I love books like this one. Well written slices of a life I previously knew little or nothing about. In much the same way as Richard Askwith’s spectacular Feet In The Clouds guided readers through the traditions and torments of Fell Running (read it, it’s a hell of a good book), Irish Times Journalist Keith Duggan introduces us to the world of Big Wave Surfing off the West Coast of Ireland. Duggan, like Askwith, makes the unknown familiar.
Most people, myself included, associate the sport of surfing with good weather, good looking people, warm waters and exotic locations but it transpires that some of the best waves (read big and dangerous) on the planet appear off the coast of Clare, in the cold, cold winter months and are surfed, primarily, by young pasty skinned guys from Ireland and England.
Cliffs of Insanity follows the lives of young Mayo man Fergal Smith and the slightly, but not much, older Cornishman Mickey Smith who between them have discovered some of the biggest waves and pioneered and documented Irish big wave surfing. Fergal is methodical in his approach to surfing, content to sit for hours in the frigid waters waiting to catch one or two perfect waves while Mickey’s forte is capturing it all on film.
Duggan’s writing is such that the waves literally come to life on the page; you know just how cold it is out there. He has a knack of making you feel close to the action. He also has an eye for detail that makes you feel that you know the protagonists on a somewhat personal level. In one brief passage he writes of Fergal’s contentment with whiling away a washed out afternoon sipping tea. Far from making you think he’s a bit of a lazy sod, you end up feeling a sense of calm and patience is at the core of this young man’s make up.
One (the only) short coming of the book is that mere words cannot do justice to the work of Mickey Smith but don’t let that put you off. Rather take a chance on the book; it’s worth a tenner of anyone’s money, then track down some of Mickey’s work on the www., and let the two complement one another.