JUST PASSING THROUGH IRELAND: EPISODE 5
This was not your average surf trip. In reality, this trip was never just about going surfing. This is the story of brotherhood, endurance, adventure and making the most of the elements in Ireland. Join Reef ambassadors Taylor Knox and Ben Skinner, world renown musician Ben Howard and a slew of other creatives as they go dark and stormy on the moody Emerald Isle in #justpassingthrough Episode 5.
Directed and Produced by Taylor Knox and Jon Frank
Filmed and Edited by Jon Frank
Filmed by Paul Daniels
Music by Ben Howard - Song "In Dreams"
Photos by Mickey Smith
Just Passing Through Ireland: Episode 5
COLD HANDS/ WARM HEART
By Lauren Davies
Planes converged on Dublin airport from Australia, California, South Africa and London. Landing within an hour of each other, they brought the members of an eclectic team, joined together by their mutual friendship with the surfers’ surfer, Taylor Knox. It had been months in the planning. Busy lives, hectic schedules, tours and constant travel meant that amassing the dream team on a specific week in Ireland would be a tall order. Taylor Knox, however, has a very persuasive and infectious energy that draws people to him. Hence why internationally renowned musician, Ben Howard, his manager Owain Davies, longboard champion Ben Skinner, one of the greatest ever surf filmmakers Jon Frank, talented cinematographer and surfer Paul Daniel, big wave surfing pioneer and Patagonia surf manager Gabe Davies, myself - screenwriter and novelist Lauren Davies, and budding surf adventurer 21-month old Bo Reef Davies, greeted each other at Dublin airport’s café with the disbelieving laughter that would carry us through the gruelling week to follow in the company of Storm Abigail.
The rain began the minute the two Renault cars packed to the hilt with boards, bags, guitars and camera equipment pulled out of airport parking, heading west whereinspiring cinematographer and musician Mickey Smith would complete the crew. This was a unique gathering for a surf trip. Our mission was to make a beautiful short film for Taylor and Ben Skinner’s sponsor, Reef. The theme was friendship and getting back to the elements. This was never just about going surfing.
The first stop was a house in Lahinch, County Clare. Surrounded by cow fields with a view of a slate grey ocean, the accommodation immediately set the tone for the week’s events. Rain attempted to pierce the roads but the peat fire inside the local pub and a pint of Ireland’s liquid meal, Guinness, instantly warmed the mood. Abigail was upon us and set to stay for the duration.
We had booked the house for a week but, as is usual with any forward planning when it comes to surf trips, the ocean and weather patterns had other ideas. We had hoped to surf the infamous big wave spots around Clare and Donegal where Mickey Smith and Gabe Davies made a name for themselves as filmmakers and surfers. Instead, we were repacking the following morning and leaving the comfort of our homely base to head off on an adventure into the unknown. We packed for one day, two at the most. A rickety old minibus would be our team transport when we got there, so cameras and boards took precedence over clothes and supplies. Some of the boys were to regret this a couple of days hence, when they were wringing out their socks and drying their only pair of jeans in front of a café’s open fire.
The elements are vivid in Ireland. Water, earth, air, fire; one feels instantly connected when venturing into the rural beauty of the island. The rain here is the hardest and most determinedly drenching rain imaginable. ‘I have holes in my face,’ Taylor exclaimed after one such unexpected encounter with a torrential downpour while stepping out of the van to check a spot for five minutes. It can rain here for weeks on end with very little break, leaving one to wonder how the sky can possiblyaccommodate so much liquid. The rain soaked some of the team to the skin. Those who had thought to bring high-performance wet weather gear and waterproof boots had the upper hand. Bo Reef won in terms of preparation. However, with the rain in Ireland, rainbows always follow, splitting the lush green fields as if indeed pointing to the mythical treasure at their end. The treasure in this instance was sometimes surf protected from the howling gale-force winds, but always the spirits of a unique crew of people that were never dampened by the conditions. Storm Abigail could not break this team.
Our days became a hunt for elusive waves on our team bus that rattled over potholed roads and only just remained watertight. The door was almost blown off by the eighty kilometres per hour winds that arrived as predicted by the charts. Our driver, John, an old Irishman and raconteur, kept us amused and bemused by his stories of the history, traditions and gossip of the places we visited. We discovered ruins of churches, we read the gravestones in the ancient churchyard and thought about the silent inhabitants. We ate warm stew in a welcoming café and bought socks and sweaters made of thick wool. We braved every element Ireland could throw at us to film our adventures walking through sodden fields, over windswept black sand, along imposing cliffs and to sites of natural beauty. Jon Frank proved why he has become a world-renowned cinematographer by walking for two hours, and clinging to his Red Camera precariously close to a precipitous cliff edge as he battled to secure a scenic shot. He returned to the bus wide-eyed and worn out, blasted by the wind and rain, and having apparently lost several layers of skin cells from his face. He admitted to having had a near spiritual experience in the pursuit of the shot, but get it he did. His commitment and that of Paul Daniel was inspirational. They never complained. Paul filmed on land until he was soaked to the bone, while Jon swam out in stormy surf to get the water angle. They did consider wearing wetsuits from dawn till dusk, but Paul opted instead for snowboard gear to prevent hypothermia.
We covered six locations in ten days, only returning to our base for longed for clean clothes and more supplies after six of those days. Taylor broke one board. The rest remained surprisingly intact despite being clattered around a bus, over rocks and through storm surf. We found many left-handers, which goofy-footer Gabe duly noted for his next visit, but most unfortunately did not turn on for us. The best waves we had, came on the penultimate day in Donegal where Gabe has always felt at home. The wind dropped from gale force, although the rain remained relentless. Jetlagged bodies had had a chance to recover and everyone had grown accustomed enough to the 6mm wetsuits, boots and gloves to bring their A-game when it mattered.
