dream session as being on your own, with the waves all to yourself, but in Ireland it is usually the opposite and you are searching for somebody to share the waves with, particularly in January and February when the days are colder and shorter.”

Night mission

JC: “Around 3 p.m., as per the forecast, a band of rain hit, spelling the end of my photography for the day and it was time to pack up and head to the airport. It was a tricky business loading the boards on top of the car with 40-knot winds making it quite sketchy. It had been a pretty manic day, not quite as big as I had hoped, but still dramatic for photos. Now it was just a matter of doing the whole travel bit for the return journey; two and a half hours drive in the rain to Belfast International airport, check in, an hour flight with EasyJet and then another two hour drive from Bristol back to Timo’s house in Poole. By the end of all that I was toast and vowed it would be a while until I went through all that again. But had it been worth it? Yeah, of course any trip to Ireland is awesome and especially to witness such a stunning spot as Magheroarty firing on all cylinders. The low tide throughout the day kind of killed the swell from XXL to L, but even so it was pumping. Making the call can be tough, but scoring epic conditions is easily possible if you are motivated enough to go explore and I had no regrets from my first Irish sojourn of 2023.”

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