Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Running Deep

An interview with Fergal Smith, professional surfer.

Fergal chalks down a big one at Mullaghmore. Photo courtesy of Mickey Smith

Riding heavy waves is the realm of the calm and focused, for those who can act with a deliberate precision, sharpened by the cold of the North Atlantic, crafted over sessions with punishing waves. Driven by the glimmer of solid groundswell and offshores, Fergal Smith is continuing to power through the heaviest slabs and thickest lips. This year, Fergal has taken the front cover of Surfer Magazine’s August edition and paddled into the fiercest waves both hemispheres have to offer. Skríobh talked to Fergal about Western Australia, the waiting game and Ireland’s cold water Teahupoo: Mullaghmore.

The front cover photo was taken in March of this year. “We knew it was going to be the last good swell of the winter, so it was going to be a good blast. Probably one of the best runs we’d had all winter. Eight or nine days in, we surfed there in the morning, Aileens in the middle of the day, I got one of the best waves I’d had all year there. This was the 3rd surf of the day, for the eighth or ninth day. Then back down for the last half hour of light. We turned up, me and Tom Lowe. I went first, and it was literally my first wave and that was it. My second wave was almost a bit better, just the sunlight was really good on that first wave.” With the North Atlantic and Ireland’s jagged coast, there are so many variables that it can be beyond rare that everything dials in. When your career relies on swirling low pressure systems for swell and the position of the moon for tides, taking advantage of perfect conditions is for the hardened, patient waterman.

When the Atlantic complies, Ireland is gifted epic peaks and long periods. Last December, Mullaghmore unloaded its raw energy on a plinth of battered limestone on the Sligo coastline. “We had one big, clean groundswell at Mullaghmore, it kinda looked like the day. I’d paddled it a few times before then but it was nothing amazing. Tom (Lowe) came over and we gave it a good stab. Didn’t get loads of waves, but got one wave in particular that was kind of a stand-out for me. Paddled into a 10-12 foot plus wave, pulled into a big barrel at Mullaghmore and for me, it was a milestone, getting over that hump. Riding an 8 foot board suited for putting into barrels was a different realm. That was a big moment, for me anyway.” For the rest of the year, that’s all we’ve seen Fergal do. Later on in the year, in March, Fergal, Andrew Cotton, Richie Fitzgerald, Al Mennie and a determined crew of others chalked down some of the biggest waves ever ridden at Mullaghmore, receiving international coverage.

 Ireland’s northwest carries as much weight as some of the best known waves in the world. The fierceness of Sligo’s monster is comparable to one of the most photographed waves in the world: Teahupoo. I asked Fergal which was a bigger deal for him. “Mullaghmore’s more scary, coz you don’t know it. But if I got as many days to surf Mullaghmore as Tahiti, I reckon I’d get more comfortable on it. Mullaghmore’s a bigger deal for me, hands down, by a million times. It’s so rare. To get really good winds and big, thick period groundswell and low tides, it’s such a combination that if it happens once a year, that’d be great. But then Tahiti’s so gnarly, the wave is so heavy. The intensity of that wave surpasses any other wave for paddling”.

Fergal Smith, Teahupoo. Photo courtesy of Mickey Smith.

When Teahupoo went Code Red last winter during the Billabong Pro, the footage of some of the thickest waves ever surfed went viral. Nathan Fletcher and Bruce Irons got pulled into waves of nightmares, and acted as a reminder of Teahupoo’s status as a mecca of heavy wave surfing. Fergal’s approach is one of calm readiness, patiently waiting for the right wave. “It’s just these perfect, groomed lines coming from New Zealand. It’s really manageable. You can get your head around it…It almost looks like…I don’t know, not “ fun”. When you’re paddling out in the channel and you’re half a mile away, it just looks like a 6 foot perfect wave. Then you get close and you realise it’s more like a 12 foot perfect wave….it feels doable, well, that’s how my head works.” It’s in stark contrast to the turbulent, shifting North Atlantic waves at home.

