Slay or be Slain: The Saga of Tom Lowe

Words by Dylan Stott
All photos and video by Ian Mitchinson

Tom Lowe is one of those guys that make me glad I wasn’t alive in the time of Dungeon and Dragons. ‘Cuz you’d be going along, you know, killing and plundering, doing the Viking thing or whatever you’re into. Then you’d come across somebody like Lowey. And that’s it. Your life would end.

But Lowey is the kind of gentleman warrior that would kill you without malice and according to the rules of some Viking code. The Lowey of olde would be a Dragon Slayer, seeking after creatures of myth, creatures beyond the scope of most men. For therein lies honour.

Sitting at the harbour waiting for everyone to finish getting skis ready, loosing body heat, my nine-footer I have in the gunnel, a prop, a piece of fantastical art that I’m hauling out for no reason at all, destined to sit out the day tied to violent lobster pot float. The surge in the harbour confirms that heavy things were happening a thousand yards away and I was thinking about Lowey. Thirty minutes earlier, as I drove away from the headland, Tom Lowe was in the channel, alone, churning away towards the peak with no support at all.

There is no sense trying to describe the ferocity and magnitude of a big swell hitting the edge of the mountain here at Mullaghmore. A brutal overnight cross-shore wind left lumps in the swell that suck more water off the inside reef, exposed points of rock rose up as parking lot size pieces of water drain away before truck sized lips come down. Some collapsing, some were going square then sectioning off, foam monsters filling warehouse barrels before imploding on themselves.

And I hadn’t even seen a set yet. Paddle? Nope. I knew that. So I tie the big board on the lobster pot. Some days are good days to die, but not today, not before I’ve finished sending out the wedding invitations.

As I get back to the channel Lowey goes on one. He picks a big one, paddles, and keeps paddling.”Lowey is still paddling, growling at it, the way you see lions hang on to giant water buffalo as they take blows from hooves.” Long past the moment everyone else in the world would have bowed out, Lowey is still paddling, growling at it, the way you see lions hang on to giant water buffalo as they take blows from hooves. Stomps the drop, surfs it perfectly. Nothing he could do about the end section running away from him. He had to take one more wave on the head before I could get to him on the ski.

“Hi Tom,” I say.
“Oh. Hey Dylan, how are you?” Lowey is a gentleman in the impact zone.
“I’m great.” We’re still in the zone… little small chat while driving away, thankfully with his board upright and skimming behind us as I gun to the channel. Lowey’s head is down and I hear him making a noise you hear a lot at skateparks, whispery groan followed by a sudden intake of air through the teeth.
“You ok?”
“I sort of hit my elbow on the reef.” He presents his elbow to himself. “I’m ok.”
“I hit my knees too.”
“You can move everything?”
“Yeah. I’m ok.”
“How’s your shoulder?” He has the look of somebody who just woke up and had to fight their way out of a room full of angry Kangaroos.
“It’s good, thank you.” He assures me that it was totally cool if we tow a couple.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. “I know the other Tom (Butler) is frothing to paddle into a couple too.” Another twenty-foot set, that I don’t even want to tow comes through.

Tow/Paddle thing at Mullaghmore? Summed up best by Jane Smiley, who studied ancient men: “A basic distinction can be established according to whether the point of view of the saga is the individual or society,” and that “…men of action driven by personal motivation are crucial to the plot of sagas.” Every session something different is happening out there, and we all should flow like water according to the will of the great magnet.

” After what I’ve seen out here, I’ve learned limits are pushed all the time, so am honoured to look after the three young chargers on their quest for monsters. ”

Today is a day for beyond-the-limit stuff. Tom Lowe is a beyond-the-limit artist and I’m happy with my decision not to paddle (or tow). Today isn’t for me. Conor Maguire agrees, about the tow bit anyway. He grabs his 7’5” and paddles like a young warrior towards the lineup. After what I’ve seen out here, I’ve learned limits are pushed all the time, so am honoured to look after the three young chargers on their quest for monsters.

Butler gets a nice mid-size one, fifteen foot that jacked on the takeoff. The only wave made the whole day.

The second wave Lowey picks is one of the prettiest waves that came in all day – until the end that again implodes past him. He’s down for a long time. His board pops up right away, thrashing around in the maelstrom.

He comes up smiling though, grabs the sled. His smile fades as we drive away from the wave after – a monster – and turns to a straining grimace as we play tug of war with his board, upside down, holding us back by a very heavy duty big wave leash and a whole lot of surface area as an anchor. I think for a second that nothing is gonna give, that this board and Tom’s strength is gonna keep us right in the pit, but then the leash gives way.

Figuring he snapped his leash I lend him mine that’s tethering my unused paddleboard to the lobster pot.
“The leash didn’t break,” he says.
“The pin?”
“Must be.” He looks carefully at the pin then tests it.
“It’s not the pin.”
“It must have just ripped off your ankle.”
“Yea. It must have.”
Lowey looks at it like it just came alive. I could have sworn too, that I saw at least a piece of his leash attached to him when I grabbed him, if that was the case it couldn’t have come off from the ankle. Tom shrugs and swaps leashes, and passes his to me like it was venomous.
“I just want to make one,” he eyes my little 5’8” weighted bat-tail tow-board sitting on the side.
“That’s what I need, ” he says.
“No Lowey, that’s what I need… go back and make one.”
“Thanks,” he says and paddles back out – back to the lineup, that gate, the entrance to where the dragon lives.

Most of us are running away, some are in the fray, giving it hell and doing what they can… Tom Lowe is going in to slay or be slain.


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