Behind the Lens

Grant Ellis on hunting Irish slabs for the Photo Annual

A heavy lip along the Emerald Isle. Photo: Ellis

Year after year, our office gets flooded with more incredible images than we could ever cram into 12 issues. It's a great problem to have, and we cope with it by putting together a Photo Annual. For the 2012 edition, our staff photogs went from the frigid waters of the Norway to the scorching heat of Mainland Mexico, and everywhere in between. In the final installment of a four-part series, SURFER Photo Editor Grant Ellis talks emerald slabs and 5mm wetsuits from his journey to the Irish coast with Kepa Acero.

Despite the inhospitable conditions, there are inviting lineups scattered throughout the craggy nooks of the Irish coast. Photo: Ellis


“I went over to Europe to do a profile on Kepa Acero with Kimball Taylor, and the general plan was to head to Spain and try to get waves somewhere with Kepa. It just so happened that when we got to Spain there was a swell headed for Ireland, so we jumped right back on the plane. When we got there we went out to Bundoran and the surf was fun, but we got word that the waves were really good further south in the area near Lahinch. That area has a variety of waves from crazy slabs to mellower, rippable spots as well. Lahinch is such a surf-stoked town with surf schools everywhere and a lot of people getting really into it.”

Kepa Acero, staying warm in Ireland's frigid waters. Photo: Ellis


“We were lucky to get really good weather by their standards because the sun was out the whole time, but the temperatures were still really cold. I was swimming in a 5/4 with a hood, booties and gloves, and it was manageable. But one night I forgot to hang my suit, and the next morning I was putting it on while it was still dark out. My hands and feet were numb before I even hit the water. Although the cold was brutal, the water was incredible--crystal clear and teeming with sea life. One of the spots has a famous dolphin in the lineup that just comes up to surfers and hangs out with them.”

Figuring out the plan of attack during the incoming swell. From left to right: Tom Lowe, Ollie O'Flaherty, Tom Doidge-Harrison, and Fergal Smith at the cliffs of Moher. Photo: Ellis


“There is a really hardcore group of guys who chase big waves and slabs all through the area around Lahinch. They are really dedicated, and when there's swell, there are two or three spots that they go between all day to catch them on the right tides. On the second day of the trip we met the whole crew that surfs the left slab, Riley’s, and they were super cool about us showing up and catching a few with them. Fergal Smith is kind of the guy out there. He waits for the sets and gets the best waves and surfs them really well, and Tom Lowe is right up there with him.”

Fergal Smith, on his way out of the tube and onto the cover of the Big Issue. Photo: Ellis


“It was crazy seeing the variety of good waves in Ireland--it kind of blew my mind. The most striking images came from Riley's, which is where we got the cover shot for the Big Issue. There was only about a half an hour of light left when that session went down. Fergal and Tom came in on the ski and had a look at one wave but opted not to go. On the very next wave Fergal got the barrel that made the cover. Fergal got three or four good ones, and then Tom got a few until he fell on a wave and got pushed inside. The next wave in the set landed right on top of him and bounced him across the reef. He came up with a broken foot and the session was over. We checked out some other waves that looked really good as well, but we were mostly focused on Riley's because that spot is amazing. The scenery was incredible with the rocky shore and the framing of the cliffs. It's crazy that there is even a surf spot there because you just feel so isolated.”

Check out Part I with Todd Glaser in Puerto Escondido, Part II with Zak Noyle in Indo, or Part III with Chris Burkard in Norway. Click here to pick up a copy of the 2012 Photo Annual.