The limits of Mullaghmore have yet to be tested. As a wave of consequence, its potential is yet to be seen, possibly due to a number of factors: the small contingent of Irish people that are capable of even towing into the wave and the lack of international enthusiasm for hitting to the colder climbs for swell that might not show. “You can only paddle waves in Tahiti up to 10, maybe 12 foot, max. If you’ve the right day, the right board, the right head on, you could paddle a 15+, 18-20 foot wave at Mullaghmore. There’s an entry, y’know, there’s a chance of doing it; the right board and you get a let in. It’s a bigger scale than Tahiti. Tahiti’s more of a slab. Mullaghmore’s kind of a big wave. The idea of paddling into a 15 foot wave at Mullaghmore, that’s the ultimate goal. There’s not many waves on the planet that you can do that.” It’s this work ethic and ambition that has earned Fergal the coverage that he’s now receiving.

One of the most recent videos that Fergal appeared in was ‘Roar Power’, shot on the west coast of Australia. Growing up on the west coast of Ireland, I asked Fergal what were the similarities between the two places. “It’s totally different in loads of ways but then again, it’s kinda out-back, it’s still a bit old-school.” The coastlines of Mayo, Clare and Donegal have that rural, forgotten feel to them. Speaking about Australia, he said: “It’s lovely, it’s real wild coastline and the locals are quite friendly…It gets stormy and windy and rainy, there’s nothin’ really goin’ on…it’s a lot like Ireland’s coastline a lot of the time; one day a year or a couple times a year, the wind’ll be right, and you’ll get the most messed up, crazy slabs in the world…you just have to take the rough with the smooth, be really appreciative of how lucky you are for those days and the rest of the time  just appreciate where you live.” It is a patience only shown by those with a passion most will never experience. The long periods of down time only further intensify the highs and justify the wait.

Roar Power from Darren McCagh on Vimeo.

What are Fergal Smith’s plans for the future? “I’ve got to a stage where I know what I really enjoy doing, and I know what challenges get me most excited so I’m just focusing on them. The days that are paddleable: I’m just keeping them in mind, and as soon as they’re there, that’s what I’m putting all my energy into. Getting lots of new boards, just getting set up for paddling really good waves and really working on that side of things.”

You’ll be able to check out all of Fergal’s surf adventures from the past year at the 2012 Westport Arts Festival, where he’ll be premiering his new video, shot by his brother Kevin Smith, with support from his sponsor Analog Clothing as well as Mickey Smith’s award winning ‘Dark Side of the Lens’ and Relentless Energy’s ‘Powers of Three’. The Smith brothers will also be exhibiting a visual art piece in the centre of town. It’s set to be one of the highlights of the festival, make sure not to miss it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Photo Consciousness 2

I have seen the face of globalisation and it is called 'The Baconator'.

"You are one of several billion trillion, you will have no significant meaning on anyone's life and it is most likely you are already dead."

Angriest Bird

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Something Green

Interview with Eamonn O'Sullivan, team member of the Galway Botanic Garden Project

The source of life on earth is an unknown. Every living organism shows the traits of a desire to survive, to adapt and to reproduce. The evolution of each living thing traces a path backwards through the history of that organism and is the evidence on which the world’s understanding of the current human condition is based. Skríobh hopes to explore the depths of knowledge and understanding, and to do that we interviewed Eamonn O’Sullivan to learn more about his role in the establishment of a botanic garden in Galway.

The Galway Botanic Garden Project was established as an entrant to the NUIG Student Union Enterprise Competition, with the aim of providing a botanic garden near the centre of Galway that would provide people with an insight into Ireland’s unique flora.

“We’ve got a lot of rare plants, we’ve got a lot of unusual plant communities and there’s not really a lot of awareness about that.” Eamonn and the team have proposed Galway as the site for a new botanic garden, because of the special position between the botanically interesting areas of the Burren to the south and Connemara to the north west. The west of Ireland receives large amounts of rainfall every year and rarely experiences temperature extremes, which creates distinctive conditions that occur in a tiny amount of places around the world. Eamonn points to northern hepatic mats, which are communities of mosses that have adapted to live in these conditions. “Some of the species only occur in a few sites in Ireland, Scotland, the Himalayas and Western China.” The team hope to highlight what makes the west of Ireland special on a global scale.

When asked about funding for the project, Eamonn acknowledged that 2012 in Ireland probably isn’t the most fortuitous time to be seeking funding, but said “it’s a good time for us, we’re just out of college; we’re enthusiastic. Is it a good time economically? Probably not, but what can you do?”. While it would have been easier to source capital for the project before Ireland’s economic collapse, he gives a sense that there are more important values to the project than money.

