I first met Dan Skajarowski camping in a field with his best mate Jack Johns. Jack and Dan were two well-known bodyboarders we read about in the now sadly defunct bodyboard mag, Threesixty. It was my first surf trip to Clare with Andy Kilfeather and Fintan and Tom Gillespie. We knew who they were. Jack had scored a sick cover of the mag at sixteen but Dan was more mysterious. He was one of the first UK surfers to surf Aileens. He shattered his knee at Rileys and overcame his terrible injury. Dan was part of the first, full-on low tide paddle assault on Mullaghmore too.
I had come to surf a newly discovered slab called Bumbloids, but Dan had got there before me. He and Jack had been camped out in the field all week it seemed, surviving on tins of cold beans. Me and my companions wondered: what were these two pro bodyboarders doing living in a tent? But we didn't have time to ponder these mysteries. We had managed to rock up to the break when it was firing. So we shook hands with our new mates and went and traded mindblowing barrels. A fateful meeting indeed.
I would now call Jack and Dan two of my closest friends and definitely my favourite surfing compadres. For Dan, the lure of the waves in County Clare proved too strong and he now calls the place home. Lahinch Hellman Ollie O' Flaherty is Dan's neighbour and knows him well. Ollie claims, “Danny Boy: no wave too tall, no woman too small.”
Clare safety guru, Peter Conroy, says he has him in his phone as Dan Danger, "because he always goes for it and fears nothing in the ocean; true gent from start to finish and also the most modest guy in the world. I have seen him go for, and pull into, the biggest barrels and come out smiling. And if I wasn't there to see it with my own eyes I wouldn't have known, like the rest of Ireland. By far one of the best bodyboarders in Europe, if not the world."
He kinda sums up bodyboarding for me, the underdog who rides massive slabs purely because he loves it.
Dan 'the Man' Skajarowski has been very casually sliding into the roundest, biggest and baddest pits in County Clare for over a decade. It is a simple fact that the bomb of the session usually goes to this humble Cornish creature.
"I've known Dan for years", says Dubliner, Tom Gillespie. "I think me and my brother Fintan first met him and his twin brother Piran in 1998 at Easkey in Sligo. They were the funniest couple, each one finishing each other’s sentences and having the cruisiest vibe, the constant head nod, like the punk music never stopped playing in their heads. Nowadays, Dan hasn’t changed that much. He prefers the finest of cuzzas now over living on cold tinned beans. He still has a constant grin on his face and the best sense of humour. Not a lot of things phase him too much, most certainly not the scariest situations for most normal people at Aileens.
"Dan knows the best ones at the cliffs. They are the ones where you have to be in a pretty scary place to catch and that carry the most weight of water. He has gotten the best/gnarliest waves out of anyone who has surfed there and he does it in the humblest way. He kinda sums up bodyboarding for me, the underdog who rides massive slabs purely because he loves it, amidst paid bigwigs who obsess about photos and sponsorship and don’t come out with half as good waves. Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, that’s what I usually tell people when they’re going to meet him. Dan the man. Legend."
What I admire most about Dan is that his inspiration is pure. Unlike a frightening amount of other swell chasers, Dan paddles out to confront these bombs for the simple pleasure of looking out from the inside of monsters, make or no make. I asked Mickey Smith to fill me in on his character.
Danny Boy just bumbles down smiling and happy as ever, wearing a ripped rotten old wetty, fucked old board and odd fins, paddles out and sits in the gnarliest zone all day.
Mickey said, "I have known Dan since he was a little kid and have seen him grow up into such a good man. He is the most humble, quiet, big-hearted legend I know. In the water, he never makes a fuss, never shouts about his waves, just cruises on his own fearless vibe and is always happy, positive and out there pushing himself for the pure joy."
"I surfed the cliffs on a solid day recently and walking down the trail was hilarious. Everyone seemed to have these ninja armoured suits, oxygen tanks and mad hi-tech looking boards. It was like a NASA mission or a scene from ET."
"Then Danny Boy just bumbles down smiling and happy as ever, wearing a ripped rotten old wetty, fucked old board and odd fins, paddles out and sits in the gnarliest zone all day where no-one else wants to sit because it's so hectic, and quietly pulls into the two waves of the day. Then he cruises in, and doesn't even mention the absolute caves he's just ridden through. He just asks me how my surf was and then sets off for another night shift at work. We can all learn a thing or two about humility and heavy water from Danny Boy, that's for sure."
