Ireland, Eire, or the Emerald Isle has never been known to most as a high priority surf destination. Perhaps it’s the fact that it rains an average of 20 days per month. Or maybe it’s the fact that it lies at the same latitude as New Foundland, or that the water temperature never gets much warmer than the upper 50’s.
For me the reason I had never had dreams of Irish surf….. is simple…. No palm trees! Even though I’m nearly 100% of Irish descent, I live in New Jersey and when I go on a surf adventure I want to see turquoise colored water that I can surf in my baggies, and I want to see palm trees!
But after the stories told by my friends of their great experiences and adventures traveling to Ireland, I decided to look into an Irish surf trip a little more. After a little investigation I learned:
1. There are palm trees (Dingle Peninsula – County Kerry
2. There are literally hundreds of point breaks and rock reef breaks all over Ireland
3. It does rain a lot, but not nearly as much in August, September, and October which coincidently is smack in the middle of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
As a result, I decided it was finally time for this Irish-American to visit the land of my ancestors. I spent my free time during my busy Summer season checking Irish surf club websites and reading the Stormriders Guide to Europe. Armed with a basic roadmap to the major breaks that I wanted to investigate I was off on September 11,2002.
After landing in Shannon in western Ireland and securing my rental car, I was off. Cars in Ireland by the way have the steering wheel on the right side of the car and you shift with your left hand. Oh yeah, you drive on the left too, on really narrow roads where everyone drives really fast.
There is surf on all four coasts, but the most consistent spots lie on the western coastline which is dotted with lots of cliffs and bays. I spent the next 10 days traveling the length of the Green Isle, and to put it bluntly, I had the time of my life…….. There’s surf everywhere in Ireland and when you’re not surfing there’s fantastic scenery, ancient castles, and for the evenings entertainment…… pubs!
Dingle Peninsula (County Kerry)
Garywilliam Point – Located right at the point of Brandon Bay. It is a fast, hollow right that breaks over a rock reef. The spot isn’t marked. Follow the road to the end and look for the parked cars beside the pasture.
Mossies – A nice mellow rock reef break located a bit further into Brandon Bay from the point. There’s several peaks. Pick a spot. Mossies is very popular with longboarders and windsurfers.
Inch Reef – Irelands answer to J-Bay. On a good swell long lines will roll in along some rocky cliffs. Rides of 500+ yards are not uncommon! Lots of current. Pick your entry spot along the cliffs and jump in. World class wave! Located a little further along inside the bay is Inch strand. Inch is a sand bottom beach break that’s surfable on just about any swell. Best to the north near the cliffs.
The town of Dingle is located on the southern edge of the peninsula. It is a picturesque, sleepy fishing town with a population of 400. The truly interesting fact though is that there are 64 pubs in Dingle, one for every 6 residents!
When you come from Brandon Bay to Dingle be sure to go over Connor Pass. It’s a crazy single lane road that runs along the side of the mountains. The road is often shrouded in fog but you can occasionally get incredible glimpses of both Brandon and Dingle bays. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the crazy drivers!
Further north following the coastline lies the wave rich areas near Lahinch. Lahinch is known as the first surf town in Ireland. It definitely has the feel of a surf town, with boards leaning in many doorways and wetsuits hanging everywhere to dry.
Doonberg Castle – located about 15 minutes south of Lahinch, Doonberg is a big wave spot located beneath the ruins of a castle. A good choice on a gnarly, big swell.
Cregg Beach – Located just to the south of Lahinch, a little further out on Liscannor Bay. Another rock reef that can deliver one of the longest lefts in Ireland.
Lahinch – located all the way inside on Liscannor Bay. There are several breaks located along about a ½ mile ofshoreline. Prior to my trip I was often told how uncrowded the surf was….. Not so in Lahinch. I pulled up to the beach and was all excited when I saw the fun looking head high surf rolling in, Only then did I notice the 50-70 guys in the water! Most are beginners though, many riding those plastic boards. The surf was a bit softer than it looked, but still really fun. The left, located at the southern end of town proved to be the most consistent and most powerful, long and rippable. I had so much fun in Lahinch that I came back again later in the trip.