Ireland's hyper-oceanic ("feckin' awful wet")  contributes to Ireland's unique environment

The team hope that the function of the garden would extend beyond just showcasing Ireland’s flora. Looking to the Eden Project in Cornwall, the team plan that the garden will provide opportunities for education and research as well. “It’s a big undertaking to plan; you really want to get it right. It’s a weight on your shoulders trying to bring something like this to fruition but we’re collecting excited, knowledgeable, enthusiastic people as we go along”.

Image courtesy of Galway Botanic Garden Project

Eamonn looks to bogs in the west of Ireland to emphasise the point of why a botanic garden is needed. Schoenus nigricans is a type of bog rush which ordinarily grows in mineral rich, alkaline soil but manages to grow in the mineral poor,  acidic soils of western Irish bog lands. It’s a feat which is still poorly understood and has long been a source of astonishment to continental botanists. 

When the conversation moved to the topic of climate change, Eamonn gave the example of some of his colleague’s work, Rory Hodd. Rory, who is also involved in the garden project, modelled effects of climate change on some of these plants peculiar to Ireland that could be at risk. “They’ve a very specific microclimate requirement, and the zone that they can grow in is shifting north. They’ve a very poor dispersal and limited distribution; they only grow in north facing corries. They can’t really jump from one mountain range to the next so populations just decline. It’s probably to do with climate change”. It’s a small symbol of change in the context of the summer that experienced the lowest ice-levels ever at the North Pole.

The Galway Botanic Garden Project could be the Irish contribution to education on the vast uncertainties of climate change. While the function of the garden would be to showcase and educate, the reach of the project would go beyond that. It would stand as a monument to wildlife, to the remote, to the special and the hidden beauty of Ireland.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Photo Consciousness 1

"Molest or honey trap", as if it's some sort of option.

The cycling form of insecurity

In Singapore, Tetris is played in real life, with giant, oversized pieces

This is in fact a painting of a new breed of tiger. It is called Sean Connery


Friday, 14 September 2012

Man of the People

Mick Wallace announced this week that he would be availing of the €41,000 provided to Teachta Dáilí who are leaders of political parties for undertaking research. He has stated that the money would be put towards research on "different issues that concern the people of Ireland". When Skríobh contacted the office of Mr. Wallace for further clarification on what subjects he was hoping to carry out research on, what the money was going to be spent on, or how he felt entitled to €41,000 a year on research when there were so many cut backs to 3rd level education, we were politely told that Deputy Wallace hasn't engaged with the media in three months. We emailed as well, but we've had no response.

We probably won't be getting the scoop on this one.

His Facebook page has provided the media with the best insight into Mr. Wallace's studious intentions:

"Why should I be the only TD in the Dail [sic] not to avail of the same money to use to [sic] build a stronger platform.[sic]"

Because you can't put a coherent sentence together, Mick. The use of question marks is not optional.

Also, the statement that he is receiving just half of his wage is misleading. He is receiving his full wage, but is using half of it to pay back a personal debt incurred by his company to the Revenue.

Mr. Wallace's argument that he is staying in the political world to fight for what he believes in (not yet known to anyone except for Mr. Wallace) has earned him praise from the socialist left in Ireland; that he is a 'man of the people'.

The standard for being a 'man of the people' has been raised since Mick Wallace became a TD. Skríobh has organised a small test to see if you too are a 'man of the people'.

1. Have you previously personally guaranteed a loan of nineteen million euro to your company?

2. Does one of your hobbies include importing Italian wines to your chain of delicatessens?

3. Have you failed to settle a tax bill of 1.4 million euro to the Tax Revenue?

If you answered 'Yes! That's me!" to all three questions, congratulations! You're a man of the people! Sleep easy in the knowledge that you're a well respected and admired person and that your peers want you to make important decisions on the social and political issues of our time.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The US Dirty Bombed Spain

The year is 1966 and the US are maintaining a constant fleet of B-52 bombers in the skies over Europe; ever ready to strike a nuclear blow to the USSR. It is part of a strategic defence policy which provides nuclear weapons to be in the air and ready to be deployed over continental Europe; an ever present safeguard, basking in the threat of mutually assured destruction. 

