Tristan Roberts must be one of the hardest working professionals in the bodyboarding world right now. He had based himself in Europe to train for the autumn. He narrowly missed winning the Fronton King event in Gran Canaria at the end of October. And he just released another boogie blockbuster called 'Holy Africa'.
Recently, the bodyboarding world champion was in Ireland.
Tristan, myself and his team had just walked in to The Strand Bar. The champ had spent the day hard at work in Irish salt. It was time to enjoy a pint of Guinness beside a warm fire after an epic day's surfing.
I had met Tristan a few times at contests in the Canary Islands. I had always invited him to come to Ireland. 'Just bring a decent wetsuit bru', I always joked.
I asked Tristan what his first impressions of Ireland were: "I have always wanted to explore [Ireland] - the cold land of slabs. Getting to do it with such a young, fired-up crew was a real blast.''
Tristan had arrived a few days previously with compadres Steph Kokorelis and Moises Silva. Pride bodyboards team manager Seb Boulard, who organised the trip, sat with us. He looked relieved that the effort planning the trip and the stress of organising the logistics at short notice had led him to a warm pub and a cold pint after a decent day of Irish slabs.
Tristan had been spending time in Europe with fellow Pride teamster Steph Kokorelis; one of the most talented Portuguese riders of his generation. Most people in Europe have never heard of Moises Silva. Moises is a young Chilean rider who made his name with a quarter final appearance at the Arica Cultura Bodyboard contest when he was sixteen. Like many other talented young riders, Moises missed out on the opportunity to compete in the junior world tour last year (cancelled due to corona virus). It was a shame.
According to Seb, 'Moises is probably the most complete rider of his generation. He has all the moves left and right.'
But things are now looking up for the nineteen-year-old. The South American is in Ireland for the first time.
"It was the first time I embarked on a team trip.” said Moises, “So, for me, it was crazy surfing with Tristan Roberts. He is one of my main inspirations while surfing at home the last few years. Being able to show my skills to the world was amazing. I hope I'll get more opportunities like this one and I thank the whole team at Pride for making that possible."
Seb Boulard is the master behind the Nymph Strike Missions. These trips offer a platform for young bodyboarders to show their skills on the world stage along with the best young rider in the world today: Tristan Roberts.
“Lots of people in Europe already know Steph [Kokorelis] as he's been ripping for as long as Tristan. Steph is probably the most talented rider of his age in the heavy stuff. PLC [two-time world champion and Pride ambassador Pierre Louis Costes] wouldn't stop telling me how talented and technical Steph was in big waves. I knew he would stand up to Tristan if we were to surf Aileens, which never happened.”
“This is also why we called it The Irish Gamble. The forecast changed every day even though we booked the flights from Portugal just three days before the trip. We got lucky to score some sick waves but we didn't get to surf Aileens. But I felt like it could have been much worse. We got lucky in the end! Anyway, Steph fully ripped at all locations and his technique today [including a reverse el rollo] just blew everyone away.”
Tristan concurred: “The boys were on fire, the suits kept us warm for the three-hour sessions in the cold Irish water and it was epic to see [a new spot]!"
My friend Shane Meehan, a top Irish bodyboarder as well as a top Irish chef, was keen to show the crew some Irish hospitality. After the session, he invited us to his restaurant, Stoked, in our home town of Strandhill. It would be rude not to. We got changed and headed straight to the world-famous Strand Bar. We had a quiet pint beside the open fire. Then on to the restaurant above the bar. Shane proceeded to treat Tristan, Steph, Moises, Seb and photographer Antonio Saraiva to a choice spread of food: a mix of local cuisine and world tapas.
I had met Antonio Saraiva in the water shooting photos only hours earlier. It turned out we had friend in common in the form of Joao Tudella; a bodyboarder who moved from Lisbon to Ireland to explore his own photographic talent.
Antonio Saraiva said: “Ireland is a place I've always had on my priority travel list. The unexpectedness of what to deal with in every surf is something that always triggered me. A place that provides a new mission everyday. Sculptured slabs that requires some logistics to deal with, either the cold, the fast tides, walking through huge mesmerising cliffs and electric fences… Every wave rider here is connected to the ocean because they wouldn’t do it unless they really love it.
