He's more elusive than an Indian point break, and his memory's leakier than an oversized wetsuit . . . but he's got a giant pair of swingers, and he never forgets to bring them with him!
“He’s only a short little dude," Barry Mottershead has said of Conor Maguire, the Irishman some ten years his junior whom for several winters he’s been towing into waves that are anything but short and little. “But he’s hard as nails. I’ve seen him get kickings out there that you don’t think he’s gonna come up from, and he’ll come up shouting to go on the next one — deeper, bigger. You can’t act that."
And you can’t help but salute that kind of unflappable fighting spirit. Over the course of a lengthy and wide-ranging back-and-forth, punctuated by long periods of radio silence, we sounded the 22-year old from Bundoran out on scoring (and not scoring) epic waves in India, punching himself in the face with a GoPro at Mully, forgetting his own name, Gabriel Medina, Ireland's chances at Euro 2016, and plenty else besides.
Photo top: Finn Mullen
On paddling Mullaghmore
"I don't think we've seen the upper limit in paddling Mullaghmore yet. Lowey and Ferg have really set the pace for paddling big shit out there but I think a lot more is possible. I reckon it's possible to paddle into a twenty footer and make it the whole way, as long as you have the right equipment. Huge balls being some of that equipment.
"I feel like we haven't yet found the perfect board to paddle into Mully with. It isn't like any other big wave spot in the world -- most places if you have a huge board, you'll be able to make it the whole way on a huge wave, but at Mullaghmore you might only just make the drop. It's such a long wave with a huge wall that you have a long distance to travel and on top of that it's a mental barrel, as thick as Teahupoo, with scary steps and boils trying to kill you on your way through. Because the barrel is so big and thick it sucks so much water off the reef, and when you're on a big board it's really hard to hold your line. It would be amazing if someone could make a board that could paddle like a 10'0 but in 6'0 form."
On staying sane in summer
"We had one fun tow day at the start of June and a 10-12ft paddle day at the end of August. It wasn't anything epic but it was nice to surf Mullaghmore in a 3/2. It was strange being warm out there because usually it's stormy and absolutely freezing. During the summer months I normally just try to relax as much as I can, as a winter in Ireland becomes really tiring. The constant cold takes it out of you. I'll try to get out of my hometown for summer and travel to a place I've never visited -- preferably somewhere the sun isn't masked by thick cloud cover! This year I went to India with my good friends Tom Gillespie (crazy booger) and James Skerritt (creative motherfucker) in search of an elusive right hand point somewhere far off the coast."
"India was massively eye opening and a trip I'll never forget. We all went there to experience India's amazing culture, food and architecture and scoring that wave was always just going to be a bonus. We spent a month in India and got one day of pumping waves with just Tom and myself out for 8 hours, trading pits. One day of good waves in a month doesn't appeal to many surfers but for us it was about the mission, not the wave count.
"We were looking in the right place but the stars didn't align apart from the one glorious day. We were supposed to make it out to this wee island off the coast just in time for the best swell to hit the Indian Ocean in 5 years. We couldn't believe our luck! But nothing ever runs smoothly there and our ferry ended up getting cancelled. We spent the next week wandering happily around the mainland with the thoughts of perfect right hand pits in the back of our mind. Luckily, James, Tom and myself are all like minded people and decided to focus on the beauty India has to offer rather than what we might be missing out on.
"We spent a month in India and got one day of pumping waves with just Tom and myself out for 8 hours, trading pits"
"When we got back to the mainland myself and James decided to extend our flights home and jump on a plane to Java to get that wave count back up. We ended up getting a perfect left slab in front of a small fishing village, surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes I've had the fortune of seeing. When I got back to Ireland, perfect waves were waiting for me. As amazing it is to experience new places, it's hard to beat getting barrelled at your local with your mates."
On dirty foreigners
"There's been quite a few pros passing through Ireland over the past few years but the guys who have impressed the most are Tom Lowe and Noah Lane, both for different reasons. I've been out in some crazy conditions with Lowey at Mullaghmore over the past few years and he has just blown me away every time. He just turns and goes at the last second on the most fucked up looking waves you've ever seen, even though he knows the wave isn't going to let him make it the whole way. I've also surfed with him at Aileens when people like Alex Gray and Anthony Walsh have been out and he just schooled them all. That particular session, not only did he get the best wave, but he also broke 3 boards and dislocated his shoulder too. It just goes to show how hard Lowey charges. Noah is technically gifted in every kind of wave there is. From a two foot beach to twenty foot Mullaghmore. He is amazing to watch and really humble. There hasn't been anyone that has impressed me as much as he has over the past few years. The only problem with Noah is he thinks by marrying an Irish girl he is going to get locals rights. Not a chance!"
"I've also surfed with him at Aileens when people like Alex Gray and Anthony Walsh have been out and he just schooled them all"
On the homegrown crop
"Well I don't think people like Fergal even need an explanation. He has set the bar for not only everyone in Ireland in heavy waves, but everyone in Europe. No matter who is in the lineup, Ferg will usually get the best waves. Other than that people like Ollie Fla, Peter Conroy, Hugh Galloway and Cain Kilcullen have been charging over the past few years and have been a big inspiration for me. The bodyboarders too, they're the ones that push you hardest. People like Tom Gillespie, Conor Flanagan and Shambles have been pushing the limits of what's possible on a boog. It's pretty amazing and it really makes me want to try push my own limits.
"Aside from all the boring big wave mumbo jumbo, people like Cian Logue and Aaron Reid have been blowing people away for years around Bundoran. There up there with the best barrel riders in the country. I don't think I even need to mention Gearoid McDaid. He, in my opinion, is at the forefront of progressive surfing in Europe for his age and I'm really excited to see what he is gonna do in the coming years.
