Stab Magazine | What’s the hardest thing about surfing Mullaghmore?

What’s the hardest thing about surfing Mullaghmore?

Pulling your vest with 5mm gloves on!

style // Mar 29, 2016
Words by Ian Mitchinson
Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Because I’m off my tits aren’t I,” says Tom Butler when I start at the obvious question of why? “The big wave thing just happened naturally really. I first ventured down to Nazaré a few years ago with Sebastian Steudtner, we followed  Cotty (UK Plumber/Big Wave Surfer Andrew Cotton) and Gmac (Garrett McNamara), and went there two seasons after they had started their Nazaré campaign and snagged some bombs.” Phoning the UK’s premier big wave paddle surfer (ah he’s a friend, fuck it) Tom Butler, was a mix of biz and pleasure. TB and I share a birthday, and first came into contact with each other in Indonesia in 2009. We shared a room in Lakey Peak, surfed, laughed, a lot, ate honey chicken (in that order), and then went back to Bali and did laps around Kuta partially clothed jumping in swimming pools. Much has changed since 2009, I now sit at an office and repeatedly bang my head on a keyboard until something vaguely resembling a story emerges, and TB, well he’s decided that paddling into huge waves in really cold water’s what he likes to do. Even though the UK lacks quality waves, it’s in the proximity of some of the most consistent and high quality big waves in the world. It’ll take you two and a half hours on a plane to get to Portugal, and Ireland’s even closer, so it’s not surprising that there’s a number of hardy gents from the British Isles who’re having a swing in the heavy stuff. Tom spends his winter waiting for the conditions to align on the notoriously rugged west coast of Ireland. We dialled Tom to find out about surfing’s other winter, it’s a far cry from Hawaii, to be sure to be sure. 

Tell me of the Irish winter… I hang in Bundoran for the winter and stay with my good friend Shane ‘Maddog’ Mcgrath and his family, it’s the main town close to Mullaghmore. There’s five or six really good waves in the area, and you can surf on most swells and most winds. There’s waves most days, but this winter there hasn’t been many good days. In the past I’ve put in three or four month stints over there. My schedule’s been Nazaré before Xmas, then Ireland after.


You always see footage of the big waves spots Mully and Aileens. Are you guys surfing pumping secret spots in between red blobs? There’s still plenty of secrets. It’s hard to go discovering though, because the local waves in Bundoran are always cooking. But up and down the coast there’s heaps. Even at the known waves there’s hardly anyone there. Mellow points, boulder waves, river mouths, it’s got it all going on. It’s just the lack of hours. In November and December there’s only 6 hours of daylight, so you miss a lot of spots because of the tide. 

Will Ireland ever become a legit surfing destination? I think it has, and year after year it’s getting busier. The participation of irish surfers is growing too, lots of weekend warriors from Dublin. But a lot of people come and dip their toes in the water and go, ‘fuck that!’ 

Are you the OG of paddling Mullaghmore? Me and Cotty had a go paddling years ago, and then Lowey (Tom Lowe) and Ferg (Fergal Smith) did it on a barrelling day. From then on it was a full on paddle fest. Now there’sa hardy bunch of others locals and internationals coming for a look. There hasn’t been a tow in session this year I don’t think. It’s like a Chopes style barrel, at a certain size with a high period then it slabs too hard and you have to tow. But everyone’s really pushing the paddle thing. It hits the slab and then runs away, footage doesn’t show the texture and the boils, it’s intense start to finish. It’s definitely not a perfect wave, but it has its moments. If you’re paddling it’s so hard to position yourself; I think that’s why people get addicted to it.

Talk me through a big paddle day at Mully… I’ll go up early in the morning, because you never know. The local weather’s so fickle and there’s mountains everywhere, so they effect the winds. You’ve got to check the rain forecast too because that throws another spanner in and makes the wind weird. If it looks on then I get the wetsuit on at home and drive back up. The paddle from the rocks isn’t too bad, then you have to loop around the reef and it’s a 2km paddle. Best to leave a nice wide berth. Or the harbour’s where you launch the ski, and that’s only 5-10 mins away, that’s comforting from a safety point of few.

Mully lineupSMALL

What’s the hardest thing about surfing 30ft waves in the cold? Trying to pull your vest with 5mm gloves on. When you slap hard, your wettie’s gunna flush, it reduces the time underwater that you feel comfortable. You waste energy in the cold, especially if the rain comes in, and you have to wait in the water. It’s hard to sit out there and wait. I pretty much wear a 6/5/4, and then boots and gloves. It does work early and late season. That good one that I gota while back (below) was in September, and I was wearing a 4/3 with no boots. The barefoot factor was why I made it because I could dig my toes into the wax, but a barefoot session is very rare out there. 

