FERGAL SMITH - BIG WAVE SURFER AND ORGANIC FARMER
“For me, surfing is a spiritual thing, it is about being there for special, beautiful moments of nature, the highlights of what nature can produce, and connecting to them through riding waves.”
Fergal Smith is a renowned big wave surfer who spent years travelling the world in search of perfect waves before settling down on the west coast of Ireland to pursue his passion for organic farming as well as surfing. I spoke to Fergal about his organic farming project at Moy Hill in Country Clare, the story behind his passion for surfing and why surfers make good farmers.
Does your passion for surfing and specifically big wave surfing stem from your childhood growing up in Ireland?
I am not the natural stereotype of a big wave surfer but you are a product of your environment; I was around good big waves growing up in Ireland and I was drawn to them. It is the same in Hawaii, there are loads of guys that can surf big waves because they were brought up with them, that is what they are used to. It is like anything in life, if you do a lot of it, it eventually becomes normal. But I am not really from a surfing family and did not have regular access to the sea until I was 15. For years, I spent hours driving all over the country with friends looking for good waves.
You were surfing all around the world at one point, what made you turn your back on that nomadic lifestyle and settle down in County Clare?
From the age of 18 I travelled all over the world surfing; I went to Australia and Tahiti six years in a row but would stay in Clare during the winters. I started to realise that the waves here are just as good as they are abroad and when you are on the road travelling, it is an independent, lone ranger activity. It is good for a bit but you cannot do it forever; you will never feel connected to where you live if you are on the move the whole time. It did not make sense for me long term because you cannot have a family so I decided to settle down in Clare; here I can grow organic food but also see the sea from the fields so whenever the waves are good I can go for a quick surf. I never feel like I want to travel away from the waves in Clare, I want to be here to honour them during the times they are really good.
You are often described as a big wave surfer, is that because you only enjoy going after the big waves?
I never think of myself as a big wave surfer, I do not look for big waves necessarily. It is more about good quality waves, that could be a four foot one or a twenty-foot one. If the quality is good, it gets me excited. I want to ride really intense, perfect shaped waves, and that does not happen very often.
Is there a spiritual aspect to your passion for surfing?
For me, surfing is a spiritual thing, it is about being there for special, beautiful moments of nature, the highlights of what nature can produce, and connecting to them through riding waves. I don’t go out to catch 500 waves I wait for one or two really good ones. When the waves are really good and it’s a special day that is when I like to be out in the sea connecting to nature. Floating in the ocean is a really good balance for me; farming is a physical, grounded, hardworking activity while being in the sea is a nice balance of floating, no gravity, and gliding on water. It really balances out your body and your mind.
What is the story behind your organic farm?
I recently started a CFA with a couple of friends at Moy Hill Farm; there are not many organic farms in our area of Ireland so we are hoping that we will set the standard. My dad was an organic farmer so I really value it as a profession. There is a need for organic produce and I think people should start to appreciate this kind of food and food production. It is not only about the produce and people willing to pay for it, it is more about getting people connected to the food and connected to the land so they realise that they have a responsibility to care for it.
How are CFAs encouraging people to think about where their food comes from?
CFAs play a big role in changing people’s attitudes to food because they create a direct relationship between a food producer and a group of people in the local community. You work with them every year and every season so they know how many hours it takes, they see the season has been, they taste the difference in the food and so they don't need convincing about the benefits of organic produce. It takes that direct connection to change people’s minds. I don’t judge people for the way they value food at the moment because advertising and the whole agro business system is telling people cheaper is better and so on. The system is not promoting this type of small scale farming because it goes against big business. It is hard but we know it is a good thing, people need it and want it to happen.
How does your day job as an organic farmer fit with your passion for surfing?
I am trying to persuade more surfers to be growers. If they could see the ecological, social, health and environmental benefits of organic farming and then see that their lifestyle can sit around it then they might consider it. Surfers are one of the only groups in society that build their life around being flexible and we have a really flexible life; you can leave things on the farm for a few hours and go for a surf and you will not get in trouble. We need young, enthusiastic, physical people who are excited, not afraid of hard work and want to make a difference. Surfers are generally happy, outgoing, and interested in being healthy, physically strong, connected to nature, and connected to people. Farming is a very rewarding job; it offers people the opportunity of being outdoors, connected to the land, and connected to the people in their community. Any good organic farm or CFA has a real buzz around them, there are only positive things happening.
Fergal Smith website: www.fergalsmith.com