Four years ago, Devon-born Taz Knight bought a house in Ireland. It was an empty shell, no furnishings, no electricity, nothing. He named the joint Keggend and has been steadily renovating it ever since.
For Taz, that’s almost emblematic of his approach to surfing. As long as he’s been physically building his home, he’s also been preparing his mental one in the ocean, constructing foundations to feel more comfortable during those crazy, Irish slab days.
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That’s not to say Taz is new to heavy water, he’s put in the time at Maverick’s and Todos Santos. But there’s complexity in choosing a new place to live, not knowing anyone, navigating your way through one of the most atmospheric locales around, while leaving family, a partner and everything else behind.
Earlier this month, as another brilliant winter swell filled into Ireland, those four years’ worth of experience were made good. Taz paddled into one of the wildest drop-to-barrel combos we’ve seen out of the cliffs. We wondered:
What did it take to stick that thing? How did the morning look? What’s the motivation to continue pushing? What board did he ride? And what did it all mean after?
“This swell had been on the forecast a long time. There was a few days of east wind in the forecast, which meant good days for here. I drove around for a couple of sessions, going to more remote spots, before going here on the big day. I think it was those days before that put me in a relaxed mindset.
The night before this session, I went to meet Conor [Maguire] and we camped out. It felt so calm, we were relaxing, having a good time. We weren’t in that normal day-before-a-big-swell mindset, we weren’t anxious. I wasn’t going out there to catch crazy waves, at least I didn’t think I was. I was going to enjoy the process of just being out there.”
“That morning was special. When you come out on the ski by the cliffs you go past this amazing stretch that you can’t see from anywhere else, other than when you’re in the water, because it’s so enclosed. There were thousands of sea birds on the ledge, they woke up and dive-bombed like a waterfall off the side and swooped down over our heads.
Conor and I sat on the ski for ages watching them. We completely forgot that, what we were actually supposed to be doing, was racing to get to the spot before the tide pushed in. We nearly missed it entirely.
“When I got into the lineup, I had no expectations of trying to perform. When you’re in that sort of rhythm, everything becomes much easier. As the waves started coming through I didn’t think it was 20-30ft and heavy, it felt, in my mind, like it was 6ft. [laughs]
“Not many people were giving it a serious dig. I quickly got on a warm up wave and felt good. As I paddled back out to the lineup, I was chatting with everyone and straight away, a big set started lining up. This must have been 15-20 minutes after the initial paddle out. It was wide, stacked up on the horizon and I saw everyone around me paddling towards it.”
“I did this thing where I sat on my board and asked ‘is anyone going?’ Everyone was like, ‘no!’ I said, ‘are you sure? I’ve just had one but I’ll take it…’ [laughs]. Few people were like, ‘Taz, go, go go!’ Because of that, I didn’t really build up as much speed as I needed to. The wave did this thing where it hit the boil and bounced off, so it kind of doubled up on the inside slab. I was right in between the boil and the slab. Usually, you want to be under it so you can scoop in. I knew I was too far out and I just managed to scrape under it.
“I had to remind myself to focus on the drop. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and look down the line. It’s tempting to look ahead, but that’s when you’re going to mess it up. I was saying over and over in my head; ‘ok, this is a late one, focus on the drop, focus on the drop, get the rail in, get the rail in.’
“I remember coming out and in was in awe of the situation. Everything about surfing that wave is so atmospheric. There’s a lot of intensity, you’re in an amphitheatre of cliffs. With all that spit and hosing, I was thinking ‘was that the best wave I ever had?’
“I was in the water and it all just kind of hit, I was yelling. Everyone was in the channel, whooping. Went over to Conor and gave him a hug. Everyone in the lineup was giving me high fives. The crazy thing after that wave was, I got two or three more incredible waves. But the sensation of them was dulled in a way because of that first one – when I think back though, they’re some of the best rides I’ve ever had.”
“Was surfing this 8’0” board from Nigel Semmens, I’ve had it for a while now. So old, I’ve still got FCS I plugs in it, I don’t think you can even get them any more. Rode a thruster for this session. Sometimes I’d ride it as a quad, if I needed an extra bit of hold on my backhand.”
“I was looking at my feet for the whole drop. I didn’t look at the wave until I was half way through my bottom turn – because I was so late under it. By that point, I was almost at the deepest part of the tube. There was this amazing moment where I was weightless then looked up and was watching this perfect, blue, crystalline lip, roaring down.
Those tiny moments are less than a second of our time but they create this huge intense storm of emotions. I can’t think, or put into words, how much these moments mean.
“It felt as if the wave breathed in before it spat. Like the whole ocean took a breath. And with it, a surreal silent moment in the tube as I was gliding along; it was perfect. When you’re in there, you’re looking right out at those cliffs. I was looking at the view like ‘oh my days, what a view’ [laughs]. In a split second, it went from this hectic moment, to the barrel. You go through so much head space in that short amount of time.
“I had to do a little kind of carve and point the board out of the wave, because there’s so much water moving, different to how you ride smaller barrels where you weave to the end. I think I was just standing there. Honestly, apart from angling the board, I can’t really remember what I was doing [laughs].”
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“You put the time into these spots over and over again, you get knocked down, knocked around. You get glimpses out there of what’s possible and after a while, you build up that level of comfort and have the support network around you to keep pushing.
“A wave like this reaffirms your sense of self, that you’re on the right path. I feel like surfers, we don’t really know why we do what we do, yet we put everything else in our lives second. Everything I’ve pursued in my life I’ve given up – except for surfing.
“There’s not really any reason for that, except I really love it. It was moments like this that gave me the biggest reason why. It’s also the reason why I don’t make any money [Taz has no major sponsors]. The reason why I don’t live near my family back home in North Devon any more. It’s the reason why my girlfriend lives in Bristol and I don’t get to see her all that often. Those tiny moments are less than a second of our time but they create this huge intense storm of emotions. I can’t think, or put into words, how much these moments mean.”
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