Aileen's: the treacherous slab wave of the Cliffs of Moher
It's one of the legendary gems of Ireland's Cliffs of Moher. Welcome to Aileen's, one of the most ruthless waves in the world.
Aileen's is as intimidating as a slab wave can be. It's a stunning natural arena that puts ocean gladiators in a unique setting.
Surfers are confronted with the elements at the base of 700-foot-high (213 meters) cliffs, surrounded by Nature in its pure and raw, waiting for the waves to hit the reef at high speed from deep water.
Aileen's is an infamous exposed reef break beneath the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, a Unesco World Heritage Site located in County Clare, Ireland.
You can find it almost hidden halfway between Doolin in the north and Lahinch in the south.
Alongside Mullaghmore Head, Aileen's is one of the most famous surfing waves in the Republic of Ireland.
An Irish Treasure
According to local reports, the surf spot was only discovered in 2004 by surf photographer Mickey Smith and a group of hardcore bodyboarders.
"I saw Aileen's for the first time during an all-time 15-foot swell," the Cornish lensman once recalled.
"We were having a cup of tea in the car park at Doolin Point, and then I was like, 'I swear I can see some big barrels breaking over there somewhere!'"
The crew walked up the cliff line and got to a little headland, looking from behind the peak at Aileen's. And suddenly, they had found a treasure.
Irish surfing champion John McCarthy, and Dave Blunt, were the first to ride the gargantuan wave in October 2005.
The news broke quickly, and Aill Na Searrach was soon a go-to proving ground for the world's finest big wave surfers.
Jamie O'Brien, who has probably put his life at risk more than anyone on Earth, refused to paddle in on an epic day at the Irish right-hander.
Fergal Smith, Tom Lowe, Cain Kilcullen, Ollie O'Flaherty, Alistair Mennie, Andrew Cotton, John McCarthy, Patch Wilson, and Saul Harvey are some of the legends who successfully tamed the Irish beast.
And at 21 years old, Easkey Britton became the first female surfer to take on the mesmerizing, thunderous reef break.
This wonder of the surfing world was at the center stage of the 2008 surf movie "Sea Fever."
The Leap of the Foals
The region has a lot of history and is part of Irish mythology.
The Celtic wild wave breaks in the area known as Aill Na Searrach, meaning the "Leap of the Foals."
The tale tells that when Christianity arrived, the Tuath(a) Dé Danann that ruled Ireland protested by turning into horses and hiding in caves for several centuries.
One day, seven foals emerged from the caves and, frightened by the bright sunlight, ran away and galloped along the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.
And, at Aill Na Searrach - the "Leap of the Foals" - they met their fate.
Have Aileen's waves harnessed the spirit of the mythological horses? Maybe.
A Cold Water Inferno
Aileen's is a particularly sensitive surf spot that can rise to glory at any time, thanks to powerful Atlantic groundswells.
Despite its volatility and seasonal inconsistency, this sleeping titan is one of the planet's heaviest and most dangerous waves.
The best time of year for taking on Aileen's is spring, and April in particular, when WSW swells and light offshore E winds are more frequent on the Irish west coast.
Although getting to the lineup is tricky and often dependent on jet ski support, the spot can get crowded on epic days with locals and international wave-riding stars hustling for the perfect session.
The access to Aileen's is itself an adventure.
If you don't own a boat, you must prepare for a 30-minute hike down a tiny goat track to the boulders before even submerging your wetsuit in cold water.
You can actually jump from the rocky sliver of shore at the base of the nearby cliff into the ocean effortlessly. It's a viable option for the brave.
Then, there's a two-mile paddle out (3.2 kilometers) or, alternatively, a jet ski ride to the crime scene.
If you're at the Cliffs of Moher to enjoy the show, you should definitely try the spectacular view from up above.
On a perfect day, Aileen's produces clean and massive walls of water with plenty of barreling opportunities and a few pounding closeouts too.
The waves at Aileen's can be somewhat unpredictable, though. And monstrous.
They can reach as high as 50 feet (15 meters) and require a fine-tuned eye to figure out the exact location for the take-off.
Surfing In A Dramatic Setting
The iconic Irish wave can be paddled into up to 25 feet (12.5 meters). When it gets bigger, towing in is the only rational option available.
Aileen's features a steep wall and can peel fast down the line, enclosed between a dramatic coastal setting and the three Aran Islands.
As soon as the thick lip breaks and falls, the surfer starts a race against obliteration.
The huge Irish surge of water can be surfed on all tides.
Still, beware of the rocks and the strong rip currents, as they can put a surfer's life in jeopardy.
The spot hasn't claimed a soul yet, but the Irish Coast Guard has already performed a few sketchy search-and-rescue operations in this hard-to-reach and secluded location.
Pay attention to the channels and how they can get you into the take-off zone easily and without much paddling.
Aileen's is as dark, treacherous, and gloomy as the stormy seas and famous Irish weather. Otherwise, it wouldn't be as daunting and magical.
Humpback whales can be frequently spotted swimming and sniffing the surface close to the stunning sea stack.
Aileen's reputation as one of the scariest monster waves in the world will continue to haunt Ireland's west coast.
Hopefully, the Cliffs of Moher will protect humans from its bone-breaking liquid, cold emerald caverns. And if you don't dare to surf it, at least experience it from above - it's worth it.
Aileen's (Aill Na Searrach), Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland | ID and X-Ray
Location: Lahinch, County Clare, Ireland
Type of Wave: Righ-Hand Reef Break
Length: Up to 220 yards (200 meters)
Best Swell Direction: WSW
Best Wave Size: 25-50 feet
Best Wind Direction: Light E
Best Tide: All Tides
Best Time to Surf: Spring
Skill Level: Advanced to Professional
Best Board: Bodyboard, Shortboard, Tow, and Gun
Crowd: Only on Epic Days
Water Quality: Good
Hazards: Reef, Rocks, Rips, Humpback Whales
Bottom: Rock and Reef
Water Temperature: 48-60 °F (9-16 °C)
Getting There: Paddle Out from the Rocks or Jet Ski