Six surfing safaris
Surf’s up for summer but where to go? Sandra O’Connell finds six special surf schools and holiday packages with wave-riding lessons
Surfers at SurfnTurf
Surfing at TurfnSurf Surfers at SurfnTurf
Breaks on Bundoran
Ireland’s surf capital was named one of the top 20 surf towns in the world by National Geographic magazine last year. Surfers know why. “Because of the shape of the topography under the water, which is slightly concave, Tullan Strand, Bundoran’s 3km main surfing beach, picks up even slight swells that other parts of the coast will miss,” says Ivan Macken of TurfnSurf, a lodge and surf school in the town.
Serious surfers bypass the beach altogether, however, in favour one of the famous reef breaks nearby. Just be careful. “One of the waves here, the PaMPA, is named after an insurance company,” says Macken.
Catch a wave yourself with a TurfnSurf bus tour, heading three times a week from Dublin to Bundoran including lessons, two nights’ accommodation and a tour of the area from €129 per person.
The white sandy beaches at Enniscrone in Co Sligo stretch for around 5km, giving plenty of space for all to try out their moves.
“What’s brilliant about it is that it’s a lovely flat beach, so you get long rolling waves rather than just coming in and dumping onto the sand like on some other beaches,” explains Linda Byrne of Seventh Wave Surf School and a former manager of the Irish Junior Surf Team.
“It’s also suitable for the more advanced surfer because there are different breaks along the beach which they can pick out on a good swell,” says Byrne.
Opt for a surf and stay package at Ceol na Mara, a lovely three-star, family run guesthouse in the town, and you get three nights B&B, a surf lesson on day one, and two further days’ surf equipment hire – so three days surfing in all – for € 170 pps.
The quality of the surfing is what encouraged Waterford native John McCarthy to set up his surf school here. “From the age of 14, I used to come on day-trips to catch some swells on the west coast,” he says.
“For a surfer Lahinch has a romance in that it’s far enough away from roundabouts and dual carriageways but there is still plenty of life in the tiny rural village. It is unique that the surf beach is in the middle of town. You don’t have to drive 15 minutes out of town. In fact can sit in O’Looneys having your chowder while watching some of Ireland’s best surfers 50 yards away,” he says.
The beach is perfect for lessons and for learners in general. To the south there is a series of reef breaks, for more advanced surfers. “It’s when you get outside of Liscannor bay that you get the giant waves at Aillnasharrach. That is best left to the professionals.”
McCarthy runs summer weekend surf packages with the Lahinch Golf and Leisure Hotel in the town from € 145 pps.
Rollers in Rossnowlagh
The beach at Rossnowlagh, in Co Donegal, is one of the spiritual homes of Irish surfing, where the Britton brothers of the Sandhouse Hotel first took to the waves in the late 1960s. It has one of Ireland’s biggest and most active surf clubs. The next generation of Brittons still surf there, instructing at the Fin McCool Surf School.
“The beach is perfect for beginners, with miles of gently breaking waves and no natural hazards such as rips or rocks,” says school owner Neil Britton.
Rossnowlagh is the favourite of Nicky Kelly of Surfholidays.com, that takes people surfing around Europe. “It is one of the best places to learn how to surf in the world. It is a very reliable beach break, making it a great place to progress. Plus it is a place of such natural beauty, without high-rise apartments and ugly buildings, so when you are out in the water it’s just you and Mother Nature,” says Kelly.
The Sandhouse Hotel weekend package includes two nights B&B and a surfing lesson for €189 each. Fin McCool has hostel accommodation. It offers the same package for €70 per person.
finmccoolsurfschool.com, sandhouse.ie, surfholidays.com
Such is the strength of the Atlantic currents that you can’t swim at Strandhill in Co Sligo, but you can go out with a professional surf instructor and have the time of your life battling the waves in safety.
Under the shadow of Knocknarea mountain, the 4km stretch of west-facing beach is exposed to Atlantic swells. “Strandhill picks up ocean swells from the north, south and west. This means that it is very reliable as a surf destination,” says Tom Hickey of Perfect Day Surf School.
“There are lots of waves breaking on different peaks along the length of the beach. It has waves to suit all surfing abilities.”
To the northern end of the beach there is a rocky outcrop called the Blue Rock. “This is a ‘point break’ that produces high quality surfable waves for good intermediate to advanced abilities,” says Hickey.
“At the southern end, as the sea and Ballisodare Bay meet, we have a submerged peat bank that produces high quality waves for experienced surfers. This is dangerous as it is half a mile off shore in the estuary with very strong currents and tides.”
Doubles from €99 at Strandhill Lodge and Suites, with discounted surf lessons.
While the west coast gets all the glory in Irish surfing, some of the country’s top surfers started out on the beach at Tramore.
“It is perhaps the best beach in the country to learn to surf on,” says Linday Tuohy of Oceanics surf school. The west coast has the full power of the Atlantic but that can be quite hairy for people starting out. On our lovely long, 5km, beach, the waves break gently.”