The Life Of A Bodyboarder

In this weeks series of ‘Life of A…’ I have caught up with Irish Big Wave Bodyboarder Seamus Mc Goldrick aka Shambles, who has made a name for himself due to his ability to tame monsters around the Irish coastline armed with a bodyboard and a set of balls to match that of a Matador. Lets get to it!

Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Seamus Mc Goldrick (28) and I am from a magical place called Strandhill Co. Sligo in the northwest of Ireland. I have been bodyboarding for over sixteen years. I studied Physics in Trinity university in Dublin, studied traditional Irish music in Leitrim and also spent periods working as a government artist (drawing the dole). During the summer I teach surfing at my local beach and currently I work in an office while searching for a job in the adventure travel industry.

Why did you want to become a bodyboarder and when did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I grew up with a great bunch of friends, we would hang out at the beach and watch the handful of guys who made up the original Strandhill surf crew paddle out. I wanted to start surfing because I saw the older kids at it. At a time before Youtube and Netflicks, we would go to the video store and rent the classic surf movie Endless Summer II and watch it over and over. That was about the height of the surf media in Ireland in those days.

I somehow got copies of the classic Underground Tapes series of Australian bodyboard movies with titles like Wave Slaves and Waves from Hell. Back then nine time world champion Mike Stewart from Hawaii was the man in bodyboard circles, when I saw him charging places like Pipeline and Shark Island that’s when I knew bodyboarding was for me: I knew what I wanted for christmas that year!

What training is necessary?

Bodyboarding is great because you can be a totally unfit, sixty year old fat slob and still go bodyboarding and have a great time, it has this great accessibility. But to get to that top level you need one thing: dedication. Bodyboarding can be very physically demanding but it also requires a huge amount of know-how, technique and skill. There is no better training for surfing than going surfing, it is the only way you can gain experience. I was lucky because I grew up beside a beach and as I grew up I got to surf some of the world class waves Ireland has to offer. I also travelled as much as I could.

I would practice the same move for months, you’d catch a wave, try a move, catch a rail and get slammed, catch another wave, try it again, get slammed, and rinse and repeat. Entering competitions as a youngster helped me identify my strengths and weakness and try to put together what I had learned on one wave in a meaningful way to impress the judges.

I find the most important training for bodyboarding is yoga, which build strength and flexibility in a holistic way. Swimming with some breath training and a little bit of running helps too, and a good diet is of paramount importance. I met Mike Stewart who is now 50 years old, he has the body of a twenty year old and is still in the top 10 on the world tour. Kelly Slater is still winning surfing world titles at 42. These guys inspire me to keep pushing it for the next 20 years.

What really goes on inside your head when dropping in on a big wave?

Good question. Lots of stuff goes through your head the night before, like will I get the wave of my life, will I die, will one of my friends die, will I even paddle out? Then when you are out there you are thinking, ‘Will I go for this one, that one? Who just got a sick wave, who just got a hideous beatdown.’ But when you go for a big one and you are dropping in there is not much going on in your mind at all. It is showtime, you are totally absorbed in what you are doing. Its like going into an alternate reality. And if you make it you get this mad euphoria afterwards. It is kinda addictive.

What’s a typical day like in the life of an Irish bodyboarder?

An average day in the life of an Irish bodyboarder probably isn’t that amazing. You would get up, have a stretch and some breakfast before checking the weather forecast. The surf charts on the internet usually show unfavorable conditions and baltic temperatures. You get in your car, check the nearest spot and then spend fifty euros in diesel checking every other surf spot on the coast that could possibly be working that day (they are not) and end up back where you started (less petrol money). You get out of your car, put on a freezing wet wetsuit, paddle out in average conditions and enjoy yourself until an onshore gale blows in and cuts your session short. That is the reality of it.

However, a dream day of being an Irish bodyboard is much more exciting. You get up an hour before dawn, make porridge, and pack some fruit, snacks and a hot flask of tea for the day. You meet up with a couple of your best mates and head to a mysterious spot that is rumored to work in these conditions. When you get there, praise the Lord, the waves are pumping and there is no one out. You don’t care that it is -2 degrees outside, you are in there like swimwear.

After an hour or two the tide starts to drop and you decide to get out, exhausted and elated. Its only 9am. The group decision is to go to a different spot that works best at low tide, surf there for two hours. Eat. Drive around exploring the coast waiting for the tide to turn. Go back to the spot you surfed that morning. Surf for another two hours. At this stage you are totally spent and frozen to the bone, but you are smiling from ear to ear.