The flight paths brought US bombers across the Atlantic, around a lap of the Mediterranean and then back to airbases along the eastern seaboard. A transatlantic flight and loitering along the Iron Curtain required mid-air refuelling and on the 17th of January, 1966 an accident occurred. Unfortunately for the Spanish fishing village of Palomares, this accident occurred directly above them.

On board, were four thermonuclear hydrogen bombs. The B-52 collided with the tanker plane, causing the tanker plane to explode in mid-air killing the crew and the B-52 to disintegrate. The crew bailed out and the remains of the plane showered the village of Palomares with burning wreckage. Three of the four bombs on board fell on land, with one bomb diving into the sea.

Nuclear weapons are made up of two parts. One part is conventional explosive and the other is a nuclear fuel. The conventional explosive must be detonated in a precise manner in order to begin the chain reaction which results in a nuclear explosion. This can only be done by arming the weapons electronically and detonating them with their on-board circuitry. When the bombs landed on the ground, the conventional explosives in one of the bombs detonated. The resulting explosion scattered plutonium fuel into the atmosphere, dispersing radioactive dust over a 2 square-kilometre area.

This sort of weapon is now the biggest fear of United States' homeland security: the use of conventional explosive mixed with radioactive material in a US city. The immediate death toll would be low. The panic, fear and paranoia created would last lifetimes; a "dirty bomb".

One of the unexploded nuclear bombs

The US armed forces began a clean-up operation of the contaminated farmland. For three months, US soldiers and Spanish Civil Guardsmen gathered contaminated soil and collected it in barrels, to be shipped to the Savannah River processing plant in South Carolina. The US servicemen were given protective clothing and regularly screened for radioactivity.  Local townsmen and Spanish Civil Guardsmen who helped in the operation weren't afforded the same protection, going untested and untreated for radiation.

A cultural legacy left behind, a memento for a sunny fishing village previously innocent of the lasting misery of radioactive waste. Now, the village is only noted for its invisible scar and a field surrounded by fencing and radioactive trefoil signs. In a publicity stunt run after the incident, the US ambassador swam in the Mediterranean with the Spanish Minister for Tourism. "If this is radioactivity, I love it", he said, taking a waiting towel as he padded up the beach.

The remaining bombs were recovered and sent back to the United States, where they are on display in a museum in New Mexico, near where the first ever nuclear bombs were created. The US financed the monitoring of the health of Palomares citizens and found that cancer rates remained within ordinary levels. Now, the Spanish department of energy states that they have found new areas of polluted land, and are demanding that the US return to finish the clean-up job that they failed to do in the 1960's.

The town remains in a state of paralysis. Raising the issue in the media causes tourism to fall. The extent of the remedial work is out of their control. It is for the US to act, and to accept responsibility for the injury inflicted on a small seaside village.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Captain Asshole

Italian newspaper La Stampa, has released the tapes from Costa Concordia's Voyage Data Recorder. They revealed that the captain of the ship, Capt. Francesco Schettino, is actually a bigger idiot than previously imagined. 

Main cause of idiocy: mullet

After performing a salute to a retired colleague who lived on the island of Giglio, the ship collided with rocks and listed over which resulted in the death of thirty people. Having been seen drinking and dining with a young, blonde Russian lady earlier in the evening, the captain has also admitted to being distracted while on deck.

"Hey, you know what, let me drive! I've been drinking and I don't have any other way to impress this sexy, young, blonde girl"-What all good captains say, just before taking command of a giant ship

The tapes recorded that after the collision, the crew were told to inform the local coast guard that nothing of significance had occurred and that there had been a blackout onboard. Capt. Schettino was recorded as saying "at most, we're going to need a tug".

"Just the one tug, please!"

The transcripts also note that the captain made a personal call to his wife 17 minutes after the collision. "Fabi, my career as a captain is over. We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great maneuver (and) everything is under control," he told her. "Don't worry, let's forget all this sailing and we can start another job."

Sunday, 9 September 2012

This is Not What I Asked For

I search for: an episode of the children's cartoon 'Adventure Time' to find out what the buzz is about this mad source of .gifs I've been seing.

I get: an ad for a bra. Lots of boob shots. Lip biting.

I don't know what sort of profiling Google's been doing on my search history, but my boobs definitely don't need support.

