Southampton-based surfer Kurt Rist is all about big barrels. During the summer, he runs a surf camp near Water Mill, about 90 miles from New York City. Yet come late fall, the daredevil takes off for northwest Ireland, just in time for the first big swell to hit. His destination of choice is the off-the-beaten path County Sligo, where he has surfed the massive Prowlers Wave, a gnarly, frigid wave that breaks two miles from the shoreline. In fact, this powerful wave needs to have just the right conditions – a big swell and no wind – for it to be ridden, something that happens about once every four years. Well, Rist lucked out earlier this year: his journey down the wave’s 55-foot face landed him on the front page of The Irish Times.
Rist admits that he’s a big fan of the less-traversed waters of Ireland, despite the chill factor.“Ireland is pretty out there,” says Rist, who started surfing on a boogie board when he was 7-years-old. “I’ve been surfing near the cliffs of Moher– these 800-foot high cliffs that meet the ocean. You hike down a steep, winding goat trail and then you’re surfing this huge wave. Just pure cliffs and the surfing’s crazy.”
Another secret, world-class wave break Rist returns to regularly in Ireland is Mullaghmore. Here, his surfing fantasies are fulfilled – big barrels and consistent huge waves. “I’m looking for double to triple overheads with a barrel. I am all about trying to find massive tubes,” he says. He’s also surfed the Aran Islands off of the Irish coast – “It’s crazy. Everyone speaks Gallic and there are these huge, heavy waves in the middle of nowhere and there’s no one around. That’s what makes it heavier. To get hurt, it’s a bit more of a situation out there,” he says.
While Ireland may be one of his top destinations, Rist also heads to Mexico in the spring, specifically Puerto Escondido, to surf the Mexican pipeline. Rist, who grew up surfing in Shinnecock on Long Island, also plans to surf Jaws in Maui this year. “I’m looking for that huge barrel. It’s more of a complete experience,” he says, when he compares Jaws to breaks like Mavericks in California, which attracts numerous adrenaline junkies, but doesn’t have the same pull for Rist.
One wonders: does the guy ever get scared? “I’ve had some bad injuries, a few heavy wipe outs, been rattled around really bad. I definitely get scared going out sometimes, but I’ll see these huge, perfect waves and I’m like ‘wow, I want that.’ I just get really pumped up.” This fearlessness and passion explains why he was recently featured in – along with other hard-core New York surfers – EMPIRE NOW, the first-ever New York surf thriller, produced by NYSEA and Transition Productions, a film which embodies the fun-loving, carefree spirit of New York’s surf community.
Name: Kurt Rist
Where do you live: Southampton, NY.
Years surfing: 22
Surfing is: “Freedom and life. It’s free expression. For me, when I’m out in the water, I’m just myself. Anywhere I am in the world, if I’m in the ocean, I feel at home.”