Doolin Pt/Crab Island – located in the town of Doolin about a ½ hour north of Lahinch, Crab Island is one of the most famous waves in all of Ireland. The break is located at the southern end of Crab Island about a ½ mile paddle from Doolin Pier. The wave jacks up out of deep water producing incredibly hollow waves. Check your leash! Doolin Point is a fast wave that breaks all along the point. The wave does section though. There are several peaks all along the point. The point is best at lower tides.
The coastline along County Clare was the most beautiful and diverse that I found in all of Ireland. There are bays, points, nooks and crannies everywhere. Located just north of Lahinch are the world famous Cliffs of Mohrer. The cliffs rise straight up hundreds of feet right from the sea. It’s about a mile walk from the parking lot to reach the summit of the cliffs. Take the time…. It’s well worth the effort. The scenery is so beautiful it’s hard to describe.
Bundoran (County Donegal)
Bundoran is without doubt the best surf spot that I came across in Ireland. I’m sure all the other spots I visited go off, but while I was there, it was Bundoran.
The main break sits at the point of a rocky outcropping right in the middle of the bay. The wave produces a short snappy right and a much longer left that peels and barrels its way along a rocky shelf into the bay. The wave seemed to have the best shape at lower tides, but as the tide got higher the size jumped too, although the wave was a bit softer. By far the best surfers I came across in Ireland were in the Bundoran area. Maybe it was the hard rock shelf, but nearly everyone ripped.
Tullan Strand – Around the headland from Bundoran lies Tullan. It’s considered one of the best and most consistent beach break waves in all Ireland. There are lots of beginners at Tullan too, I saw surf schools and lots of softies each afternoon. All in all a really fun wave and a nice break from all those reefs and points (yeah sure!).
Rossnowlagh – Located about 15 minutes north of Bundoran, Rossnowlagh is located in yet another bay. The surf is sand bottomed beach break and generally smaller than Bundoran. Rossnowlagh is home to the largest surf club in Ireland, located in the Surfers Bar. Here along with other surfers and a pint you can check out surf memorabilia accumulated since the 60’s. The annual Irish Championships are held each October in Rossnowlagh.
Across the road from the Surfers Bar is a glass shop run by one of the first Irish National Surfing Champs. If you get a chance be sure to stop in and check the art. There are all kinds of surf related glass etchings and other pieces of art. He has a complete collection of every Irish Championships Contest poster (which he drew). Reproductions are for sale.
Bundoran is a slightly cheesy appearing Seaside Heights-type town. There’s an area with kid’s amusement rides and even an indoor swimming pool with lockers on the beach near the peak. Tourist shops abound the many little side streets. It seems that with lots of vacationers there in the summertime it could be pretty chaotic. Located along the main street coming into town is Fitzpatrick’s Surf Shop. Fitz’s is the center for surf info for the area and lots of local shots adorn the wall.
Lots of Americans have made the Bundoran area their homes. Notably the vibe in the water was a little more intense here than the other areas I visited. I wonder how much influence is caused by all the Yanks living locally.
I had many times prior to my trip heard how incredibly friendly the Irish people were. My experience was that generally when you travel you meet really great people and those not so great. Ireland really didn’t seem that much different. Most of the people we encountered were polite, but not overly friendly. Since many Americans have traveled to Ireland, it’s no longer a novelty to meet a Yank in the water. The one notably exception I encountered in the water was in Lahinch. While out surfing the left I saw a bigger set approaching. I began to paddle out alongside an older surfer riding about a 10 foot longboard. Coincidently, the longboarder had gotten a good many of the set waves. As we approached a beautiful overhead wave, I thought to myself, ” Damn, I’m screwed…..”. Just then he glanced over at me and yelled, “Go Boy-o, Go”. With that I quickly spun and caught an unreal 200 yard left. I later found out he was the owner of the local surf shop and one of the very first surfers in the area.
I know that I visited only a few of the many great surf spots in Ireland. There’s many other equally well known spots like Easky and Spanish Point and probably hundreds of other spots only known by the locals. While traveling along the coast I saw plenty of spots with great looking waves. But being alone, I wasn’t brave enough to venture out, so I settled to surf with others.
My advice…… go to Ireland. Bring a smile and a good attitude. Remember that you’re a visitor at someone’s local break. Be sure to look at all the incredible scenery and enjoy the pubs. And don’t forget to have a Guiness for me!
Big G’s Surf Forecast