Next, you find a cosy pub with a warm fire and order a round of Guinness. Everyone sips there restorative pints animatedly discussing every aspect of the surf sessions experienced that day, when I got that barrel, and you got that set on the head and he was nearly washed over those boulders. At this stage, you are on a complete surf high.
Then the talk turns to the next day, there is still a lot of swell around, and if the wind turns a little more south the tide could be perfect in the morning for a certain rarely surfed location. You arrive home shattered but stoked, you set your alarm for an hour before dawn, but if the conditions are the same as today, it’ll be worth it.

How has the industry changed over the years?

The bodyboard was invented in Hawaii by Tom Morey in the 1970s and in the 1980s bodyboarding was the fastest growing watersport on the planet. However, the bodyboard industry got screwed over by the much larger surf industry and by huge international toy companies. Bodyboarding has only ever been kept alive by the passion of its participants. The biggest change in the industry in the last ten years has been bodyboarders setting up bodyboard specific companies and now there are plenty of successful bodyboard brands such as Unite, Pride, Grand Flavour, and Zion wetsuits to name a few. The success of these brands is integral to the growth of the industry.

Today, 100% bodyboarder owned companies are producing amazing equipment. It all changed when Mike Stewart founded Science bodyboards. At the time Mike was sponsored by Morey bodyboard who were own by the Mattel corporation. Mike’s dream was to set up his own company and sponsor himself, which he did. Science bodyboards has gone from strength to strength and now Science sponsors the annual Pipeline Pro event and a new generation of rippers from all over the world. Since I began bodyboarding the sport has steadily progressed, year after year. The world tour has progressed significantly in the last four years, with better venues and a live webcast and the performance level of the top pros is absolutely mindblowing.

What is the work/life balance like?

The last ten years of my life have been dedicated to the sport I love. It doesn’t leave much time to chase a career. During that time bodyboarders and surfers from all over the world have pushed surfing in Ireland to a whole new level, and I was lucky enough to be right in the centre of it. When I finished university I travelled to Indonesia because it was my dream when I was younger. I had lots of odd jobs to fund surf trips at home and abroad. In the summer teaching surfing is great because it combines a job with your passion. In the winter you do what you can to get by, or even fund a surf trip to a sunny climate. But you definitely don’t want to be stuck in work when the surf is pumping!

What’s the best part of your job?

What is so great about bodyboarding? Man, too many things to list here. The best part is getting good waves with your mates or scoring the swell of the season. You meet great people from all over the world and make lots of lifelong friends. Travelling to other good surf destinations around the world is pretty amazing too.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part is not scoring decent waves for weeks, sometimes months, on end. Or not having enough money to travel to competitions abroad or do as many amazing trips as you would like in a year.

Do you have any sponsors?

I am sponsored by Billabong wetsuits and Rapa Nui, an eco-fashion label. I am also sponsored by Science bodyboard so I always have top equipment, which is fantastic. In fact, Science founder Mike Stewart came over to Ireland last winter, which was pretty mindblowing. It was amazing to get to meet your idol. I never would have thought I would be sponsored by Mike Stewart, let along get to meet him, when I was watching him in those old Aussie bodyboard videos when I was younger. But that’s bodyboarding for you.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about what it’s like to be a bodyboarder?

The biggest misconception the general public have about bodyboarding is that it is just something for young kids to play around with in the summer in small waves and that it is easier and requires less skill than stand-up surfing. Bodyboarding is something that is easy to pick up but hard to master. One side of it is a simple recreational activity but the otherside of it is a hardcore extreme sport. Bodyboarders are usually underground chargers who do it just for the love and who generally don’t get the recognition or sponsorship their stand-up surfing contemporaries get. Bodyboarders have been pushing the limits of what is possible on a wave for over twenty years, and it has had a massive influence on surfing in general.

Any other advice, tips, commentary, or anecdotes you’d like to add?

I think if I started telling anecdotes I would be here for the rest of the day, ha ha. But do check out the following link for a report on the ‘Hercules’ swell that hit Mullaghmore this winter.

My advice for anyone reading this who thinks they would like to give bodyboarding a try is ‘go do it’. The brilliant thing about bodyboarding is that it is so accessible. You may not become a pro bodyboarder but you will have a whole lot of fun. It is all about getting into the ocean, trying to catch a few waves and seeing what all the fuss is about.

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