Taylor’s power surfing that has earned him a place in the Hall of Fame and in the hearts of his fans, emerged despite the restrictions of the thick neoprene. The spray from his turns brought hoots of celebration from his fellow surfers, and he pulled off more than one overheard Irish barrel to power carve to keep the smile on his face.
Ben Skinner surfs a longboard with breathless ease and grace, yet hits the lip with such power as if he is riding a shortboard. He took late take-offs behind the peak into barrels, exiting into huge turns to prove why he has earned sixteen British titles and was crowned European Professional Longboard champion.
As well as being a world-class musician, Ben Howard is also a talented surfer, having grown up on the coast of Devon. Due to recent world tours, he had spent very few 3 hours in the water, but he caught some of the best waves of the trip and surprised himself with his level of fitness. When Ben emerged from a head-high barrel, Paul even caught a modest double-handed claim on camera; something Ben still denies!
Gabe Davies has been surfing in Donegal since he was a teenager and was one of the pioneers of big wave surfing at Mullaghmore, following very closely in the footsteps of the Malloy brothers. His biggest day was documented in the feature documentary, ‘Waveriders’. Having been caught behind slow moving Irish traffic en route to the best spot, Gabe had to paddle out on near dark to catch some waves, but he was not about to let the small matter of light come between him and some Irish reefs. He was in his element whenever he was immersed in the cold water.
Owain Davies left his ever-ringing phone and his management of Ben on land to join his artist in the water for a heat or two. He also wistfully remembered the fitness he had before world tours and an at-times stressful career, but he had fun. It was one of those trips. Our crew bantered, laughed, celebrated each other’s triumphs and wipeouts, all of which were then remembered by the fireside over yet another Guinness and hearty local meal.
Paul and Jon teamed up to capture the action in the water, to be used in our film with discretion. I made notes, wrote treatments, wrote shot lists and rewrote shot lists when I accepted the fact the rain was not planning to stop until we left this fair island and returned whence we had come! Bo Reef waxed boards, discovered black sand, got close to nature, tractor spotted, and reveled in the company of his adopted Uncles. At twenty-one months but already a seasoned traveller, he showed how adaptable and resilient children can be, as he took to the gruelling tour like one of his rubber ducks to water. This was his education. He will be back, hopefully on a surfboard before too long.
In the evenings we were treated to music whenever Ben Howard felt the urge to pick up his guitar. His music has attracted a huge fan base worldwide and earned him awards and platinum discs in a relatively short space of time. The depth of emotion in his songs has added a sense of drama to several film soundtracks, as we hope it will to ours. Ben is not one to seek the limelight and will not hold court to deliver impromptu gigs, but he was comfortable enough in the group to share the new sounds he is experimenting with as he moves towards writing a third album. Ben has the ability to create music that instantly silences a room. His talent is breathtaking. Bo Reef was mesmerized every time Ben picked up his electric guitar and plugged it into his portable amp. He watched with a look of incredulity as if Ben were performing magic, which many would say he does.
Towards the end of our trip, we did face a surprising wave of angry localism via text messages and calls from a couple of local surfers we have known for many years who were fazed by the presence of a world famous surfer at their precious spots. We were neither with nor near them at the time. They had not seen how we were operating or asked about our intentions. They were working from assumptions. Their reasons are understandable. All too often, surfers from elsewhere travel to find surf with little thought for those who live and breathe those waves. They ride roughshod over the locals and their spots, which they then reveal to the world. However, we had all approached this trip with mutually accepted principles. We had involved Mickey, one of the most respected and principled locals, as well as local Patagonia ambassadors Tom Doidge Harrison and Patch Wilson. We had imposed a social media blackout and we had no intention of naming and mapping spots either in the Press or via the film. We were disappointed in their reaction, which dampened our mood far more than Abigail had. Our own assumption was that these locals would know the majority of us well enough to have faith in us as surfers, as filmmakers and as people. In the end, I suppose it was a lesson for all of us in being open, honest and up front about our plans. It was also a lesson, however, in how deep rooted localism is in surfing and how bitter a voice it can have even when not entirely justified. Airing grievances seems to be acceptable. Defending a spot from strangers seems preferable than tentatively welcoming them with open arms. We must of course protect our surf spots, but surely not to the detriment of sharing their beauty with respectful friends. I am of the mind that our sport is based on soulful principles. No one owns the ocean. If we respect those principles, we should all be able to enjoy what we have been given.
Whenever we found surf, Mickey was invariably the first to suit up and paddle out. He is a grom at heart and nothing will make him smile more than seeing an empty peeling wave. He bodyboards and surfs the biggest spots without fear. He has always been protective of the spots he has pioneered and has made his films with respect for both the environment and his peers. He showed us spots he had discovered in past expeditions on the express agreement that we would show equal respect in our film and not reveal their locations. Like every member of the team, Mickey has nothing to prove. In filmmaking, as in music and in surfing, he is at the top of his game, as is each member of our team. Surfing is a passion that Mickey likes to share with friends.
This is the mindset we all shared, which drove us on over the five days we were on the search for surf, localism notwithstanding. We were experiencing the elements, and learning about each other and ourselves under testing conditions. We were intending to make a positive mark, creating a beautiful and fun short film we could all be proud of that would make the audience want to travel with friends and do the same. We cemented relationships, had a blast and strayed close enough to the elements to feel mentally and physically altered by the process. We were just passing through, but we will be back.