Daniel is a man of contentment. Although he has always been shy of a few sponsorship dollars, Dan's waveriding career will never-the-less satisfy him deep into his retirement. I'm not saying this because Dan is my mate, oh no. I am saying this because Dan Skajarowski is one of the men who has truly redefined wave riding, not only in Ireland and the UK but also in Europe and beyond. Dan has been pushing the boundaries of what is possible in Irish waves of consequence winter after winter after winter. He has got some of the biggest, roundest, most well-positioned barrels at Aileens, ever.
Strandhill bodyboarder Shane Meehan concurs: "Dan is the quietest, most gentle guy on land, Mr Nice, but a complete animal out in the water. The man out at the Cliffs."
Yann Mestelan from Bidart recalled that, "one thing he always tells me in the water when its fuckin' huge is, 'not today pussy boy'."
Welshman Steve Thomas, an Irish tow-in pioneer says he has "great memories of towing Danny into his ledge at the cliffs all those years ago and just watching him disappearing deep into the back of massive barrels wave after wave and coming up just laughing and wanting another one."
He generally gets the biggest heaviest barrel of the day but just doesn't make it, which is a good sign cause it means he was way deep.
When I asked Tom Lowe about Dan he told me, “D-Bone! Danny boy has always been my greatest teacher on how to surf heavy waves in general but especially out at the cliffs. He has the best style of being too mellow for the situation making light of the gnarliests of situations. He is the best guy to be surfing with and always makes me feel happy to be in the water. He is so unassuming, you forget what he is capable of. He will just be chatting away about having a cuzza later or something and then the heaviest lump starts brewing down the end section and before you even think, 'Do I want that?', Danny Dangerous is head down and gone.
"He generally gets the biggest heaviest barrel of the day but just doesn't make it (which is a good sign cause it means he was way deep). He then gets totally smashed and loses his board, half drowns and comes cruising out 40 minutes later with a big smile on his face. He will never big up the wave: he smiles and nods. He has had by far the best barrels of anyone at the cliffs, go D-Boy!!"
Shambles: You went to Hawaii in February to do the trials for the Mike Stewart Pipeline Invitational, Shane Meehan got the dream scenario and got straight into the main event. How did you go in your heats?
Dan: Really bad but still really enjoyable. In the trials I had a really bad heat, it was actually a fun wave in the morning but, for whatever reason, it went really bad when the comp was on. You didn't have to go that far, I think there was a 50 percent chance of making it to the event but it didn't go my way, which is disappointing.
Did you throw a few shakas?
Yeah, definitely threw a few shakas. The stand out of the trails was the standup bodyboard comp. It was mental man. Guys were getting barreled, coming out, doing hacks, proper amazing. It is the only place where there are legit standup bodyboarders. Like, there are people who are only standup bodyboarders, not many, but a few. And Jamie O'Brien ended up winning that. He was amazing in the semi-final and final. He's got amazing skills. I can see why he was in the Pipeline event. I can see why some people would think they deserve an invite before he would but, at the end of the day, he brings good publicity.
Well, he is one of the biggest locals at Pipeline. He deserves it more than anyone else. But then Meehan flew in and got Chinatowned by Jamie in his first heat. Ouch.
Basically, it was a really low scoring heat, there were lots of sets but the theme of the whole first day of the comp was seeing lots of people pulling into barrels but not a lot of people coming out. Shane on his first wave did a roll on a small section and I was like, 'Come on Meehan, that is not going to be any good'. And it turned out maybe being the highest scoring wave of the heat. He got a really nice barrel towards the end but he didn't come out, and if he came out of that he would have won. But you could have said that about every rider who was in that heat, everyone pulled into a barrel but didn't quite get it. It was just kind of one of those heats that was like a non-event. It was disappointing. A lot of good riders went out in the early rounds.
Hawaii as a whole was really enjoyable. I definitely have never been anywhere quite like it really. By the end of the trip I was really enjoying myself and I probably would go back.
Have you had a dream to go to Hawaii for a long time? You had to go like you have to scratch an itch.
Exactly. I had the dream from when I was a grom growing up.
I surfed the shorey but during the macking swell Wiamea Bay was too big to even get in the water. That is how big it was.
