Stab Magazine | Here’s the survival kit stashed under the cliffs at an Irish big wave spot:
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Here’s the survival kit stashed under the cliffs at an Irish big wave spot:

Words by Elliot Struck | Photos by Pete Conroy Pete Conroy has undeniable Irish charm. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition, considering he regularly brawls some of the world’s heaviest black mass in 6mm of neoprene. Irish big wave surfers are some of the wildest you’ll find anywhere; The waves they chase are big and fucking scary […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Words by Elliot Struck | Photos by Pete Conroy

Pete Conroy has undeniable Irish charm. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition, considering he regularly brawls some of the world’s heaviest black mass in 6mm of neoprene. Irish big wave surfers are some of the wildest you’ll find anywhere; The waves they chase are big and fucking scary to begin with, but throw in a grey sky, black water, and cliff backdrops, and you get an idea of how intimidating the place is. Raw, magnificent, beautiful… but goddamn intimidating. And, remote.

Aileen’s, on the west coast, perfectly embodies the nature of Irish big wave surfing. It breaks in front of a small bay, enclosed by 700-foot cliff faces. When it’s on, it closes out the whole bay. “You lose your board or get hurt, you’re getting washed into a horseshoe, with 700 foot cliffs all the way around, so you can’t get out,” says Pete.

Last year, one of Pete’s pals, Mark, paddled out at Aileen’s by himself in a peaking tide and peaking swell. He got washed in and was stuck there, with no chance of jetskis getting in to get him in the dark. A chopper came from Sligo, and did “a rescue that was above and beyond anything they should’ve done.” (watch below).

Which is how the safety kit came to be. “I took it upon myself to say, we can’t be putting the Coast Guard or anybody else’s lives in danger just because of the stupidity of us surfers,” Pete says.

The idea behind the box is, if someone gets trapped on the rocks beneath the cliff and can’t get out, they’ll have everything they need to comfortably spend the night. “Basically the box is only sustainable for one night, because we will be able to get in there in the morning,” says Pete. “Once it’s light the jetski can get in and get a person, no problem.”

Box_2So, what do you put in such a box?

“First I got on to Peli Ireland, and they donated a big bomb-proof box,” says Pete. “The Coast Guard gave us VHF radios and flares. Patagonia gave us a full on survival suit with base clothing. My girlfriend, who runs the local shop, gave us food and water; survival food basically, just sugar-based foods that’ll last up to two years, like Mars bars and Nutri-Grain bars. One of my friends is a doctor and I’m a paramedic as well, so we have medication in the box with strict instructions on how to use it. If someone gets washed in and it’s so big that they can’t get out, we can at least talk to them from the VHF radio, they can say ‘I’m good, I’m gonna get into the gear and rest here for the night,’ have a Mars bar, and we’ll get them in the morning. Simple as that. That way, we don’t have to call the Coast Guard.”

Next, was getting it in there. “We just waited for a small day, and myself and my brother Gordon rode in, anchored the ski, then we swam it in. I couldn’t get any other fucker to come out with me so I took Gordon, and he doesn’t even surf! The box has been at Aileen’s for the last year now, and every massive storm I have to go in and check to make sure it’s still there.”

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Luckily, the box hasn’t been needed yet. But there’s been occasions prior to its placement when it would’ve been handy.

“When I first started surfing the cliff I got washed in and caught there,” recalls Pete. “I ditched the board, ditched my gloves, and swam for 30-40 minutes to get out. That was the start of the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club. We got together and said that’s it, no more cowboy, we get professionals to train our asses off on the skis with rescue tactics.” The ITSRC has a simple goal: Make Irish big wave surfing safer. Main jams are promoting the safe use of PWCs as rescue craft, and training all big wave surfers to a minimum standard. Obvious, but tough when it comes to headstrong Irish chargers. “When everyone started paddling, no one brought a ski out anymore,” says Pete. “People where like, ‘jetskis are really bad,’ and I was like, ‘No, lads, jetskis are fucking brilliant. If something goes wrong, the jetskis are going to save somebody’s life. You don’t need to tow in but they need to be there.’”

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Another of the spots that The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club have had to implement extra measures is, unsurprisingly, Mullaghmore.

“When we surf Mullaghmore, everyone is trained with Jetski rescue operations, first aid and lifeguard, so at that spot, we’ll never have to ring a helicopter or Coast Guard, because basically we’re more trained than them. We have a defibrillator and a full rescue resource kit in the hotel on the pier head that’s open 24/7. And, we trained the local hotel staff over there and the local crew, so it’s not just for the surfers, it’s for everybody in the community.”

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“We’re basically just trying to make sure nobody dies over here.”

It’s kinda wild to imagine for the majority of us, who clock off work and stroll down to a two-foot, onshore beachbreak in relatively bearable water. Especially when you consider that professional big wave surfing isn’t even Pete’s main income:

“I’m a full time fireman. I don’t have any real major sponsors, so I have to do it all out of my own pocket. If there’s a swell that’s big I try and get work off and get down to it.”

The realest!

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