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photo Charles McQuillan

08/02/2015

Al Mennie: the big wave surfer from Ireland

AL MENNIE is one of the world’s top big wave surfers and the fact he is from a small town in Northern Ireland makes this achievement even more spectacular. Here, Mennie talks to us about his love of the sport and his book, Surfing Mennie Waves.

Al Mennie

photo Charles McQuillan

BEFORE Mennie, Northern Ireland had no history of big wave surfing. He was the pioneer. The fact that he would become the first European to compete at the World Tow-In Surfing Championships in Chile makes his story all the more remarkable.

 

Mennie’s book, ‘Surfing Mennie Waves’, tells of his big wave exploits at Half Moon Bay, Madeira, Nelscott in Oregon and Alastair’s now infamous life-threatening encounter with 60 foot waves off the Sligo coast in the winter of 2009.

 

Where did you grow up and how did you get involved in surfing?

 

I was born in Belfast but my surfing began in Castlerock on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. I was inseparable from the water right from the start. I was water skiing by the age of six and surfing by nine.

 

My Dad always had some sort of a boat around so I was always in or on the water from a very young age. My Dad was a fisherman and in his younger years worked on trawlers and many of his side of the family still do so I suppose it’s in the blood. Mum and Dad bought me a 7’6″ pop out and we knew so little about surfing the only things on the deck were stickers!

 

What has been your biggest achievement in the sport and where have you travelled in pursuit of your goals?

 

I suppose the answer to this question depends upon who is reading the answer! I have done well in lots of competitions throughout the years and I’ve ridden some huge waves all over the world. I don’t know if those are achievements or not. To me I am lucky to have found something which has given me a direction and a path throughout my entire life. It’s given me focus and somewhere for my ambition and stubbornness to thrive. So many people never find anything they are passionate about but luckily I have. I’m a very passionate person. I’m either all in or all out and the lure of finding another big wave spot or riding a big wave keeps me firmly in so to speak and to me my biggest achievement is probably following my dreams and being able to do what I love.

 

What and where were the biggest waves you have conquered?

 

I’ve ridden equally as big waves at most of the spots I surf. I’ve had giant waves at Mullagmore Head, Area 70, Aileens, Nazare, Prowlers, Mavericks and many other places both towing in and paddling in.

 

What inspired you to write the book and what is your background in writing?

 

I have so many great images captured over the years and some good film but very little words are ever written. I noticed very few people have written first-hand accounts of what it’s like to ride big waves especially in Europe. I wanted to tell my story of searching for big waves and being inspired by those guys in Hawaii and California. I wanted to explain why it’s so different to ride these waves at new uncharted territory in the Atlantic wearing 6mm wetsuits and below zero air chills at times as opposed to sun kissed beaches in Hawaii. The only writing experience I have had is writing articles for magazines and websites. I’m not a trained writer. I write from my heart and mind exactly as I remember it. Most people who read my book say it’s raw, sounds just like how I tell stories in person and its very honest. It’s a book by me, a big wave surfer, it’s not a fancy worded piece by an onlooker or a photographer writing how they see and interpret what’s going on, it’s a first-hand no bullshit account of what it’s like to ride huge waves by someone who actually does.

 

What can readers expect from Surfing Mennie Waves?

 

Just as I said above it’s a raw emotional no bullshit account of what it has taken me to ride huge waves. I start the story with my inspiration from the guys at Mavericks. The reader learns about me as a young surfer growing up in a country with a tiny surf scene unaware of the huge waves they have lurking off the coast. I then go on to tell how I bought a boat and some charts and went in search of waves similar to what I rode at Mavericks. I talk openly about fear and how I overcome it and how it overcomes me at times. I talk about my father passing away and how the last discussion I had with him was about me wanting to surf huge waves. I go on to recall the most significant sessions over a series of years and all the highs and lows that came with that. I loved writing it, I found myself typing faster and faster as I relived the moments in my head.

Al Mennie

photo Charles McQuillan

 

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to accomplish some of the waves you have?

 

My advice to anyone wanting to ride big waves is to take it seriously. I grew up into big wave surfing by surfing bigger and bigger waves and I travelled a lot and surfed with guys at Mavericks and other places around the world and used what I had learned to ride big waves here. I started in a time when there was no one on the headland watching but I didn’t see that as a problem. Like anything in life there will be loads of obstacles but you have to love them and accept them as part of the process of riding big waves. By obstacles I mean, cold, bad weather, wipeouts, hold downs, whole sessions when you don’t catch a wave, no one wanting to surf with you etc. If you start seeing anything as a problem you may as well give up because believe me you will have more bad days than good for various reasons but the one good ride will stay with you forever. I have ridden so many big waves but only a few really stick out in my mind and they always will. There appears to be two types of big wave surfers screw loose and calculated madness. You will learn pretty quickly which one you are.

 

What does the future hold for you in the sport and what other ambitions do you have?

 

For me I feel a few years ago I got involved in contests and other people’s projects as big wave surfing grew in popularity. I am glad I did all that but I think I deviated from my own path in doing so and the reason I think that is because the most memorable times I have had have been right here surfing bigger and bigger waves and finding new spots with a few close mates. In the past two years I have gone back to what I love the most. Being low key and just searching and surfing waves off the beaten track with a small crew of guys. I’ve been putting a lot of time in at new places I’ve found and training with my mates Howard Robinson, Ricky Robinson, Hanno Windisch, Curtis Rafiki Sharpe and photographer Charles McQuillan. I have been working on new big wave board designs with local shaper Stevie Devlin too. That’s what I love right now so that’s what I’m sticking to!

 

I met the most amazing woman this year, Sara O’Neill and we got engaged last week. We plan to get married next year. For the first time in my life I have found that I want to be with someone rather than go surfing!

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