Meehan told me you were loving the earlys.
Meehan likes really short surfs. I would be out there for hours and I would come in and he said he only lasted 20 minutes. You could go and sit out at Pipe and have a session that will last three or four hours and you can go an hour and a half without even getting a sniff of a wave and then you get that 20 minutes where you might get lucky and get two really fun waves and then you go back to chilling out out there. The water is warm and you are looking around seeing guys doing massive airs and stuff. It was cool. There was literally nothing else to do. You can either sit out there and try or you can sit on the beach and enjoy watching it.
Would you get cleaned up out there?
Yeah, when I was there we didn't have any macking days but there were definitely days where you...
Were you not there for the swell of the century?
Well yeah, we did have a macking swell, but that was too big.
I heard you surfed Wiamea shorey! Was that during the macking swell?
Yeah, I surfed the shorey but during the macking swell Wiamea Bay was too big to even get in the water. That is how big it was. That side of the island was maxed out. They were saying it was the biggest they have seen it for 30 years.
It wasn't surfable. The most incredible thing I saw that day was a lifeguard go swimming next to Pipeline, or maybe it was the day after, but basically he went swimming just for a bit of training or whatever in, I don't know, 15ft surf? Like obviously guys go out in 15ft surf all the time but it was just really dangerous. It was a river, it was a rip, just a dry shorebreak. It was just really dangerous looking at it, like drowning material, and he was out there swimming away. He was out there for ages.
Tell me about Waimea shorey?
Yeah, it's cool, it's really dangerous. There is this really, really strong rip. You basically jump into a really strong rip and then you are fighting the rip for the whole session to stop yourself getting dragged on to really dangerous rocks. If you feel you are getting too deep you paddle out to sea into the bay and you come back in. But it is a full mission. It's a funny one because you are paddling for so long and then a set will eventually come and that is when the current gets really bad. And then you have a choice to go this set otherwise you get ripped really hard, but then you are looking at a 10ft closeout. It is not like you are looking for a good big wave, you are waiting for, you know, doom.
It's like, doom or doom?
That is what you live for Danny.
I didn't actually get a good one because I jumped in and everyone got out of the water. There were a few guys surfing it and I saw them each get one. So I was like, 'cool', and I jumped in and as soon as I jumped in they all got out. So I was out there alone.
That is never good.
It was maybe eight or 10ft, it looks 10ft in the photos, but when you are out there it doesn't look that big. It was still horrible you know. So I am at Waimea shorebreak with hundreds of people on the beach, not watching me but watching the waves out the back because it was pumping for Waimea. The Eddie was on the next day.
It is so dangerous I was talking to Ben Player and Hardy and a lot of these guys haven't surfed it and they have been coming here for 15 years.
I felt like a kid. I was out the back with that feeling of like, how am I gonna get back in? I was really freaked, it was spooky, the rocks are really spooky. If I had even one other person it would have been fun, it would have been, 'yes let's do this'.
I did try to go for a couple of waves but not every wave is like you see it in the photos - with the mad barrels - you have to be in the right spot, some will just be big crumbles. Put it this way, it is so dangerous I was talking to Ben Player and Hardy and a lot of these guys haven't surfed it and they have been coming here for 15 years. They are like, 'what's the point, it is so dangerous, why am I going to risk it for a big closeout?'
I got like a four footer in after an hour of paddling. You can just cruise in and get a wave in between the sets. It wasn't constant, it was literally a set every ten minutes or so. I was kinda too spooked. The lifeguards over there are pretty on the ball. If they think you don't know what you are doing they will let you know straight away. They are always training with the jetskis. They have to deal with some incidents for sure because all the waves are so dangerous.
A lot of the lifeguards are pro-bodyboarders or pro-surfers as well. Guys who base themselves for the year round [in Hawaii]. But it is definitely a respectable job, maybe not for the money but for the prestige.
They must have to deal with some mad stuff. The day I left there was a guy who knocked himself out at Pipe and Tamega saved him, you know. I was in the airport when it happened. I saw it on the internet. It must be so common because, if you think about it, say at Pipe on a good day there are maybe a hundred people crisscrossing over each other, not every wave is a good one and people are just going nuts trying to get a wave. You almost become oblivious to it, people pulling into big barrels and not coming out, it is so shallow and dangerous. It is like coral, you know.
