Winter Wonders… by David Olsthoorn
Its got to that time of year again hasn’t it. The cold and wet weather mixed with days lasting only 8-9hours is bringing everyone’s mood down. That time of year that the average sane person dislikes and moans about. The silly summer season has come to an end. But for a selected community of the less sane people, the wonderful winter season is about to begin….
As the seaside towns start to empty and the convoys of holiday makers and tourists make there way back home to there normal life it may seem like the small villages we live in are becoming ghost towns. But that’s just the dark of winter hiding what’s really going on. Hidden under the grey dark winter sky is an underground crew of surfers, photographers and videographers who are fired up and alive. Alive with images of the past winters tickling there imaginations and making there hearts really beat.
I used to think summer was my favorite time of year. You’ve got sun, bbq’s, parties, clubs and an endless supply of city girls coming to the beach to check out the “surfer dudes”. What’s not to love about that!! However since last winter my desires have changed, my Irish heart is tilted off its axis and my love with the raw power of the Atlantic during the winter months has become so strong that I have started to crave it during the summer months. Like a drug for my creative mind, it needs it to stay running. Maybe its just the photographer in me but i find myself so hungry for winter that i am thinking about it non stop.
Its cool being part of a crew like this. Everyone pushing themselves harder and harder when the swells arrives. Getting to do what you love, travel, explore, experience with all your best friends is a real gift. Waking up at 4am in the morning, defrosting the windows on the car and heading off to the spots. There’s nothing like it.
Sure the winter has its challenges and down sides. Take last winter for example i drowned a very lovely very expensive lens during a rainstorm which I’m pretty sure wanted to drown me, I constantly had the flu or some sort of cold from sitting on cliffs for hours on end and i had to battle with my parents every time the waves were good to get more time off school. They loved me getting out and shooting but school always came first!
One adventure from last winter sticks out in my memory loud and clear. It was a Saturday in February and it was my 19th birthday. Ollie O Flaherty calls me at 7.30AM to tell me its on! Hearing Ollie’s voice first thing in the morning had become somewhat of a regular accurance at this stage of the winter. Its usually a case of me sleeping past my alarm and getting the call from him saying “il be at the car park in five minutes” then i try and put on a very sleepy attempt at a woken up voice and say “cool I’m already on my way” at which stage he realizes I’m still in bed and gives out to me. Ollie is one of the most dedicated surfers I know in Ireland at the moment and has been getting set up for all the slabs and big wave spots all winter long. Pretty stoked to see him surf this winter.
I meet him in a dark cold car park at 7.45AM. There’s a slight drug deal feel to the whole situation as we move all my jackets and camera gear to his car. There’s an eerie stillness to the morning and a slight fog. The light isn’t looking great but I’m still buzzing to get some shots. With Boys Noize blowing the speakers of the Corolla we floored it on the main road. I love the journey part of the winter, early mornings with cold cars, driving down roads with no one on them apart from the occasional farmer or fisherman. Not knowing if there is even gong to be a wave. After a few hours we reach the spot. The first sight Ollie and I see is this perfect 4-6ft set rolling across the reef. It pelting rain and there’s low grey clouds in the sky. It still is, to this day, the most i have ever seen it rain. It did not stop for the entire day, not a single break. I shot for four hours in the rain, fully covered in jackets and waterproof pants which was great for the first 15 minutes and after that i was fully soaked through. I had brought a light plastic bag which I had put over my camera body and lens. Using a wirey twig from a tree i had tied it on to the end of the lens to keep the bag from blowing off in the wind. My icey stinging fingers are in agony, every part of me is wet, its my birthday and i am loving it!! I couldn’t help thinking what i must have looked like at the end. Hands blue with the cold, every part of me drowned wet and a twig wrapped around my camera. It was one of the best sessions I had all last winter simply because it was full on raw Atlantic hitting us all as hard as she wanted to. Driving home with a result is the best feeling. Ollie and I were stoked! He had his fix of kegs and i had the photos. My great love and adoration for the winter wildness started there.
The light can be a photographers best friend but can also be our worst enemy and its a huge challenge in Ireland in the winter with days lasting a lot shorter and the chances of the light being good when the waves pump is a rare delight. But challenges make you better and its no fun sitting on a beach with perfect light and waves the whole time is it?
It’s got pretty mental in Ireland in the last few years. It has turned into a mecca for filmmakers and photographers because of our beautiful waves in beautiful locations. Its kinda hard for us locals to get used to. We used to have these waves to ourselves. Now we get visitors from Australia, Hawaii, USA and pretty much everywhere else. Sure its frond upon by a few old grubby surfers but by the young crews I think they like it. It amazing to have guys with that kind of skill level in the water with them and its helping them push it big time. I have only been in this photography game for the last two years and i have noticed the difference. I had a few days during my first winter shooting when i would go to shoot and only have Mickey Smith and myself on the reef. That doesn’t happen anymore but i guess that’s something that just happens and has to happen. But whats great is that the photographers and surfers are not to getting absorbed by this and are concentrating on there passions and devote even more time into them.
So the winter we all love is coming at us fast and there’s not a lot we can do to get ready for it. Sure we can train and make sure all the equipment we use and our bodies are in top shape but the what we love about the winter is its surprises and not knowing what they are is what makes it all that better! Maybe Ireland will see its biggest swell ever this year, maybe the slabs will go even more crazy than last year. All we know for sure is that its definitely going to be windy, rainy and brilliant!
Check out more of Davids work here