Stab Magazine | Spitting Off The Cliffs In Ireland: Bright, Freezing And Painfully Gorgeous
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Spitting Off The Cliffs In Ireland: Bright, Freezing And Painfully Gorgeous

Red Eye: A Reef x Stab joint featuring Mike Lay. 

style // Nov 19, 2016
Words by Photography
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Welcome back to Red Eye: Reef x Stab’s series on the tricks of the leap. Where we pry open the mind of the well-travelled and transcribe it in black font, pixels, pretty pictures and moving images on this here page. 

This time we find Mike Lay, a professional logger who spends his time standing amongst the magnificent backdrops of Ireland’s coast, sporting boots and a hood and cross stepping into the country’s user-friendly lefthand pointbreaks. The Emerald Isle’s not all liquid granite and consequential rock shelves, it’s got a little something for everyone and Mike knows that around the corner, all he needs is a playful point. But, nothing we could say could articulate Mr Lay’s Ireland with justice; we’ll let him take it from here:

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The following account is Mike Lay’s Ireland, we highly recommend reading on.

Spitting off the Cliffs by Mike Lay
When I was young I thought Ireland sounded cool. I liked the names of the counties that were also human names, I went to school with a girl named Kerry, my auntie was called Clare. I would say County Clare over and over in my head. I would search the map for County Michael, and never find it. I always wanted to go to Clare. In one of my favourite books two characters spit off the cliffs of Moher, I had it on audio cassette too and wondered why anyone would want to spit off a cliff. When I first went to the cliffs and realised they were actually in Clare, that they were the cliffs from my book, an armful of memories flooded my head. And just like that a connection to the place was made.

As surfing became a more important part of my life I didn’t think of Ireland much. I only thought of the beach closest to my house, about how I would get myself and my board there. I stopped thinking of playing the guitar, football, swimming club–only the beach and how I would get there. I then learnt to drive and other beaches entered into my consciousness, I started thinking of wind and swell and so my world spread out just a little. I travelled to Indonesia when I was 18 and saw amazing waves for the first time. Waves that had been fictional up to that point, in my mind or on the back covers of sketch books, even the surf movies were too distant, confined to a rectangle of pixels. I came back from Indonesia and started lifeguarding on my beach at home.

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Take the colour out of the country and you’re still left with vast beauty.

The guards I worked with were a few years older and had travelled all over. They told me of Australia and South America and Ireland, most of all they told me of Ireland. I hadn’t thought of Ireland much since I was young. I’d want them to win in the football or rugby, if they weren’t playing England, but that was about it. I didn’t really know why I wanted them to win.

The older guards surfed very well, they rode shortboards and the lifeguard paddleboards on the small waves that we have in the summer in Cornwall; they would take out my longboard and try to cross step. But when they spoke of Ireland they spoke of gigantic waves. They spoke of walking through muddy fields, of two pairs of socks and of welly boots. Of huge cliffs and heavy water. They would disappear in September and so would I, to Liverpool and university.

While they were surfing nightmarish waves and the waves of their dreams, I was studying books and drinking and eating fried chicken. Dublin is across the water from Liverpool, but I never went. I studied for three years and travel a bit in between, student loans saved and spent on adventures, California, Australia, Indonesia again. I finished university with a restless sigh and Ireland failed to pull me in. It would take another year before my maiden trip. All the talk of big waves and wild weather kept me away. I wanted board shorts and point breaks…

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“Our surfs on that trip were little miracles. That we had managed to find rideable waves, that we were still interested in surfing at all, that the pub had failed to draw us to its fire.”

My first trip was a freezing week in February, followed constantly by a cloud of condensed breath and the smell of burning turf. The waves were small or flat. But the land was starkly beautiful, the whole place sparkled like a spider’s web in the morning dew. It had lured me in. I returned later that same year, last year, for ten days of storms. We lived in our coats and our cars, confidence was mustered prior to trips outside and streets were sprinted down to try and outrun the rain. Our surfs on that trip were little miracles. That we had managed to find rideable waves, that we were still interested in surfing at all, that the pub had failed to draw us to its fire. Though neither trip was a classic they failed to put me off, the opposite indeed. I knew I needed to go back, to spend a little time and find out how I fitted into the land.

So this year I drove straight from Hossegor, twenty hours of drives and ferries through the night. The crowds of contest-time France would make Ireland seem wonderful whatever the waves were like, but there was a high pressure caught slowly spinning over the UK, I had a feeling it was going to be different to the times before, better. In my mind Ireland was still a place of boundaries, where lips were heavy and surfs were moments of personal advancement. I was toying with the idea of those waves, preparing to tackle them. I became aware of my breath, how easily it came in and out of my lungs, I thought about holding it for minutes… but kept breathing instead.

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“The land was starkly beautiful, the whole place sparkled like a spider’s web in the morning dew.”

My first surf was at a left-hand point break near town, it was two foot and regimented, turned to two foot and glorious as the sun sank beneath a bank of cloud towards the horizon. I surfed for an hour by myself and for an hour with my friend from home, one of the lifeguards. We laughed at the isolation, ‘if this was at home it would be mobbed!’ I said, ‘yep, Riley’s would have been fun today you know.’ ‘Ha, yeah’.

For the next two weeks I found my place in that small chunk of Ireland. People flew in from around the world to push boundaries and I slotted into the gaps between. I became familiar with tide and swell direction. Due to the company I kept and the place I was in, talk of big or heavy waves was never far away. I listened to stories and hovered between excited anticipation and fear. But every time I managed, consciously or not, to put myself in different situations. Watching one session from the cliffs my friend said to me ‘only go in if you really, really want it’ and as I watched the waves arcing beautifully hundreds of feet below before exploding brutally into the night-blue sea, I knew I didn’t want it, not yet at least. And I was relieved.

My trip consisted of point breaks and smaller slabs. I challenged myself but in an organic way. My journey to Ireland came organically, from that young boy searching for County Michael to me now in County Clare, spitting off the cliffs of Moher. Maybe in a year or so I’ll find myself in more challenging scenarios but I’m sitting at home now, by the fire, and I know a little more of that mysterious island next to ours, I know there is a place for me there.

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