Surfing in Ireland dates back to 1949 when a young boy named Joe Roddy fashioned his own paddle board out of old wooden furniture. The son of a lighthouse keeper, 14-year-old Joe was catching waves on the beaches of County Louth long before Ireland was put on the international surfing map. Today, Ireland’s waves are ranked among the best in the world – particularly those found on the west coast. Read on to find out the best places to surf in Ireland.
The Donegal town of Bundoran is at the heart of Irish surfing culture and places on the National Geographic’s list of the top 20 surfing locations in the world. The local wave here, known as the ‘Bundoran Peak’, is Ireland’s best known – a hollow, fast-moving breaker best suited to the more seasoned surfer. The nearby Tullan Strand, meanwhile, is a two-mile stretch that welcomes all levels of ability and can be relied on to ‘catch a lot of swell’ – surf-speak for having decent waves regularly.
As Ireland’s most beloved natural attraction, the extremely beautiful Cliffs of Moher are visited by up to one million visitors every year, but not everyone visiting this part of Clare is going just for the views. Off the shore at the base of these 700-foot-high cliffs, adrenaline-junkie veteran surfers have discovered what has been termed ‘Ireland’s perfect wave’. Not for the faint-hearted, ‘Aileen’s Wave’ – with wave heights of over 12 metres – was first surfed in 2005 by John McCarthy of Lahinch Surf School. If you have years of experience, this wave might tempt you, but if not, Lahinch Beach offers a tamer – but still enjoyable – alternative.
Another world-renowned site for big-wave surfing, the Mullaghmore peninsula in County Sligo is home to some of Ireland’s tallest waves. Local surf addicts around here are always ready to drop everything if the conditions align to bring a particularly good swell to Mullaghmore – like in 2012 when a weather system nicknamed the ‘Viking storm’ brought waves here that were up to 15 metres high – and they’re often joined by fellow addicts from across the world. Last year, pro-surfer Andrew Cotton from Devon was entered in the 2015 Billabong Ride of the Year competition for a wave he rode at Mullaghmore.
County Kerry’s Blue Flag-certified Inch Strand is one of the most beautiful coastal spots in Ireland, and also has stellar surfing conditions. Situated at the cusp of the Dingle peninsula, this beach is long, sandy, and exposed, and consistently has waves coming from both left and right, without being anywhere near as intense as Mullaghmore or Aileen’s. Even complete beginners can learn here, taking advantage of several surf schools in the area that offer private and group lessons.
Surfing was first brought to the seaside town of Tramore, County Waterford, by Kevin Cavey, the man often credited as having begun Ireland’s love affair with the watersport. Now called ‘the Grandfather of Irish Surfing’, Cavey introduced the people of Tramore Bay to surfboards more modern than Joe Roddy’s in 1966. Today, this is one of the south-east’s biggest surfing locations, home to ‘Perfect Wave’ – an exposed beach and reef break that is popular year-round.