18 Jul 2016
It wasn’t long ago that a mention of Ireland would not have caused so much as a glimmer in a surfer’s eye. But today, surf is definitely up along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Ireland is taking centre stage on the world surfing circuit. When National Geographic included Bundoran in their list of the top 20 surfing locations in the world, they wrote that Ireland “should be on the bucket list of every surfer” – and added that it “should be the start of any surfing adventure on the Emerald Isle.”
Maybe Ireland isn’t known for its sunny weather and warm temperatures, but low pressure systems that race across the Atlantic bring intense winds that create massive sea swells along the wild, west coast. Dramatic scenery, pristine waters, white sand beaches, and predictable surf have brought Ireland to the attention of surfers worldwide. And although the temperature is not always balmy, the North Atlantic Drift – what remains of the Gulf Stream – keeps the climate moderate throughout winter, enabling access to the storm-tossed coast year round.
The epicentre of this growing surf culture in Ireland is Donegal and Sligo. The picturesque village of Bundoran in Donegal set off the surfing craze in the northwest and is now a mecca for beginners and experts alike. Mullaghmore in Sligo is drawing international crowds and becoming known as one of the best big wave surfing locations in the world. In March 2012, surfers from all over the world rode waves up to 15 metres (49 feet) high in Mullaghmore. A complex weather pattern known locally as the “Viking Storm” resulted in extraordinary wave-generating conditions.
Red Bull recently named Tullan Strand in Bundoran, as well as Strand Hill and Enniscrone in Sligo, as among the best surf beaches for beginners. Ritchie Fitzgerald, Ireland’s legendary big wave surfer, owns Surfworld in the centre of Bundoran: what better place to get kitted out for your first lesson? You can book an individual session or a weekend boot camp run by Ritchie himself. Maybe you’d prefer a surf and B&B package? Bundoran Surf Co. can set you up nicely. Had you been in the region during the first weekend in June, you could have attended the Rory Gallagher Festival in Ballyshannon – along with fans of Rock ‘n Blues from 32 different countries.
Strand Hill has several surf schools including iSurf Ireland, Perfect Day Surf & SUP School , and Strandhill Surf School, all of which can get you started off on the right course. The 7th Wave Surf School in Enniscrone, featured on RTE Nationwide radio, offers adult weekend lessons and weekly surf camps for kids throughout the whole of the summer.
Enniscrone is also the site of Ireland’s best known glamping project: on May 9, a Boeing 767 arrived on site, delivered by a barge up the coast. It is slated to become the star attraction in David McGowan’s Quirky Nights Glamping Village – though if this isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other places to camp and overnight in the region during your surfing safari.
It’s also arguably only in North West Ireland that anyone with a passion for adventure and for supremely musical pub culture can indulge both interests in the same spot. Where else can you have so much fun on the water and then retire to have even more fun in the pub – where the Guinness flows freely, the oysters are plucked fresh from the sea daily, the music continues well into the wee hours, and the welcome is legendary? Come and see for yourself – you might find that you stick around…