Louis Thomas-Hudson is a name well known in England's north east surf community, and for good reason. Not only is he an exceptional navigator of the North Sea's ice-cold, chocolate barrels, but proudly continues his late father Stephen's legacy of Tynemouth Surf Co — a true hub for the surf crew of this frigid coastline.
This winter, Louis' top spot on his to-do list has been to get stuck in to tackling big waves. With Ireland having a consistently solid season, where better to start than at the hair-raising, liquid cement mixer that is Mullaghmore?
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"Over the last couple of years, I’ve been pushing myself gradually into bigger waves," says Louis.
"We had been checking the charts for around a week but the wind was changing quite a lot so we were unsure whether to go. Myself and good mate Danny Allott made the decision which was definitely a good one. Travelling from Newcastle takes a full day of driving and a two hour ferry trip but it's all very scenic.
"You definitely start getting into the zone a few days before the swell hits. The excitement and focus starts from the journey over to Ireland. You find yourself checking the forecast every few hours. The day before, there is a mixture of nerves and excitement while preparing your equipment. It is good to be in a positive mindset before surfing when it’s big and to be feeling tip-top, mentally and physically.
"During my first few sessions out at Mullaghmore, I started off catching smaller ones and have gradually built it up. This is the first year I’d say I've caught some proper solid ones and started to feel a little more comfortable out there.
"It's such a scary, heavy wave. Just spending more time out there helps you to become familiar with the wave which in turn helps you stay more relaxed. You have to be a very experienced surfer with a high level of fitness and you have to have the confidence to paddle into one when a set comes as it can be a dangerous wave."
In true big wave riding fashion, Louis has also had the opportunity to start experimenting with tow surfing.
"From my experience, paddling is definitely more scary than towing but it's sick to get the opportunity to do both. Equipment is also essential and it's all pretty expensive so can take a while to build up, especially if you want to get into tow surfing.
"I go for an 8’6 gun, a Patagonia impact vest under my wetty and a 4-pull Blue Soup inflation vest on top for when its really big. I'm also in the process of getting a jet ski to do some more tow surfing which is tricky to sort along with the sled, tow rope and storage but I feel like it will be worth it and will help going forwards."
So how did this session go down? "The first day was massive and windy," explains Louis.
"It was my first time with a spot on a ski thanks to my mate, Josh Surridge who is spending the winter in Ireland. Once we got out there he towed me into a small one just to get used to the tow board and getting whipped in. For my second wave we waited a while out back for a set and managed to get on to a set wave.
"It was my second ever tow wave so I played it pretty safe but loved it. I was totally buzzing! Also just watching colossal, heavy waves being ridden was wild. It wouldn’t have been possible without Josh though, so a big thanks to him. I owe him some beers for sure. Everyone out there got waves so it was a good vibe and everyone came home safely which is the main thing.
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"Day two was the paddle day. The morning was huge and windy but it dropped pretty quickly meaning it was good for paddling. I paddled out fairly early and managed to get into a set wave which I was happy about.
"I took the drop, made the bowl section but hit a few speed bumps at the end and flew off, still stoked though. I got a couple of others after but nothing as good as my first one. It was another amazing day and it was awesome to watch everyone getting some bombs. I'm planning on getting back to Mully as often as possible when there’s a big swell so hopefully there will be a couple more coming soon.
"It is key to have contacts with good local knowledge and experience out there. Some of my good friends live there and have helped me enormously. Everyone I’ve met in the surf community there has been super nice and friendly which has helped to give me confidence knowing that everyone looks out for each other in the water. There’s usually a safety ski driver out there during most sessions who picks you up after wipeouts.
"This is a great safety measure when it’s big. My good friend Taz Knight who lives there has helped me a lot since my first trip. He introduced me to the crew and has showed me the ropes out at Mully which has been amazing. Taz charges and is a legend of a bloke."
And how does a hell-slab in the Atlantic compare to chocolate bombs in the North Sea?
"Surfing around the north east is amazing, especially during the winter. I've had some superb sessions at home this winter and had some of the longest barrels of my life. Hopefully plenty more to come!
"What’s different about Ireland is that it has spots that can hold the big swells from the Atlantic. The community at home is similar to the surf community in Ireland in that everyone knows everyone and looks out for each other. It’s pretty hardcore surfing in both places during the winter but that’s what makes them both special."
Louis has a real drive to start tackling bigger waves going forward.
"I think for me, it’s the adrenaline rush.
"I also like everything that goes with it; the strike mission, the travel, meeting new people and even preparing the equipment. Big wave surfing is a sport in itself. I’m buzzing for days after surfing big waves. I like to try and push myself as much as possible in whatever I’m doing and I'm keen to keep pushing myself with big wave surfing and to see where it takes me. I’d love to try out some more big wave spots in the future.
"A big thanks to Gary McCall, Clem McInerney and Johannes Hertel and most importantly the Irish crew for sharing their waves."
How's the surf looking in this part of the world right now? Check the cams:
Scarborough | Cayton Bay | Whitby | Lahinch |