The heart of things

“The normal clichés about being a ‘surfer girl’ don’t apply when you live in County Clare,” Sophie Hellyer tells me. Sophie is poised at the wheel of her wagon, looking out across a wind-blasted Atlantic coastline just north of Doolin, in the far west of Ireland. No placidly perfect, cobalt blue waves today. No California dreaming for this girl.

“Surfing here and for me is more about finding empty waves out on the edge of things, pulling on that wetsuit and having an amazing experience with your friends. You don’t need to look cute in a bikini to have a real link with the ocean.”

28-year-old surfer, environmentalist and farmer Sophie Hellyer grew up on the wildest edge of the North Devon coast. It is a place of nautical heritage, brutal Atlantic storms and an aesthetic of otherness.

“I’m still in the process of finding home,” she says. “There’s something to be said for leaving the place you grew up in and exploring what is right for you. Eventually, hopefully, you can find a place that you have created as your home, rather than just having it as a static thing.”

The nature of the place in which she grew up is deeply encoded in her identity – and though her surfing life of travel, exploration and discovery has taken her across the planet – the Atlantic continues to define her.

In the past 12 months Sophie has adopted a new home at the farthest possible edge of the Atlantic Coast. She lives now in Ireland’s County Clare amongst a community of big wave riders and farmers; a group of individuals deeply committed to a life with the ocean and the land at the heart of things.

These days she tries to avoid the stress, the rootlessness and the carbon footprint that is afforded by a sponsored surfers’ peripatetic life of long-haul plane travel, eschewing the air for the road.

“Someone told me the other day that when you travel by plane your soul takes a few days to reconnect with you,” she said. “That’s why I choose to stay closer and to travel by road these days.”

 

Words by Michael Fordham

Published on Huck