A Sort of Homecoming
For freesurf star Jamie O’Brien, the decision to temporarily quit the sun-drenched, girls-and-good-times Hawaiian backdrops that have made the Oahu native a bona fide YouTube sensation through his show Who Is JOB, was inspired by two apparently opposing imperatives: looking backwards and moving forwards.
“I’ve wanted to go to Ireland for a long time, it was really intriguing to me, especially having an Irish background. To be able to bring my dad as well was amazing. He has always wanted to explore the heritage. Also, you hear all these stories about these insane waves and I wanted to explore that. It really took us out of our element and I think people want to see that. I want to show them another side of what we do.”
Life in the Freezer
“They told us it was really cold so I was expecting that, but I didn’t imagine it would be as cold as it was,” says O’Brien, grimly. The Hawaiian made his trip to the west coast of Ireland in March, intending to take on some of the country’s biggest waves.
“On a normal day it would rain, sleet, snow – everything. A couple of weeks before I was in Canada and the temperatures were similar, but Ireland was a different kind of cold. It’s that wet cold, the kind that gets into your bones.”
O’Brien’s Irish sojourn wasn’t just about big waves. “We heard of a river wave, so I sent something out on my social media and it led us right there [to the standing wave at the Curragower Falls in Limerick City],” he explains.
“We do a lot of river surfing in Hawaii, so I adapted pretty comfortably. The scenery was fantastic, with [King John’s] castle in the background. It was perfect timing to catch that wave; we were really lucky. I could have done that for a week straight and I would have been happy!”
The target of O’Brien’s visit was a wave known as Aileen’s by locals. Branded the “perfect wave” by scientists at the National University of Ireland Galway, the swell, off the Aill na Searrach (the Cliff of Foals) area of the 214m-high Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, can grow to 12m.
The weather, though, conspired against O’Brien and his crew of fellow surfers. “When we got there it was raining and it was like 75mph offshore. It was crazily dangerous. The waves were just too big to paddle, so we had to tow my buddy (Australian surfer) Ryan Hipwood in on the jetski.”
The key to the success of O’Brien’s Who Is JOB show is mixing the radical with the ridiculous, and when he isn’t tackling massive waves, he and his faithful crew are getting their adrenalin-fuelled kicks wherever they can.
“Taking it to Ireland was just a little bit outside the envelope and we found some cool stuff to do – sandboarding down these crazy cliffs, rolling my friend Poopie in a mattress and pushing him down this dune,” says O’Brien. “It’s work when you don’t have your friends there. It’s still work when you do, but it makes it so much more fun and easier.”
O’Brien’s journey to his home country saw him visiting the coastal town of Lahinch, the city of Limerick and a fair selection of local hostelries in a bid to get in touch with his heritage.
“The pubs are insane,” he laughs. “How old they are, how much history they have. It was so beautiful. It really wasn’t so developed. I know it has developed massively in recent times, but it still feels like the real Ireland – real countryside, the green hills, how you imagine it.“
“We tried to embrace the culture, embrace the surfing and just enjoy ourselves, and in Ireland we did.”
“That’s my buddy Ryan Hipwood about to get a lip to the head at Aileen’s,” says O’Brien of the fearsome wave. “He got pounded – he dislocated his finger, he got slammed on the bottom, he got pinned up against a rock. He was like, ‘it’s your turn’, but after that I was like, ‘nah, I’m good’. It was terrifying! I’m just in awe of how good the waves can get there. They’re world class, but they are so hard to read. Unless you put in the hard yards, you’re from there and you’re there every day, only the chosen one gets to score the perfect wave.”