Irish surfer in running for top award


Irish surfer Ollie O’Flaherty is in the running for one of big wave surfing’s most prestigious prizes for his ride on a monster Co Sligo wave last month.

O’Flaherty (24), from Lahinch, Co Clare, has been nominated in the Biggest Wave category of the Billabong XXL 2012 contest for a wave he was towed into at Mullaghmore Head on March 8th. The category carries a $15,000 prize.

Devon-based surfer Andrew Cotton was also nominated for a wave he caught at Mullaghmore on the same day.

The nominations are the latest acknowledgement that Irish big wave surfing is on a par with anywhere else in the world.

It was O’Flaherty’s first time surfing at Mullaghmore, one of Ireland’s many world-class big wave spots. A NUI Galway science graduate, he  has been a pioneer at other spots in Co Clare, most notably the heavy slab at Riley’s near Kilkee and Aileen’s at the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

The other nominees in the category are Garrett McNamara’s huge wave at Priaia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal last November, Basque surfer Axi Muniain’s ride at Agiti, Spain in November and Damien “Taco” Warr’s beast at Cow Bombie, Western Australia in October.

McNamara is also included in the nominees for the main ride of the year award, which carries at $50,000 prize, along with Californian Nathan Fletcher for his insane death-defying barrel at Teahupoo in Tahiti and fellow Californian Greg Long for a huge paddle-in tube at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. The final two nominees are Australian Ryan Hipwood for his tube at massive Cloudbreak in Tavarau, Fiji and Jeff Rowley for his paddle-in wave at Jaws on Maui in Hawaii, which was previously seen as a tow-surfing spot only.

The total prize fund for the XXL awards is $120,000.

The winners will be announced at the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards party at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California on May 4th.

O’Flaherty, who helps fund his surfing by giving lessons, said he was trying to get sponsorship to cover flights and accommodation so he can fly the flag for Ireland at the awards ceremony.

Describing the wave itself, O’Flaherty said he left Lahinch at 5am to get to Co Sligo where he was towed into the wave by a jet ski.

“A lot of things went through my mind before I let go of the rope to catch the wave,” he said.

“Then I just thought, I’ve put a lot of time and effort over the last year or two - hours of training and thinking about it - and the wave only lasts 20 seconds. So I just thought this has got to be worth letting go, so I did.”

O’Flaherty said he couldn’t put into words the feeling of catching the wave. “It’s not just those 20 seconds, it’s the two weeks afterwards when you are just numb with a smile,” he said.“It’s a real personal thing, and that’s the adrenalin that I feed off. That will keep pushing me to go back more and more now.”

Asked what he would do with the prize money if he won, he said: “I’d put every cent back into surfing - I’ve broken every one of my boards already this year - seven boards. So, I’m down to nothing.”

Additional reporting: PA