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Image / Living / Culture

Alice Ward on her Irish surf film featuring the female surfers who call our wild Atlantic waters home


by Lauren Heskin
06th Mar 2021

Philip Corrigan

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Alice Ward, director of 'Ebb and Flow'.

Following three women who surf, windsurf and paddleboard along the north-west coast of Ireland, Irish surf film ‘Ebb and Flow’ is currently showing at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

Filmed predominantly along the coasts of Sligo and Donegal in 2019 and 2020, director and surfer Alice Ward admits that Ebb and Flow, an Irish surf film, was her first time filming in the water. “There was a lot of unusable footage at the beginning,” she laughs.

Originally from Dublin, Alice moved to Sligo four years ago and found herself suddenly surrounded by talented female surfers. “As a filmmaker, I was always looking up films and videos and there was nothing really on female surfers in Ireland… so I really thought I was such a niche but when I went to Sligo I found so many women in the water.”

Wanting to show the breadth of talented women along this stretch of coast, she wanted to create a documentary focused on three of them: Katie McAnena, Elizabeth Clyne and Shawna Ward. “Katie is amazing, she was the first woman to ever windsurf Jaws in Hawaii, she lives just down the road from me and yet I’d never heard of her,” says Alice, while she knew of Shauna as a member of the Irish surf team and Elizabeth was a neighbour in Strandhill. 

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Elizabeth Clyne, Shauna Ward, Katie McAnena. Photo: Alice Ward

The 13-minute Irish surf film captures plenty of scenic shots of all three women surfing, paddle boarding and windsurfing big waves along the Atlantic coast, however, it’s the interview section that really gives you a sense of the passion they all share for the ocean. “You get to be a child again, you’re going out and playing,” as Elizabeth puts it. Katie describes it as something closer to a basic instinct. “There are days where honestly I feel thirsty and I realise that I’m not thirsty, I just want to get in the sea and that’s the only way I can explain it.”

Despite the calm aura of Alice’s footage, she admits was not very relaxing to capture. Bobbing around in the swell with a heavy camera and fins is very different from having a surfboard floating under you. “The first five or ten times I was absolutely terrible,” she says. “I thought the hardest thing would be swimming out but I never took into consideration having a board flying at you at speed.” However, she quickly grew to love it and captured some truly spectacular moments on the water.

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Katie McAnena at Mullaghmore. Photo: Tim Bonython

The one that sticks out the most is footage of Katie windsurfing at Sligo’s big wave spot Mullaghmore, a tiny red sail almost engulfed in a 15-foot wall of water. “That day was crazy because we had arranged to film that morning in a different spot near Lissadell,” explains Alice. “It was a big day so there was so much water moving and Katie just casually said, ‘Oh will we go look at Mullaghmore and wait until the tide drops and come back here’… We went to Mullaghmore and sat in the car for ten minutes and she was like ‘Okay, I’m doing it. I’m going out. The conditions are right, it’s now or never.’ And then she came back in afterwards, cool as a cucumber and was like, ‘Oh I have to go get the kids now’.”

Alice wanted to capture not just the unbelievable skills and fearlessness of these women, but the commitment they have to the waves, how it ebbs and flows around their daily lives. When Alice asked Katie to be in the film, Katie explained that she’d just had a baby and hadn’t really been in the water for months. “‘Are you sure you want me?’ she asked and I said ‘yes, this is exactly why I want you in the film’.”

In Ebb and Flow, Alice reveals these ordinary women – they all have full-time jobs, Kate’s a doctor, Elizabeth’s an architect, Shauna is a marketing coordinator – doing extraordinary things. Ultimately, it’s about their dedication and collaborating with an equally dedicated team, animator Alice Maher, producer Mairead Collins and Sligo musicians Jessie Solange of Whitehead and The Hunter, Ebb and Flow is a magnificent toast to the women of Irish waters.

Ebb and Flow is showing as part of this year’s shorts program at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, which this year is all taking place all online from March 3rd – 14th. For tickets and full listings see diff.ie