Raise your Guinness to the best surf spot in Europe

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.

 Information panel:

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)

Side Bars:

Top 5 Cold Water Surf Destinations:

1. Nova Scotia, Canada

2.Tasmania, Australia

3.Donegal Bay, Ireland

4.Essaovira, Morocco

5.Yakutat, Alaska

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

Learning to Longboard

For every normal person a standard helmet would suffice for a first attempt at longboarding, For me, head to toe coverage – hockey goalie style.I was always told the best way to learn is to plunge right in, head first. I was handed the board and told to go, no instructions on how to steer, stop or even go. Apparently skateboarding is more of a trial and error sport, hit and miss sort of thing.It’s easy, the pro’s chorused, just go. Are you’s kidding me? But I proceeded to stand on the board, obviously no theory equals no technique which equals me face down on the floor. Day two – Observation. This should of been day one. You watch, you learn. Easy and result, I improved mastering the ability to travel in a straight line.But I craved to learn faster, like always I wanted to run before I could walk. So I put in the time. I longboarded to work , I went out to the park for an hour in the evening, every evening.I wanted to longboard because I yearned to surf, my only setback was the lack of a sea to practise in. So this, I figured, was the next best thing. Surfing on tarmacadam. The beauty of it been I could do it year round, all the time, any time. It was hard work but it didn’t take me long to catch on and then I felt it. I experienced the feeling that I read about, saw countless times on tv, that rare and thrilling feeling. It was not a hill, just a slope, but as in surfing when the wave carries you

I built speed, blood thumped in my ears, sweat droplets beaded on my forehead and a crazy grin spread over my face. I had caught the bug and I was hooked…

 

Two days later, I left the garage door open and my board rolled out. Typical me. So its back to the bike until I can afford a new plank of wood on wheels.

Review: Blue Crush 2

The spin offs on major movies is usually make or break time. It can crash and burn or it can explode into a box office sensation. Sadly, Blue Crush 2 made neither category, but floated somewhere in between. It is the perfect crappy chick flick for a Saturday night in, alone with a giant calorie loaded bar of Galaxy and a pint glass of hot chocolate clotted with marshmallows.

The storyline is mundane, the same thread has been retold a thousand times over; a rich young beauty fed up of her fabulous life treks off to Africa to retrace her dead mothers footsteps and fails to tell her aloof father that she’s leaving. She stumbles, she falls, hits rock bottom, recovers and lives happily ever.End of.

 Yet, the camera shots hit base. The solid quality combined with the retro playlist and surf plays a large role in redeeming the weak plot.After a shitty day at the office and the realisation that you are broke and single, sometimes this is just the remedy. This or get pollaxed on a fat bottle of vino. This way you save some cash and get to sleep in a bed as opposed to sprawled on the bathroom floor with your head perched on the rim of the toilet.

 The semi-pro actors were a pretty bunch; Sasha Jackson played the protagonist Dana, Elizabeth Mathis as her best friend Pushy, and Sharni Vinson the bad guy, I mean girl. No award-winning performances. The highlight of the movie is the portrayal and promotion of women’s surfing and its sponsors and that they pull off with style. Any young girl that watches this will want to rip. An unexpected plus is that the movie teaches you a thing or two about pro surfing, the pecking order, its sponsors and location, location, location. The legendary Jeffery’s bay is the heroines final destination and is now officially on my bucket list. It succeeds in making the audience want to bum off on a decent road trip with the gang and catch some waves. I cannot find fault with that!

On the outside, I am a hater of the cringey chick flick genre and I can unearth faults en masse if called upon. However, at the end of the day, when I turned off the tv while the credits rolled, I stumbled to bed giddy with a cheesy grin cemented on my face and butterfly’s in my belly.