One of the things I value more as I grow older is the people who pass through my life – especially those who have had such impact so as to influence the person that I am or strive to become. Perhaps this growing recognition is part of the transition from youthful invincibility to a maturing realization of one’s mortality. Life is truly an encountered filled journey with fellow travelers. Some of them pause with us only briefly while others stay a while before moving on. Then there are those who slam on the brakes, pull over, take up residence and forever change they way we think, live and breathe.
Meet Peter Conroy
Truthfully, I was initially skeptical of my interview with Peter. I’d heard of him through a friend in the action sports industry. “You have to meet this guy,” he said. “He’s a modern day superhero.” Growing up in the Southern California surf scene I’d had a exposure to professional surfers and big wave riders and my experience wasn’t always memorable. To say there is a bit of bravado with the latter is an understatement. It probably goes with the territory as you surely need a level of confidence that can border on seeming arrogance when a sport requires putting your life on the line. Peter Conroy was the antithesis of my experience and expectation.
The word that profoundly comes to mind when thinking of Peter is “humility.” He is a Dubliner, firefighter and paramedic, a former world class swimmer and accomplished lifeguard, a big wave surfer who has been recently nominated for riding one of the largest waves in history and Chairman of the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club where he trains other big wave riders in the art of jet ski control, rescue and safety. Peter Conroy is an individual who by all accounts is a “modern day superhero” and someone who has cause to carry a bit of over-confidence, but not one bit is to be found. He is by far one of the most humble, honest, caring and selfless human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. You see, this isn’t about the money, the fame or the glory for Peter. This is about living passionately and caring for your fellow man. It’s about following your heart and you passions and leveraging those things in a way that allows you to set an example for others and give back to the community that has given you so much.
Forging a Modern Day Superhero
The origins of Peter’s thirst for adventure and dedication to serving others began in Clare County on Ireland’s west coast. Peter is the son of two hardworking parents (both still working today), and a loving, adventurous family. His father was a bit of a “madman” and would take Peter and his siblings snowboarding during the winters, always the first to launch down the mountain, through the trees and occasionally over cliffs with his kids in tow. Summers were spent camping, waterskiing and swimming across the lakes and rivers of Ireland. “My dad was the spark that ignited my OCD and led me to do and try anything” said Peter. So much so that he spent a good chunk of his childhood in the hospital with broken bones. Mom was and remains the backbone of the family, showering Peter, his siblings with love, support, and the belief that they could do anything.
Fueled by this potent formula, Peter, by age 6, was swimming competitively within the county. At 14 he was a lifeguard and would ultimately go on to compete and medal for the Irish National Team at the World Lifesaving Championships. At 16, however, he found surfing and the die was cast. In hindsight this should have been expected...years of swimming and guarding provided a foundation of unmatched water knowledge. “I wasn’t a very good surfer early on,” said Peter, “but I was a great swimmer and I knew I could handle myself. That gave me all the confidence I needed.” At the age of 18 he left for landlocked Coventry College in England and only surfed summers. However, his degree in international disasters engineering and management (IDEM) provided yet another brick in the foundation and a perspective that would shape Peter and change the future of Irish big wave surfing and water safety.
Returning home Peter continued lifeguarding and began pursuing surfing in earnest. Providing water safety to the “lads” at first, he gradually eased into larger surf. “I really had no business being out there,” he said. “I was getting hammered on almost every wave but would come up smiling and try again.” As his confidence increased so did the waves - 8” became 15’, 15’ became 20’, and so on. In 2004, at the age of 25, Peter entered the Dublin Fire Brigade and everything changed. Peter found his calling and true passion...saving lives and helping others, a natural progression from his years lifeguarding at one of the west coast’s busiest beaches. “We were constantly in the water saving people,” said Peter. “I loved it”. He scaled the ranks of the fire service quickly becoming a paramedic, USAR certified, swift water rescue specialist, etc. But something else registered for Peter Conroy, a natural connection between his training and experience and the big wave community. You can take the boy out of the surf as they say but you can’t take the surf out of the boy.
Change Minds and You Change the World
Big wave tow surfing is still in its infancy but as its popularity increases so do the risks. More people means more skis in the water, more pressure from sponsors, global big wave contests, and newcomers clamoring for attention - a recipe for disaster that Peter clearly recognizes. Several high profile accidents in massive surf have brought the spotlight on the big wave community creating a need for the sport’s mindset to change and ultimately save lives - an opportunity that Peter Conroy fully embraces.
Peter’s goal is to improve global awareness and training of big wave water safety, hence the creation of the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club in 2007 after a near death incident at The Cliffs, a popular big wave location in Ireland. “I want to teach people what to do when the shit really hits the fan in the water.” “Basically, I’m taking what I’ve learned at the fire brigade and Coventry University and applying it to surfing.” And applying it he is. Peter runs three-day courses at his own expense to teach water safety, rescue, first aid, risk assessment, hazard assessment and mitigation. He is also working with Surfing Doctors in Europe in wilderness first aid training and stabilizing critical patients that are hours from the nearest hospital. The response has been overwhelming. At Mullaghmore, a premier big wave location in Ireland, for example, nearly all tow surfers are now experts in ski rescue and water safety. He’s also providing this support for all premier big wave events across the country. But Peter hasn’t stopped there. Recognizing that EMS service on the west coast of Ireland is still behind many parts of the world, Peter recently began a push to provide AED (Automatic External Defibrillators) for the local lifeguard towers; something non-existent until now. He has done this by donating both his and the family’s time (his mother runs the events) and limited sponsor items as raffle prizes at charity events to raise money for the life saving devices.
As you can see, Peter is passionately committed to saving and improving the lives of his fellow man. He’s so much more than a big wave surfer, a firefighter or paramedic. He’s a compassionate, dedicated and humble servant on a mission to change his world. It’s a critical distinction that I would have overlooked in my youth, but one that makes all the difference today.
“As much as I enjoy surfing, I would let it all go. I love providing safety and saving lives. That’s the most important thing to me. I love my job”
The son of an avid outdoorsman and early waterman, Scott Seymour was born into an adventurous lifestyle. Having spent most of his formative years along the remote beaches of Baja California and the dusty backroads of nearly every mountain range on the western edge of North America he understands what its like to live off the beaten path and on the road less travelled. Those early years were spent diving, surfing, fishing, mountaineering, exploring, prospecting and getting lost and found on regular basis. While an atypical childhood it may have been, it forged an adventurous spirit and a thirst for life that has continued to guide him through adulthood.
As a collegiate volleyball player at UCLA, Scott developed a passion for teamwork and helping others meet their maximum potential. He went on to build a successful career leading and managing highly efficient sales teams for various national and global organizations. In 2008, feeling that familiar yearning for adventure he made a career 180 and for the past several years has worked as a bail and recovery agent in Southern California. Scott is also a registered EMT and first responder and will be starting the fire academy in January of this year with the goal of becoming a paramedic.
A self-proclaimed “gear junkie,” Scott can still be found most days researching and testing new equipment and strategies while stand up paddling, surfing or exploring the coastlines of Southern California or Mexico.
He resides in San Clemente with his wife and two junior watermen.