I had my flight, and the “sports equipment” would fly for free on Aer Lingus, because it was under 9’ and under 50 pounds. I was stoked, as getting to a worlds event with our equipment is half the battle. Just ask Darren Bason’s crew, who had to amputate their boats to get them on the plane, and some of our team who at the last minute got the hand from the airport staff, and had to step and fetch to find ways to get boats in Northern Ireland. Zack had to spend 10.5 years’ salary plus paperwork for shipment of his boats, but Chris slid through with an extra long boat without a second glance. All of that chaos for many, but for our crew boarding together they didn’t so much as measure or weigh. It was silly, the disparity between efforts to get to Portrush. I know my boat bag weighed well over 50 pounds, and I’d wager it’s why the back deck broke a bit. Anyway…
We outran a hurricane both in the plane and once we touched down. Kelly and I got the rental car and sped, on the “wrong” side of the road, north from Dublin to Portrush where we got to our awesome rental (thanks Ben and Heather), got some eats, a surf in the next morning, and to the store in time before everything closed up for fear of a 50 year storm that never came that far north. We learned how fickle weather- read as surf- can be in Northern Ireland. The morning surf at West Strand was good for about an hour, I heard. Mini barrels. I jerked awake late, full of FOMO, and raced down to go surfing too, then sped two blocks back home when I realized I got to the break without my fins. By the time I got into the water about an hour after my friends; the rainy, windy, good swell, over against the rocks at West Strand, had turned sunny and completely flat. It was almost embarrassing to be in the water in a surf kayak.
The next days, Kelly and I rallied to other, legendary parts of Ireland to surf. We headed west to Easky, finding nothing but the potential for perfect peelers. The knee high waves on the reef showed that with added swell the place would be righteous. We were looking for our double agent friend and English competition, Marc Woolward, as he had texted his destination. Not finding him nor surf, we went into town to find the internet god, and found interested gatekeepers we had to humor and describe our journey to, even though we were so impatient to get OUT of there to where Marc was. We got to Bundoran, and happened into a surf shop asking where this “T-something” place was. We left confused, walked away, then went back. We were corrected, and the right place was just down the street. We had a great surf day at Tullan Strand, and saw our buddies. In fact, we saw a [insert collective noun] of surf kayakers (a horde?) dominating the small peak, a gruesome but awesome sight for those of us sensitive to crowds and turf wars.
That day and the next at Tullan Strand is when Kelly and I felt we had “arrived”, if I can speak for her. Hours out on fun peaks, with occasional sneaks up to the main peak. Paddlers were smiling, introducing themselves. The vibe was high, and the buzz of the worlds event started to hover over the land. Over the next couple of days, everyone had arrived and we settled into anticipating the variable nature of the surf breaks at East Strand in Portrush. We also settled into the fact that our elder, the legendary Dennis Judson, was in the hospital in nearby Coleraine after suffering a second heart attack. Gradually we got our visits in, and the highs and the chaos of travel started to settle, while a concern for Dennis’ state crept in. It just wasn’t going to be the same without him there. When we learned we were only hopeful he could watch finals, still a week out, I then knew the severity of the situation.
The contest came, we had a great opening march through town in the mist, and came into the Town Hall for dancing and drumming performances and some Irish stew. I was amazed by the giant, wood-framed, curved plate glass windows in the Hall- just wow! In keeping with the theme of variability, the first day of competition was postponed for a day. Anti-climactic for sure, but we got some cool surf in at Portballintrae. Mat and I were lucky enough to get there before the wind came up fiercely, and Jim later scored some of the most interesting “whiskey barrels” in the peat-stained runoff from the Bush River. Together with his graphite colored helmet and boat against the dark oak, whiskey waves- and of course his style- Jim’s surf that day tops the list of aesthetic sessions. I was glad to hear later it was one of his favorite sessions ever. So unique! Roger Aguirre-Smith’s photos on October 21 deserve a look.
The contest started on Monday, pounding. The joke I picked up from older school surf kayakers, “Victory at Sea,” was applicable. It was major wind, big swell, and a micro-period. Agitated gazpacho. Daylight was hardly on at 8am, yet we had men in the water, fighting for our country. Pun intended, except that it was really each for themselves, as it was the Individuals heats. Later when the women went on, it was the same, a little tamer, but sunny. The RNLI were hard at work on their jetskis rescuing swimmers throughout much of the day, and they did it with style and precision. RNLI stands for Royal National Lifeboat Institution, serving over 240 beaches across the UK and Channel Islands. I saw them again in Scotland after the contest. Rad! What a great institution. Then some more leprechauns frogged with the weather again and we had flats. Some heats went to those who could make a greater slash in the mirror pond. Despite sarcasm, it was not too far from the truth. But the show must go on!
Then, hey, an about face again, and women’s quarter finals at the B site was some of the best surf to be had at East Strand during Worlds. Kelly had nothing on her side, happening concurrently at A site, but I had the most fun I had had in country. I won that heat which put me well seated in the semi-finals and then the finals. Jim and Dan were advancing in Grand Masters IC, and Zack was soon poised in the finals for Open IC, winning his semi-finals heat against some gnarly competition. By this time Dennis had a little more energy and was fighting to get out. He petitioned to go see finals, and by his grit and the unwavering generosity and dedication from especially Scotland’s Tracy Sherrington, Dennis was able to show up to watch much of the finals at East Strand.
I heard Dennis was there in Tracy and Ian’s van, so I looked up and waved vigorously from the beach. I was about to go on for finals, and I was not jazzed from watching the heats ahead of me. Zack’s heat had to slap the water to make a ripple, and Dan and Jim’s heat was mostly a blur as I prepared to go win. The rainbows must have shot out of the leprechaun’s ass, because my heat had waves. I knew right where to be the first half of the heat, and held first place until I started doubting my position and exploring. The two Basque women caught good waves, and I a lesser one, and the contest was decided. I got third, and I am happy.
After a great reception on the beach, I ran up to see Dennis in the van. I can’t write this without some big round tears falling on my keyboard. Like most, we were always buddies from day one, but out of the blue Dennis seemed to have “adopted” me this year. He kept calling my charge to win, proclaiming it to everyone repeatedly. He seemed to get so much mileage, from his station at the hospital, out of cheering me on. This is one of those moments I’ve read about, when we realize that the things we do for ourselves can mean a lot for someone else, and when we least expect it. It is still sneaking in, just how important “my people” are. Dennis was “my people,” and probably so are you reading this. We can bring joy to others, and we need to do it now. We all expected Dennis to come home and be “better than before”, and to join us in Peru in 2019 where his banana hammock would be climatically appropriate. That he will not, begs us all to remind those whom you love that you do. It’s been said before, as cliche as can be, but it’s true. With practice it’s quite fun to be the most amazing person you can be. It’s as fun as surfing the consistent waves I am stoked for on my home turf. No offense, Northern Ireland.
Thank you to the Northern Ireland crew, CANI- the Canoe Association of Northern Ireland, John Watson, and all the others unmentioned who put on a great contest and efforted in a big way for the 2017 Surf Kayak World Championships! Thank you to Mark Boyd and Roger Aguirre-Smith who produced the best and most copious photography of the contest.
Thanks to Jim, Kelly, Peter, and Mat who stewarded young Victor Bezard’s first worlds contest- and of course to mom Geraldine. I could go on.
5- Northern Ireland
9- British Islands