Friday, September 16, 2011

Irish surf and nighttime revelations

Wednesday 28th Sept. looks like the next chance.  What I'd give for an accurate forecast for 2 or three weeks in advance right now.  But Thursday 18th August was going to be this chance.

I had flicked open Magic Seaweed, and checked Bundoran.  The forecast (which like any other forecast tends to become more accurate the closer you are to the time) says there will a very small swell - borderline, and the winds are going to be onshore - not favourable, as they will collapse the waves from behind, destroying their perfect shape and spreading turbulent whitewater everywhere. 

I check again a couple days before.  The swell is still borderline, but... the wind forecast is dropping.  Wednesday 17th, I look again.  The forecast winds for the very early morning are 2mph - almost nothing.  High tide at 09:30.  The board is brought down from it's ceiling abode, the wetsuit is dug out of the attic, everything is laid out, and the alarm is set for 03:40.

03:59.  The yawning silence of the city in the dead of night.  The board is strapped on the car, everything is packed.  Gates are quietly opened, the car is rolled back out of gear with no engine, the gate is closed again.  A quick turn of the key, and we are trundling out of the estate and across the West side of Dublin.  The only other road users are taxis.  Somewhere in the Atlantic, a low pressure system has been rotating, driving energy into the ocean.

There's a diversion on the edge of Dublin, so shortly after 4 I'm sent down a sideroad past a suburban shopping centre.  20 or 30 kids are milling about in the car park.  Yesterday was leaving cert day in Ireland, and these kids have been letting loose all evening and night.  Everywhere is closed now, but they aren't ready to go home quite yet.  Who passed, and who failed?  Who has the marks they need, for what they want to do?

Gone 5, I'm whistling down the motorway towards Kells.  The home of bestsellers.  The radio is on, the pressure of the sound helping the windows to hold back the immense weight of the blackness outside.  Every few minutes a lone car flies the opposite way, towards the big city.

Past Kells, I pass through Virginia.  In the middle of town the road forks, and on the apex sits a massive church.  I've glimpsed it before, on one of these night raids West - set back, deep in the fork, brooding in the dark.  One day I'm going to come back and check it out.  I wonder if the baby is still asleep back at home.  Did I wake him, sneaking the board out of the house at 4?  Leaving Virginia, I pick up the first sign for Eniskillen, 70km.  The other side of the border.  Northern Ireland.

Twenty past five, and I hit Cavan - home to problematic insurance company Quinn.  The whole story of what the Quinn family have been up to with the money is going to come out one of these days.  Still black, everything is closed - but looking straight upwards, there's the very first hint that the sky might be starting to turn.  It looks a bit more dark blue than black up there.

Half past five, and I'm in Belturbet.  The sky is definitely lightening.  It's amazing how quickly that happens, isn't it?  All the shops are locked and dark, and the town is dead.  I ghost on for Eniskillen, another 35 kilometres on.  2 or 3 minutes further on, I'm suddenly across the border, in Northern Ireland.  The road surface changes, alien after 8 years living in the Republic, and familiar from my youth.  The first village speed limits seem bigger than is sensible.  Is this just the first town speed limits, or were the ones in the UK always this size?  UK Radio 1 is on now, and a lightbulb moment suddenly strikes me: nighttime radio is so much better than daytime fare.  The variation!  There's some grinding driving hip hop track clattering out of the radio - raw in a way that wouldn't make daytime radio.  The journey is getting good - revelations are starting to flow.  There's something very interesting in the fact that this takes 90 minutes of driving to start happening - it harks back to the idea that I stumbled upon back here - that with repetition, the analytical portion of your brain that drives it while awake is slowly decommissioned, and something much more interesting starts taking place.  Maybe this really is the revelation that the whole trip offers - but for the moment, the important thing seems to be that suddenly I'm fearing the return of daytime radio, with the tyranny of the playlists and mass appeal.

Enniskillen is reached at ten to six.  A tiny bit of traffic, but not much.  I was out of Dublin so early that everything is still closed so no breakfast roll here, which may complicate my eating an hour before water rule.  How can you surf without a breakfast roll?  I'm thinking of bacon (this is very distracting) hesitate for a millisecond, and get owned by a Micra at stoplights.  I'm supposed to be in relaxed surf mode, so I let them go, mentally wishing them well on the way.  I'm hungry.  It's very light now, I could almost switch off the headlights.  There are still some Union Jack flags flying defiantly, a reminder of how strange things have been in the past in the North.  Left for Belleek.

Reaching Eniskillen escape velocity.  By five past six I'm racing down the side of Lough Erne.  I've raced down the side of Lough Erne before, but this time, it's very different.  The sun is coming up behind it, making the whole body of water seemingly glow with early-morning radiance.  There isn't a single ripple on the water, dead calm, a hugely promising portent.  Jaw dropping beauty that I couldn't quite capture with the camera.

By six twenty-five I'm back in the Republic, and 13 miles to run to Bundoran.  I'm a huge fan of the beach at Rossnowlagh, so I go there first.  Unfortunately, the swell is too small to be causing anything more than a shoreline ripple there, so after hanging about for five minutes, it's back in the car, and down to Bundoran to have a look at Tullan Strand.

Tullan is reached around seven, and it's beyond perfect for me.  A really small swell running, not a single person there, and amazingly, not even the tiniest puff of wind. Dead calm.

The swell is so well behaved, I spend four hours in the water.  Some amazing waves (for me) caught, I even manage to weave my way through some people at a beginners surf school on a couple of waves later on, and due to the small size I'm able to manoeuvre myself all the way outside the breaking waves (still something of a novelty for me).  This means I end up sitting, bobbing in the sea, watching in amazement as 3 dolphins appear a few hundred yards out to sea, leaping completely clear of the water, arching, stretching and diving back in, slowly leaping across Donegal Bay in the sun as I sit on the board and bob up and down on top of the water.

Now, if that's not worth getting up at half three for, I have no idea what is.


Anonymous said...

is this you in tullan??

divot said...

It was too small for me that day!

Do you have a ponytail and a penchant for onions?