“Pride made sure they recruited three of the most connected young riders who are deeply connected with what it takes to get to a perfect slab or even just a half pint at the local pub. It was a helluva pleasure to follow and film these boys on this strike mission."
Tristan had been hoping to come to Ireland for several weeks but a decent swell never materialised. He had to leave Europe to go back to his native South Africa at the end of November. His window to visit Ireland was disappearing. Then a swell popped up on the charts. It was his last chance.
Like any swell in Ireland, it wasn't a sure bet that the crew would score. I knew it. The guys knew it. The charts were changing daily and it was a hard call to make. It was time to take a trip. Win or lose. The crew put their money where there mouth was and booked a flight. They rolled the dice and took a chance. Once they had their accommodation and transport sorted they flew to meet their destiny. The Irish Gamble was born.
As dishes of beef cheeks, seared scallops and prawns al ajillo arrived at our table, Tristan told me about the last strike mission he had made to his homeland of South Africa. It was a memorable strike mission with former world champions Pierre Louis Costes and Isabella Sousa. The crew scored a sick run of swell. Tristan got to show his team mates around his beloved African coast.
To avoid repeating the traditional strike mission movie format, Seb had the brainwave that each member of the team should dress up as a boogieboarder from the 1990's and adopt an alter-ego. So, Tristan Roberts became Roberto Titan, Pierre Louis Costes became Per-Luigi Costa and Bela Sousa became Isabel Von South. Holy Africa was born.
Seb told me, "Holy Africa was a long process. From doing the equipment range to imagining a way to promote it to the riders doing a full actor job with their costumes. From hiking Table Mountain with bodyboards to the locals freaking out when they saw these guys dressed like they were back in the 90s. There were lots of good times we didn't film. Tristan was being the best guy, Pierre was just being Pierre with the most flawless moves I've been able to film and Bela was fully charging and so much fun to have around. Holy Africa was one of the toughest but most rewarding project that I have worked on. And I couldn't have done it without Simon Levalois. He did a really amazing job with this movie, and all the other guys and girls involved!"
Isabela Sousa is a leader in world bodyboarding. In South Africa, the Brazillian pocket rocket was performing the tightest, most technical manoeuvres and combos with the best style. Her innovative surfing and performance levels are pushing the envelope of female bodyboarding. In fact, her performance levels are pushing the level of women's wave-riding worldwide. And the evidence is there for all to see in Holy Africa.
According to Seb, the team were busting out on every section available. By the end of the trip, Tristan told me he was feeling the strain. His body was aching after a week straight busting out aerial after aerial. Mere mortals like us can't comprehend the effect that amount of airs and harsh landings would have on your body.
Tristan told me that Holy Africa was a special one for him too.
“To show the crew around home was an honour and the waves sure showed off for us. Without being biased, we scored and the crew took advantage of it!"
Next up on Tristan's wish list was to travel to Ireland to surf Aileens, one of the island's wonder waves. This fickle righthander sits at the base of the two hundred metre high Cliffs of Moher. Tristan, Steph and Moises knew their Irish adventure was a gamble. They were treated to a decent warm up session at a slab called Postbox. But it was the hope of surfing Aileens the next day that really got the guys excited.
This fickle righthander sits at the base of the two hundred metre high Cliffs of Moher. Tristan, Steph and Moises knew their Irish adventure was a gamble. They were treated to a decent warm up session at a slab called Postbox. But it was the hope of surfing Aileens the next day that really got the guys excited
The low tide was super early in the morning. But the boys were not deterred. They got up super early and arrived to the Cliff well before first light. They scaled down the goat's trail pretty much in the dark. They were keen but out of luck. They put all their money on red but the roulette came up black: the house wins.
The swell was huge as predicted but the wind was too west for Aileens. My initial plan was to go down and meet the guys and hopefully score a session at Aileens myself. But, in the end, gambling is not in my blood. The waves looked equally as good at home. So I stayed put.
The guys on the other hand had two options. One was to sit in Clare and feel sorry for themselves. The other was to pack themselves back into their rental cars, roll with the punches and get some more Irish miles under their belt.