Existential Yoga Protesters

The Corrib gas field lies 80km west of Belmullet, off the north west coast of Ireland. Shell Oil and Gas Plc are operators for the field, which has been surrounded by controversy because of some dodgy licencing agreements from the not-so-transparent period of Irish government. There's an active protest group called Shell to Sea attempting to halt the works, with the goal of either reclaiming the gas as a national asset, or putting a complete halt to the project. The protesters haven't had much success, mostly because they've been lying down in the road and going kayaking, rather than trying to become elected politicians or influence Irish politics in any meaningful way.

It's been a source of really bizarre news for the west of Ireland. Like that time there were allegations of special forces teams sinking a man's fishing boat, or that time the protest group was infiltrated by a British spy.

Sometimes Shell to Sea organise 'lock-ons', which involve cementing two people's arms together in the middle of a road or in front of a gate-way.
Art and Craft skills as well. Those years in college weren't a waste so.

Because they have nothing better for doing, the protesters busy themselves by doing yoga in the road. The guards love this. Their favourite part of their job is when they get antagonised.
The Guards love it, really

"How can the world be at peace, if we're not at peace with ourselves!?"

With the road already closed, the protesters weren't blocking anything. This made the Gardaí angry. Not being able to give out to hippies is probably the worst part about the job, so they imagined up some imaginary traffic so they could arrest the protesters for obstructing a public road.

There's something intrinsically undermining about only having one glove on

"But officer, why do we even exist?"

There are so many important existential theories that could be discussed in this forum of protest and power. In another video related to the same project, a protester videotapes a Garda who is videotaping the protesters.

Will there be an infinite video loop? Does time slow down in between the two video cameras?

Also, check out that bad-ass moustache

Eventually, the specialist cutting team show up to ruin the protesters' fun. There's an arms-race between the protesters and the Gardaí. The protesters aren't just using poured concrete, but are mixing pieces of iron through the concrete and heavy duty chains to strengthen the bond. The Gardaí cut it eventually, it just takes longer and requires a bit more skill.

The Guards could just chop the protesters' arms off but they don't coz they're secretly dead sound 

Part of me thinks that the protesters are in the right. They're standing up for a better arrangement to be made for the licencing agreements and that Ireland could really gain from changing its corporate tax laws for the businesses involved in natural resource extraction. Then the other part of me thinks "God, I can't take anyone with a moustache seriously".

Then the tent gets set up for the cutting team to go about their business and it's closing time for the protesters.

They put up the tent to block the view of other protesters. It's done to limit the intelligence gathering opportunity for onlookers. If you knew what process the Guards were using to cut the concrete you'd make it harder the next time. It's kind of redundant though, because the people getting cut out remember the process and tell their friends for the next time.

A Great Day Out was had by all

The full, original video can be viewed here.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Food Zoo

You can call it fishing if you want, but real men go prawn huntin'.

Prawns suffer from an evolutionary cliché: stupid and delicious. 

To even out the odds, you have to use a tiny fishing rod. I think that's adequate competition between the hunter and the hunted. The prawns might think it's a bit unfair, but have they ever tried dealing with being aware of their own mortality? I thought not. Us humans have it SO TOUGH.

At this stage the evening had descended into savagery, and we were baying for blood.

The consumer market's removed the dirty work from shop-bought meat. Put skewers in the shrimp. Cook the shrimp. Disregard the knowledge that you're killing the shrimp. Paint your cave in thanks to the Food Gods.

I think I heard them scream as they were put on the fire. I couldn't say for certain, our tribal drums were too loud. 

Stepping Over the Threshold

That one step. The fear you'll be caught, the darkness, the unmarked drops and the plastic pushed and bullied in the wind. The emotion's unique, a reminder that not everyone feels this, sees this, earns this. The only person in a building meant for hundreds.

An unfilled swimming pool.

You push on, but are stopped completely; frozen. The light ahead bobs in a lake of darkness and turns towards you. Breath caught in time, you push down. Your feet scrape dust on the concrete. Nothing has ever been as loud. All the blood in your body rushing up your back. Light doesn't move. Your brain rushing to create a silhouette of a person to give your panic an excuse. A silhouette doesn't emerge, a shout never breaks the silence. Your own reflection, bounced off a half-open glass door by the street-lights. The shining screen of your phone pressed against your own leg a comfort and the cause of your own brief, private terror.