Who’s the best out there? Everyone has their day and their waves, Ireland’s a proper surfing community though, and there’s not much competition. Everyone’s stoked watching each other pick off the bombs. Peter Conroy, Paul O’Cain have really worked on the safety side. Then there’s true local boys like Conor Maguire, Cian Louge Aaron Reid – They’re in their early 20’s and starting to have a real swing! Then the guys who’ve paddled a fair few good days and live there most of the year like Tom Lowe, Dylan Stott, Barry Mottorshead, Ollie O’flatherty, Fergal Smith, Noah Lane and Ryan Watts.

How did the El Nino season effect the West Coast of Ireland? This season wasn’t actually that good. For me though, it’s a handful of waves each season that fills me up. Picking the times and having one surf a day and then a few gym sessions,then it’s nice getting back into the nice warm house. It’s essential to have a few wetsuits too. The maintenance of your body is also key, you have to be way more on top of your stretching because of the cold, and have a sauna, warm wetsuits each session. Not being silly and staying out too long, making the most of time in the water and keeping busy trying to catch waves. You lock up after a while, now I’ve hit the ripe old age of 26 (laughs). 


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

An Unorthodox Marriage Of Science And Surf

Cliff Kapono and The Mega Lab are changing stereotypes on all fronts.

Nov 28, 2022


Harry Bryant Dumps Crutches, Visualizes Pipeline Pits After Snapping Leg

“For once in my life, I’m taking something a bit more serious."

Nov 27, 2022

What If You Bought This Sumatran Surf Camp For $690k?

Making a blue print out of surfing's most recurring day dream.

Nov 27, 2022

Sierra Kerr On Greasing Full Rotes, Making Dad Cry & Her Concussion @ VSHPBME 

'I haven’t got my license yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little truck.'

Nov 27, 2022


“There Definitely Needs To Be More Girls That Try Airs”

Caity Simmers' thoughts on her Vans Pipe Masters debut.

Nov 26, 2022

Preview: Who’s John John Florence Flushing Down The Haleiwa Toilet Bowl?

The final event of the CS schedule is almost upon us. Let's dissect.

Nov 25, 2022


Dane Reynolds Said These Clips Weren’t Good Enough

Could'a fooled us.

Nov 25, 2022

Watch Now: Kael Walsh, Rolo Montes, And Al Cleland Jr In ‘Saturn’

Quik’s new 20-minute surf film is so good you’ll want to burn a DVD of…

Nov 24, 2022


How A Magic Island Birthed One Of The Most Radical Surf And Skate Scenes In The World

Mateus Herdy, Pedro Barros and friends in Red Bull x Stab's No Contest, Brazil.

Nov 23, 2022

The Uber Driver Turned Crypto Millionaire Who Denounced His US Citizenship And Whips Into XXL Nazare

"I do what I want, I don't have a boss." -Toby Trouble

Nov 23, 2022


‘I Thought He Was Gonna Grab A Machete… Then He Picked Up A Rock’

2x SSOTY Jai Glindeman’s drama (& left-tube) filled Sumbawa trip.

Nov 23, 2022


“The Inside Of Pipeline Sounds Like The Center Of The Universe”

Tosh Tudor seeks solitude at the Vans Pipe Masters.

Nov 22, 2022

Is Rasta Rob Really Going To Ride His Beloved Stock Dims Rad Ripper At The Vans Pipe Masters?

An interview with the most rapidly ascended surfer in recent memory.

Nov 22, 2022

Sierra Kerr And Robbie McCormick Win Vans Stab High Indonesia Presented By Monster Energy

And we had a live premiere in Oceanside to celebrate.

Nov 22, 2022

The Stab Guide To The World Cup

Including which team bears most similarities to former CT surfer Ricky "Ricky Badness" Basnett.

Nov 21, 2022

Unlocked: Albee Layer Speaks His Mind In His SEOTY Entry, ‘Delirium’

Come for the double rotations, stay for Albee's existential thoughts on surfing and life.

Nov 20, 2022

Buy Now: John John Florence’s ‘Gravity’

Get Gravity and support Junior Lifeguards.

Nov 20, 2022


Craig Anderson Could Find A Spitting Tube In A Tranquil Koi Pond

“How the fuck did I get an invite?”

Nov 19, 2022