Photographer Gary McCall
The clock tolls 6am. A phone rings in the mighty village of Bundoran in the North West of Ireland. The answering machine clicks into place and broadcasts the message to the sleeping household. “Get up quick, a massive swell is coming,” the voice of a local surfer, Ronan Oertzen floods the room. The surfers rise in hurried silence, they pull on their winter wetsuits, clasp their surfboards in hand and tear out the door into the frigid waters of the Atlantic ocean. There, they escape into blissful oblivion, where it is just them and their board, alone in the vastness of Ireland’s angry waters, relying solely on their skill to tame the waves. This is surfing. Beware, if you try it once it will hence forth consume your life.
Ireland is rapidly becoming recognised for her quality barrels and it will remain up there with the Aussies and Hawaiians legendary surfing statuses for one reason. It is different from everything that they offer. According to DiscoverBundoran, the local tourism board; “Whilst it’s not the tropics, when it pumps, there are few places you’d rather be.” It is cold water surfing which requires serious guts in comparison. If you fall off your board in Australia, you will land in a jacuzzi. If you fall off in Ireland, you will land in a tub of ice-cream. The Atlantic hosts an average temperature of nine degrees Celsius, usually combined with a forecast of substantial winds and torrential rain. So when you are out scaling the cliff edges in search of the good spots and are padded in a 5mm thick neoprene wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood. Remember, Ireland has earned the right to call her surfing extreme.
Bundoran, County Donegal is offering you waves on demand year round, accommodating for both beginners and pro’s. “The North Atlantic in winter is the most prolific swell generating area on the planet so with a little imagination waves can be found almost every day,” according to magicseaweed.com, the surfing forecast website. The rush is in the chaos of riding a board while mother nature attempts to take you down. If dread has began to creep in, never fear it eases up a notch over the summer and you can catch some epic, clean waves.
The town has hosted an array of international surfing competitions. This summer it pulled off the European Surfing Championships, ‘Eurosurf Bundoran 2011’ for the third time. A ten day party for surfing evangelists, which transforms the little town into a makeshift city with a pumping atmosphere. Two thousand spectators clad in jumpers and raincoats set up camp at Tullan Strand to watch the action. “It’s just amazing to watch the cream of Europe’s surfers right there on our doorstep for a week and see some world class surfing,” says Shane Smyth, the Eurosurf press officer . There is something mystical about going surfing in Ireland; the un-crowded beaches sitting against a backdrop of mountains and costal roads. Shane coins the appeal as “a certain romanticism.”
Ronan Oertzen of the Irish surfing team recalls the event; “The atmosphere between the teams was great and electric when one of us were competing in a heat. There was some great surfing in the Eurosurf this year and the waves that we got where world class, it is so rare to get such quality surf in a comp. This one is going down in the history books for sure. ”
Events clustered around a surf theme are held regularly by the local surf schools. In June there is the annual Sea Sessions a combined surf, skate and music festival which promotes home grown musical talent like The Villagers and BellX1. The surfing aspect of it sees Europe’s finest pitted against the best Ireland and the UK can offer. Then running through the year, you have got some pretty retro options to choose from, including surf and yoga retreats, surfing and English language programmes, intensive training sessions, surfing stags or hen nights and obviously parties galore.
Surfing holidays in Ireland are not just about the waves. It is the aftermath, retiring to the local pubs wrecked and exhilarated after a day battling the surf. It is the warmth of the people, the strange accent and the ‘craic’ that makes Bundoran worth braving the weather.
Boards can be hired out for the small fee of €20 for the day. This includes wetsuit rental.
However if you want to learn the trade, there are four main surf schools/lodges to choose from; Bundoran Surf Co. (www.bundoransurfco.com), Turf and Surf (www.turfnsurf.ie) , Donegal Adventure Centre (www.donegaladventurecentre.net) and Surfworld Bundoran (www.surfworld.ie)
If you are interested in heading to the Sea Sessions Festival, keep an eye out on its website; http://www.seasessions.com/lineup.html , it usually runs late June.
For more information on things to do and places to see in Donegal, check out the DiscoverBundoran website (www.discoverbundoran.com)
Top 5 Cold Water Surf Destinations:
1. Nova Scotia, Canada
3.Donegal Bay, Ireland
Gaelic Surf lingo:
ag marcaíocht na dtonnta – surfing
cé mhéad ar cíos do bhord surf? How much to rent a surfboard?
Cá bhfuil an trá? – Where is the beach?
Cá bhfuil na tithe tábhairne? – Where are the pubs?
go raibh maith agat- thank you