Question of Taste: Conor Maguire, big wave surfer – Irish Examiner

Big Wave surfer Conor Maguire is from Bundoran, Co Donegal. His surfing exploits have earned him an international reputation as a leading big wave rider, and he features in the latest episode of Surf Sessions recently launched on, as he experiences one of the best swells in years at the Riley’s slab in Co  Clare.

Best recent book you’ve read:

Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue. His life story is wild. To read stories of his talent shine through his substance abuse is almost unbelievable. I’ve loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers for ever and would have their albums on repeat as a teenager so the background to who they are intrigued me.

Conor Maguire admires the ocean.

Best recent show/gig you’ve seen (in the pre-covid era):

We’re lucky here in the north west to have a broad and talented pool of musicians. I saw Moxie in Sligo recently, they always blow me away. They’re an amazing group to see live.

What’s the best surfing-themed film you’ve ever seen, and what did you like about it?

Unstoppable, a true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton is both heart wrenching and inspiring. Bethany is a hugely talented surfer from Kauai, who had her arm bitten off by a tiger shark while surfing. Her bravery and failure to give in to her traumatic accident, becoming a hugely successful surfer is so admirable.

From the Beach Boys to surf-punk, there’s plenty music associated with surfing… what do you rate?

Anderson Paak’s album Malibu is pretty good. Glass animals, Sticky Fingers, Goons of Doom, Ben Howard.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen again. ‘Lover Lover Lover’ is a favourite. I also find myself listening to Rory Gallagher a lot. There’s an epic festival every year in Ballyshannon, the town next to Bundoran, in his memory.

First ever piece of music or gig that really moved you:

My sister introduced me to Nirvana when I was young. I used to rock out to that and dream of surfing the waves I saw in the magazines. Music was a key component in visualisation for surfing which helped me more than anything in surfing.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

I don’t watch that much TV but when I do, it’s usually documentaries on animals or nature. I also tend to check Red Bull TV if I have some free time, it is a content platform online and there is always a new documentary or show up there. The surfing content is always really great to watch for a bit of inspiration.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

I like John Creedon in the evenings. You’ll usually find something you haven’t heard before and learn something. I also enjoy listening to Ted Talks quite often for inspiration. I like collecting little snippets to keep me focused. I recently heard, “It’s not about your life expectancy, it’s what you expect from life.” That hit home with me as I’ve always lived in the moment and tried to push myself as hard as possible in the ocean.

You’re curating your dream festival – which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

Rory Gallagher, Leonard Cohen and Jamie XX for diversity.

Your best  celebrity encounter:

When I was eighteen, I had a horrible surfing experience beneath the Cliffs of Moher where I tried a really good big wave which breaks there and it didn’t go as planned, ending in a bit of an ordeal.

On my way back up the goat’s trail, I bumped into Irish surfer, and my hero, Fergal Smith and photographer, Mickey Smith (who discovered some of Ireland’s most famous waves and had a very unique eye (see ‘Dark Side of the Lens’ on and their friend, who I later found out was musician Ben Howard who was softly spoken and super nice.

They had seen the whole incident from the cliff top and asked me if I was ok and chatted to me for a while.

You can portal back to any cultural event or music era – where, when, and why?

It would have to be the 1960’s. Music seemed to be alive with curiosity and experimentation. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, etc.

Many surfers seem to have a deep appreciation for the sea and the wider environment?

I think most people that are into surfing are connected to nature and have a great appreciation and respect for it. Throughout the surfing community there is a movement to better our oceans in whatever way each individual can. I’ve been supported by the shoe and sandal company, Reef, for the past five years.

Reef works with a non-profit organization called Surfrider who help protect and clean our oceans. Reef and Surfrider came together last year at the G7 summit in France to ask our world leaders to do more to combat climate change. I attended as an ambassador for Reef, Surfrider and a cleaner ocean. It was interesting to hear people’s views on it all.

Marine plants, such as phytoplankton and kelp, create the oxygen we breathe. Our oceans cover 70% of our planet, making them essentially part of the lungs of the earth. We need to better our oceans health to better ours. It is essential we keep all life in them alive for us to thrive.

One positive to take from the current pandemic we’re experiencing is the well needed break for our environment. Anyone that lives along the coast will have noticed the increase in bird and sea life (basking sharks seem to be in bigger numbers than ever and lingering longer on the Irish coast) plus incredible water clarity. One can only hope this is a wake-up call for everybody.