The best surf spots in Ireland
It's not just the land of potatoes, rain, and Guinness, you know. One of Ireland's best-kept secrets has been out of the bag for some time now: this country has world-class surf.
There are 3172 kilometers of coastline, and the southern and western shores are the first point of contact for waves originating in the remotest parts of the North Atlantic, kicked up and driven on by the relentless Gulf Stream; shaped on arrival by pristine reef.
Kelly Slater and the Malloy brothers braved the bluster, and with too many great surf spots to name in one article (and more being discovered all the time), here are five to get you thinking about following suit.
Easkey, County Sligo, NW
Located in the mid-northwest of the country on the bottom dip of the Donegal Bay is Ireland's most raved-about surf spot. There are actually two breaks here; a left and a right, but the left is a consistent, tasty reef peeler which peaks standardly at about 10-15 feet, and really pumps when good swells roll in.
The right reef can occasionally produce perfect monster surf, and so is more legendary, but the conditions needed are rare and the finicky waves more typically found here can be frustrating when you know what Easkey is capable of. Rocky bottom. Can be crowded. McGowan's pub in the village is the go-to spot for warming up after a session.
Inch, County Kerry, SW
Not to be confused with Inchydoney (as seen above), Inch is a great surf spot on the Dingle Peninsula loop of the unbelievably scenic Wild Atlantic Way.
Inch has both a big, beautiful strand with well-paced, good-sized waves which handle all types of swells really well and are especially suited to longboards and a long, much-lusted after right hand break off the reef that many surfers are still waiting for their chance to ride. Rocky and reefy on the bottom. Super friendly locals at the surf school on the beach (open in summer).
Inchydoney, West Cork, SW
Longboard-friendly and versatile, Inchydoney has approachable surf with lots of different types of waves depending on the spot you choose to paddle out to. It is almost always crowded here, but the locals are friendly and the vibe relaxed.
Quick ripping left-hander out by the sandbar; long-riding rights off the headland to the right, and cruisey chest-to-head-high breaks in front of the hotel. There can be more, depending on swell and overall conditions. Comforting sandy bottom for the reckless. Surf school in summer.
Perfect Wave, County Waterford, SE
It's a little-known piece of surfer heaven just a few minutes' drive from one of Ireland's best-loved waves at Tramore. Tasty hollows, great consistency, and a lack of crowds give this southern coast wave its spot on the list.
Both lefts and rights are fun, but the real treat is the left-hander coming off the reef. Rocky bottom. Word of rippiness from time to time.
For Pros Only: Mullaghmore, County Donegal, NW
One of the world's biggest waves breaks here, a left-hander which comes in seriously heavy around a kinky headland and pounds down on a rocky bottom. It's a dangerous wave, but it is consistent and has been surfed.
It's a tantalizing beast, with long-riding, fast-charging, fat-lipped tubes. Paddling out is exceptionally hard, and tow-ins have become more common in the last couple of years. Pumps at high tide, making it an unusual wave as well.
Surfing in Ireland drums up complex emotions among the salty-headed folk of the world. Classic images of suntans and bleached-out hair, sandy toes and beach babes get washed away by grey skies and persistent rain, and blown out of mind by coastal winds that can be downright beastly.
Those not fond of the cold also have to contend with damp air and nippy waters, as well as stock up on a good selection of gear; booties, hoods, and several millimeters of wetsuit for protection against the elements, for starters. But for those who are game, Irish coasts offer up a glut of surf breaks to get stoked about. We've covered the Five Best already. Here are five more.
Strandhill, County Sligo, NW
Locals love their Strandhill, and for good reason. Down past the golf club to the end of the road is a quiet, fun beach break with an easy paddle-out and tasty waves all year round. Some say it's best in summer, some reckon waiting for a big swell in winter brings in the big potatoes.
Whichever you go for, it's a rewarding spot. Barrel action is clean and good when it gets firing. Both rights and lefts. Bluerock waves off the boulder point to the north can be fast and fun. There's a surf shop, and it's got its own frequently updated surf cam.
Bally B (Ballybunion), County Kerry, SW
Popular for Bill Clinton's visit in 1995, this is a classic spot with a nicely-spaced series of beach break, reef break, and point break. Right-handers here are well-formed and mostly powerful, and fire in all tidal conditions.
Advice to skirt the cliffs to take off is good, and evening offers up a quiet, peaceful surf. Once reported that locals were getting beefy, but this has since chilled out, and anyway, every good surfer knows to spread the respect when surfing new spots to avoid this type of thing. Sandy bottom. Dolphins hang around, too, which is nice.
Carrowniskey, County Mayo, W
"Wait a minute," you might be thinking, "that's the beach all the beginners go to!" And you'd be right...sort of. The reason for this is the excellent consistency at Carrowniskey. Not too far from charming Westport town, this is a big wide beach with glassy, long-riders breaking on the shore over a sandy bottom.
The waves vary massively in size and power, which is why Surf Mayo are able to offer lessons to beginners when conditions are right for them. But there are just as often overhead conditions, and the ease of paddle-out and wave quality make this a favorite.
Crab Island, County Clare, W-SW
The only reason this didn't make it into the top five is that it's fairly dangerous and not as easily accessed. There's a long, healthy paddle-out from Doolin point (another popular break), and there's sharp, grody reef all along the bottom.
That said, the waves you can catch out there are likely to stick with you forever, what with the views of the Cliffs of Moher as your backdrop. Really solid, frequent swells that deliver a great, big, walloping right-hand ride. Can be huge, so stay tuned to surf reports.
Riley's (still a secret, for now)
Yes, it should have been in the top five. But, dammit, sometimes you just want to keep something good to yourself. But sharing is caring, they say, and in this spirit, those of you who cared to check out List Number 2 are getting a treat. This break is really where it's at.
Big, fat-lipped, heavy yet fast barrels for days. Riley's was a great little secret for a while, but the popularity is growing, and surfers keen to get in shape for Aileen's (the mythical monster; much like Mullaghmore) flock here to tune up. If you can find it, it should be surfed by everyone with at least a mid-level of skill. Ask around, you know, the old-school way. Prepare for a pounding, but prepare to want to come back for more.