Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Record Breaker Conor Maguire Surfs His Way Into History

Posted on 16 November 2020 by Marcus Hockey

On 27 October 2020, a beast surged up the Atlantic Ocean. While the eyes of the surfing world turned to the familiar Portuguese proving ground of Nazaré, a swell of hitherto unseen proportions was about to strike the west of Ireland.

Red Bull athlete Conor Maguire was on hand to create a piece of Irish surfing history at Mullaghmore, on the coast of Co. Sligo.

Maguire described the perfect storm that created the monster waves: “A couple of different factors made it special. The huge Hurricane Epsilon that was created down in the Caribbean shot up into the north Atlantic and combined with a low-pressure system.

“It was just a complete freak coincidence that we had nice light offshores on the day the biggest swell ever to ever hit [Ireland], and during a pandemic. It’s unheard of!”.

Having watched the weather system coming in, Maguire and his team were primed to make the most of what they knew would be a huge swell. The night before the event they received data from the M6 buoy off the coast of Ireland, which had measured waves at 29 meters high.

The stage was set for what would not only be a momentous day for Irish surfing, but also a culmination of many years of hard work for one the Bundoran native.

From small beginnings

Maguire started surfing at age 11 with a close friend of his. They were among the first customers at the local surf shop – Bundoran Surf Co – and quickly fell in love with the sport.

“We started because we loved it, and we used it as an outlet, it was really calming for us. It’s such a therapeutic sport, being immersed in nature all the time.

Even when the ocean is 50ft and rough, there’s always something hypnotising, and even meditative about it.”

When he was 20 Maguire decided to focus his energy on surfing, and progressed through the ranks of the big wave circuit, becoming the youngest European to be shortlisted for the World Surf League Big Wave Awards.

He attributes his progression to the work he put into the psychological side of his craft: “A lot of it was mental for me, preparing my mind at home, visualisation and breathing techniques, making sure I was confident in myself to go and try it.”

That being said, when friend and fellow big wave surfer Dylan Stott first took him out to Mullaghmore, he was a bit less confident.

“I just remember feeling sick the first time I tried to stand up on a wave and getting pulled up on the rope. I really wanted it more than anything in the world, but I also just wanted to go home to bed.”

Fortunately, when it came to the day of the record-breaking surf, Maguire described a feeling of calm that had come over him.

He suggested that may have been partially down to the fact that Ireland was in lockdown, and therefore there was not the usual “hullaballoo” that would go hand in hand with such a huge swell.

It was just him and his team, an elite band that he had grown up surfing alongside, ready to conquer whatever the Atlantic could throw at them.

And they did just that. Maguire caught the wave, one formed completely differently to anywhere else in the world: “That’s what makes Mullaghmore so special – it’s the shape.

“It’s a totally different wave to Nazaré. There you’re sort of just dropping down the face of a peak, it’s crazy and the waves are huge, but here at Mullaghmore are a lot more technical of a wave to ride, and the people who surf there will have no problem telling you that.”

Despite his monumental achievement, what really shines through when talking to Maguire is how close he is with his team. Of utmost importance was tow partner Barry Mottorshead, the man who showed him the ropes at Mullaghmore.

“Barry and I have been doing this so long as a team that we have this crazy connection, we’re really in sync. We don’t need to talk. We know what the other wants by their body language.

“He was the one driving and picking the waves, and there were maybe 10 waves that day that were actually rideable. That was the most stressful job that day I would say. I was having a great time surfing, while he was driving his friend into waves he could fall and die on.

“Basically, I just had to surf [the wave]. 80% of it is putting the person in the right place.”

However, it’s very hard to look past the remaining 20% when it involves the biggest wave surfed in Ireland’s history. This was the biggest moment of Conor Maguire’s career to date.

“The stars kind of aligned. I’ve been pushing myself there for the better half of my life. It’s been my main focus and goal – that one wave. I’ve been obsessed with it.”

He found that one wave, and there is no doubt about it, there is a lot more to come from Maguire.