How did you and Meehan get on? You are both Hawaiian virgins basically.
It was really nice to have Meehan as a travel companion. It made everything cheaper, you could hire a car and go cruising, yeah, nice vibes.
How was that session at Mullaghmore before you left for Hawaii?
It was definitely pumping. It was really good, We got there in the morning and you kind of knew it was going to be really good.
Really? Because that was when Ollie (O'Flaherty) and Bounty (Dave Blount) rocked up and asked me, 'What's it like Sham?' and I told them, 'It's completely flat lads.' Ha, ha. They went, 'Oh no!' and jumped back in their van and drove straight back to Clare! Then, 20 minutes later the tide dropped and it started to absolutely pump. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to the boys. It was flat when they asked, you know.
That's exactly what happened, literally. It was just dead on low that there were a few sets. Lowey, Nic von Rupp, Patchy were on fire that day. Then there were a few locals out and I can't really remember who else but it was chilled, you know. It was literally just the sets that were doing it. So, some big sets came and we were literally just taking turns. There was nothing in between. And my first one off the boil didn't go very well, and the second one I couldn't get into it, I reckon it is hard on a bodyboard man.
At that size? To link the whole wave?
When you got that good one you sat down the end of the wave on that second section.
In my head it was that much easier than sitting out the back. Because first of all that Nic von Rupp dude went in there and I was like shit, he has had two or three waves and he wasn't getting anything out the back. So, okay, let's just cruise over with him.
But it is not actually that easy is it?
And then that wave came in and I was like, ah cool, here comes a nug, it was about 6ft. It didn't even look like a wave. I remember looking at the boils going, this is lining up nice, this is going to be a nug. And then I went down it and I was like 'holy shit' and it felt really, really big. And then it spat and I couldn't see anything and it was like, cool, was that just like a really good wave or what, I didn't even know?
Then Ian showed me his photos and I was like, whoa, holy shit, that looks like 10ft, that is pretty cool. By the time you take off, to the time you get midway, to the time you make it to the trough, the wave completely transforms.
Yeah, maybe I just got lucky on that one, I don't know. Looking at the photos, it is so different every photo. What the wave is doing and stuff. You watch so many waves and go, 'that's a sick wave', but you know it is going to have you for parts. Like, if I was on that bit it would be sick but the next bit will squish you.
Just before your wave came in, Lowey and I were going for one and I went, 'Oy, Lowey. This one is mine'. He looked at me and goes, 'you're too deep man'. And I looked around and I realised I was too deep but I better go now anyways. I didn't look back, I just kept going.
Ha ha, I remember that, you did well, I thought you were doomed.
I went straight. I thought the lip would be coming over my head but I got out in front of it. I got pushed real far in so I had a super long paddle out to the lineup. When I had just got to the start of the lineup, I saw a good wave and I could see a trail of whitewater going up but there was a little wave in front of me and I couldn't see if it was a bodyboarder or a surfer. It went real heavy and spit, it looked like Tahiti, I could see this Teauphoo spit thing happen.
And just when I could get a view of the wave I could see you coming flying out, Danny Boy.
Ha ha, well I had to race home then and get back for work.
What, you are not a full-time pro surfer like the rest of them.
Nah, ha ha.
Shambles: So what is the scene at the Cliffs these days?
Dan: It is amazing. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have surfed this wave since day one...ish. Not only is the wave one of the best on her day but I've also made lifelong friends surfing there. It's such a scary environment to surf in. It's been reassuring to hear similar opinions from the likes of Ben Player and Shane Dorian over the years... Not just me 'n the boyzzz shitting it, haha.
On the whole, surfing in Ireland is mellow. More often than not, and especially on those obvious charts, select waves like the Cliffs, Riley's and Mullagmore are becoming increasingly crowded and occasionally tempers have flared and that's only natural when you have a bunch of shred heads competing for the best waves. But, to be honest, I think the nature of the waves and mellow vibes from the regulars that surf them usually brings out the best in people. A bad attitude doesn't get you too far, especially as the Irish scene is so small.
Any shout outs?
A big shout out to Hotel Doolin, a local hotel, who put up the money for the entry fee to the comp, so that was really cool of Donal and Jim. NMD and Rob Muscutt in particular, Rob has been supporting Irish bodyboarding for a long time. He is a legend.