Of course, the show must go on. T he surf report was good for up north. Several hours driving later and three sleepy looking pro bodyboarders tumble out of a rental car parked on a quiet, coastal back road. They stared out over farmer's field to the ocean beyond. After the first sign of solid walls and spitting barrels, they had no trouble jumping into their cold, wet, Nymph wetsuits.
You see, if you gamble enough you are bound to win at least once.
Even though they had to travel halfway across the country to get there, somehow, the guys had arrived in the line-up before me. When I paddled out and arrived to the peak my late coming was forgiven by the surf gods and the wave of the day came straight to me. I guess today was my lucky day.
Usually, when I am lucky enough to get the wave of the day there isn't a photographer in sight. But I clearly remember pulling into this giant cave and seeing two people with water housings floating over the shoulder. One of those photographers was Antonio Saraiva. Little did I know I would be sitting having a pint with this man only a few hours later. The other camerawoman was up and coming photographer Megan Gayda. She had swam out and sat in the prime position for my wave and kindly sent me a killer shot the next day.
I'm not a pro on the level of Tristan and his friends. Surfing for me is not all about 'getting the shot'. But if a photographer just happens to get the shot. Cherry on top right? Vanity, thy name is Shambles.
While I lucked out on that one wave. I should not get ahead of myself. Tristan, Steph and Moises were absolutely ripping for their entire three-hour hour session. Once they left the salt it was on to Stoked restaurant for a well earned feed. But the boys were on a tight schedule. They had made the three-hour hour drive from Clare at seven am that morning. After surfing all day, they still had a three-hour hour drive back to get to their accommodation. All in a day's work for a professional bodyboarder.
But at least they had some time to relax, refuel and soak it all in. Surf travel is not all about scoring waves. It is about meeting new people, encountering new cultures and landscapes and enjoying the journey as well as the destination.
Before they hit the road, I mentioned to Seb and Antonio that the crew's luck could be about to change again. In a big way. It looked like a Mully chart was brewing for two days time. The winds looked calm and the surf wasn't going to be giant. A mid-sized swell usually produces the most boog friendly waves at Mullaghmore.
Of course in Ireland, nothing is ever that simple. There were a few minor complications. The day of the swell was also the day Antonio, Tristan and Steph had to leave. And the low tide was early in the morning. That meant they guys had to get up at 3.30am, pack their bags and hit the road to Sligo
Of course in Ireland, nothing is ever that simple. There were a few minor complications. The day of the swell was also the day Antonio, Tristan and Steph had to leave. And the low tide was early in the morning. That meant they guys had to get up at 3.30am, pack their bags and hit the road to Sligo. They also had to catch their flight to Dublin in the afternoon which meant they would have to leave the water at 11am. It was a tight schedule. But their entire trip had been a tight schedule. So what difference was one last gamble going to make?
So what did you think they were going to do? Of course, they rolled the dice hoping for one last big win. Although Seb and Moises had to leave the day before, Antonio, Tristan and Steph duly arrived to the headland at Mullaghmore on the morning of the swell. But their luck had run out. The surfing roulette table came up black once again.
Although the wind was perfect offshore, the swell turned out to be not as big as forecast. There was only one wave at Mullaghmore every twenty minutes or so. The guys were tired from surfing and travelling and decided it wasn't worth paddling out to try even one wave and risk missing their flights. Just then the set of the day arrived and three sick waves unloaded on the reef.
Myself and Franco-Hiberno booger Yann Mestelan tried to encourage Tristan and Steph to come out and try at least one wave. But the guys weren't keen. Yann was all fired up. He convinced me to jump in my wetsuit and paddled out. We said goodbye to the guys and embarked on a good old Irish gamble ourselves.
Just as we got to the peak, the wind swung onshore and the rain started. I was so stoked that the crew hadn't listened to us. It would have been a total waste of their time. And Murphy's Law states, what can go wrong will go wrong, so they probably would have missed their flight as well. For no good reason.
No matter which way you look at it, surfing in Ireland is always a gamble. But it is the thrill of the win, the thrill of the lose which keeps us going.
The team's initial plan to score Aileens didn't work out. I asked Seb afterwards if this would leave a bitter taste in their mouths. Would they ever return to Ireland: “Given how bad the boys want to surf Aileens, I guess we'll be back!"