"But, overall, Cain Kilcullen is probably the guy who's inspired me the most, and not only because of his amazing surfing -- he has such an amazing attitude to go with his talent and is the one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. He is so humble and I reckon he is the best, most stylish surfer Ireland has produced before Gearoid. Even now Cain would give G-string a run for his money."
"I’d have to say Princess Leia. Plus, she’s a bit older so she could teach you a thing or two"
On being kook of the day
"Basically, I thought it was a good idea to stick a GoPro on a big pole and try get barrelled at Mully with it. It turns out it was a fucking shit idea. I fell on my first wave and got the camera straight to my eyebrow. It bust me open and nearly knocked me out. I expelled all the air I had inside of me out of shock. This was an even worse idea than bringing the Gopro out. At this stage, I was really pissed off I had forgotten my life vest. I ended up getting a two wave hold down and got picked up by Barry dazed and confused. Once again, Mullaghmore had gotten the better of me."
On staying calm under pressure
"Everybody says the best thing to do during a heavy wipeout is to stay calm, but when you go over the falls with tonnes upon tonnes of water above you it's not the easiest advice to follow. Now that I've received more than my fair share of beatings, I've realised there's no point in freaking out or trying to fight the violent turbulence, you just use up all of your oxygen far quicker. The only thing you can do is relax otherwise you're kinda fucked. Going to your happy place underwater while your body is bent into shapes you didn't know were possible is quite hard but very helpful in coming up with energy and the will to grab the rope or paddle back out. Plus, doing a hundred backflips is kind of fun!"
On getting better
"I would like to improve my performance surfing a lot but at the minute I’m having so much fun surfing slabs that I just want to get better at taking late drops and negotiating heavy barrels."
"Thankfully I managed to remember my balls"
Biggest personal fault
"My terrible memory. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you I’m notorious for forgetting the most essential items at the worst times. I once went to visit my buddy, Luis Eyre, in Portugal for a total of 3 months and forgot to bring wetsuits along with me. I was quite proud that I managed to remember my surfboards to be honest. Luis was nice enough to lend me his suit which was about two sizes too big. To be fair, I looked pretty gangster walking down to the beach in my baggy wettie.
"Another time I was getting ready to surf massive Mullaghmore with Barry [Mottershead]. Barry tends to keep me in check, making sure I don’t forget my tow board or wetsuit but this time I was 100 % I had everything. As we were getting changed I couldn’t find my booties anywhere. Now that might not be the worst feeling ever if you’re going to surf Nazare but Mullaghmore is fucking cold in winter. Along with that I had managed to forget my impact vest and my life vest . . . The one time I thought I had everything! I even made a list the night before. Luckily Barry is not only a charger but also a kayak instructor and so he had a spare kayak life vest for me. To say I didn’t feel prepared for that session would be an understatement. I couldn’t feel my feet before we even got in the water and I was wearing a life vest built to keep you afloat in a lake, not beneath a 30ft mountain of water. Thankfully I managed to remember my balls."
"Every time we have a glimmer of hope it is ruined by a sloppy pass or a French man's hand"
Preferred French pastry for breakfast
"A Pain au chocolate and a coffee is never a bad way to start the day in France."
Average weekly Guinness intake
"Getting your five a day applies to Guinness too right?"
"I’d say Ferg is close to hero status by now."
The best craic out of everyone I know
"The majority of my friends are hilarious so it’s hard to narrow it down to one person. I live in a big house in front of the peak with 5 of them. Maybe we should start calling it 'The Craic House’."
Predictions for Ireland at Euro 2016
"Ireland are a constant disappointment in the football world. I feel like the only reason the players got into soccer instead of rugby is because they were too scrawny growing up and got bashed around the rugby pitch until they got sick of it. I stopped following Irish football a long time ago. Not because I’m not patriotic or anything but because we are shit at soccer. Every time we have a glimmer of hope it is ruined by a sloppy pass or a French man's hand."
Thing I dislike most about the English
"The fact that you don’t know what the Irish are talking about when we ask you get something out of the press. The press! The thing with the door that holds all the cups and glasses and cereal and shit! Jesus Christ!"
"‘Don’t be a dick, be sound instead.’ Wise words from a not so wise old man in a pub at home one night. I like this because it’s easy to remember and it makes sense. If you’re a dick then you’ll have no friends. No friends means no fun. If you’re sound, everything becomes much easier. Shit is funny, people are generous and the world is a much more enjoyable place."
Favourite member of the Wu-Tang Clan
"Ol Dirty Bastard is pretty badass."
"As amazing as he is, he seems a wee bit annoying"
Favourite surfer on the world tour
"I think it’s going to be Conner Coffin. That guy is bringing power surfing back and making it look good."
Least favourite surfer on the world tour
"That’s quite hard to say because everyone that’s on tour deserves to be there. If I had to pick one I’d pick Gabriel. As amazing as he is, he seems a wee bit annoying. Less crying and claiming and more spinny things."
Predictions for this year's world title
"I would’ve said Glenn Hall if he didn’t retire. It was gonna be his year! Now I don’t have a clue. It’d be cool to see Owen Wright win it."
Carrie Fisher vs Natalie Portman vs Daisy Ridley
"Carrie Fisher showed the rest of those girls how it’s done so I’d have to say Princess Leia. Plus, she’s a bit older so she could teach you a thing or two."
On Conor Maguire's short-term future
"I’m heading to Hawaii in March for the first time which I’m looking forward to. Then I’m heading to South Africa to meet up with some friends and hopefully score Namibia. And if I have enough cash I’ll keep going to West Oz."