Surfing in Ireland

Supreme Waverider Kelly Slater had heard the rumours and they turned out to be true: Ireland’s west coast was "a cold paradise". In fact, he describes it as "like a little party out on the water". No further endorsement needed, it’s time to head to surf capital Bundoran

We're on shore in Bundoran, where the sky hangs bruised to purple, as if swelling up with the makings of a good night’s rain. Into that sky flies a spinning BMX, attached to it someone else who knows a thing or two about bruises. 

Around the stage, hands are in the air, paper cups are held aloft and surfboards stick out of the sand like an informal sculpture.

This is Donegal (according to US news channel CNN, Donegal's coast ranks among the top 50 surfing locations in the world); this is Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival, one of the coolest and quirkiest new festivals on the calendar.

Yes, all of a sudden surfing in Bundoran, in Donegal, and in Ireland, is hot.

But why?

Where surfing gets real

Heat, however, is not something usually associated with the slice of Atlantic Ocean that makes up Ireland's west coast. And therein lies the attraction of Bundoran; this place is for real surfers. Here, breaks, peaks and waves take priority over the perfect tan.

Family surfing at Bundoran, County Donegal

Having surfed and lived here for almost all his life, local man and Ireland Surf team member, Richard Fitzgerald, knows this shoreline, and its benefits as a surf destination, better than most. 

As he told the New York Times recently, posturing is not part of the pleasure: “We don’t have that surf-bum, hang-around culture. If you come here in February, you’re going to get pelted by hailstorms, and the only chick you’re going to see is a seagull.

Big wave breaks

Lack of romance and precipitation have not dampened Bundoran’s burgeoning popularity on the surfing map; UK newspaper the Guardian believes it to rival “the famous big wave breaks such as Jaws off Hawaii, Mavericks in northern California, and Teahupoo in Tahiti”, while TNT and the Pittsburgh Gazette list it among the finest surfing spots in Europe.

And what of Sea Sessions? This, waveriders, is an extended après-surf beach party scattered with the aforementioned BMX bandits, scrapbook style memories and acts like the Happy Mondays and Kaiser Chiefs strumming their stuff. 

You’ll also find numerous surf rental stores, and reference to the Eurosurf competition held here in 2011. You'll also find The Peak.

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The Peak

In many ways, The Peak IS Bundoran. This is the wave that defines the surf here, the one break that makes surfers load kit and caboodle on planes, boats and buses to get to Bundoran and take on Mother Nature. Unlike most natural once-offs, it’s easy to describe. 

Especially when you ask Peter Craig behind the counter at Bundoran Surf Co: “The Peak is the most famous wave in Ireland. You find it in the centre of Bundoran. 

"It’s basically what we call a reef break, but it’s known as a peak because it breaks both right and left so suits all surfers.”

Local heroes

And how do you know it’s so special? Well, if the names Tom Curren, Joel Tudor and Easkey Britton mean anything to you then no more explanation will be required.

If they don’t, then the words of Richard Fitzgerald – Donegal man and owner of the West coast’s Surfworld – might help you put a pin in it: 

“We have every bit as good waves here [in Bundoran] as there are in Australia or the coast of California so why not surf?”

Why not indeed. Reckon you know anyone looking for a trip on the wild side of the water?

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