Surfers' paradise: Best March conditions in 15 years

Sat, Mar 10, 2012, 00:00

TO THE joy of surfers an extreme weather system nicknamed the “Viking storm” has generated some of the largest springtime rollers off the northwest coast in recent years, with Devon surfer Andrew Cotton catching a 50ft (15.24m) wave off Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.

British surfer Tom Butler also recorded the biggest wave “barrel” of the day on Thursday, when a group of up to 16 took to the water for what professional Richie Fitzgerald has described as some “very calculated madness”.

The surfers, from Ireland, Britain, France, Hawaii, Brazil, South Africa and Australia, were accompanied by two rescue boats and were watched by hundreds of people on the Mullaghmore headland.

Edward Temperley, editor of surfers’ forecasting website magicseaweed.com, estimated that they were the best conditions for 15 years in this area during the month of March.

The storm had originated off Greenland, and it was these winds which had first brought the Vikings to Ireland, he noted. Cotton (32), who is a semi-professional surfer, plumber and lifeguard, said he had been waiting three months for the conditions and had almost gone home last Monday.

“Something made me stay an extra four days, and I suppose I was very lucky, with lots of credit due to my tow-in partner Al Mennie,” he told The Irish Times.

Cotton described how he and Mennie camped out on Mullaghmore on Wednesday night as they felt the southwesterly winds would be at their best early on Thursday.

“My housemate in Bundoran, Tom Butler, whipped into the first wave, but Al and I just waited a bit,” he said. “When it came, we just knew this one was different – probably a rogue,” he said.

Northern Irish surfer Mennie was driving the jetski that towed Cotton into the wave, which was estimated at 50ft (15.24m) on its face. “It didn’t feel that big at the time, and I fell at the end and got a ‘beating’, where I was sucked under twice for a few seconds,” Cotton said. “When I looked at the images of it afterwards, I actually felt quite sick!”

Donegal surfer Richie Fitzgerald, based in Bundoran, said that a particularly low tide on Thursday contributed to a “huge, unruly and very dangerous” swell, but emphasised that surfers had eight safety crew led by Daniel McGarrigle on hand.

He described some “incredible rides, some horrendous wipeouts, broken rips, some bruised muscles, lost boards, broken boards, shifting wind, massive boils, cross waves, super shallow sections”, during an exhilarating session on the water.

“Mullaghmore is like having the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park on your doorstep,” he said, adding that he had six surfers from Reunion Island in his Bundoran shop last week.

Ben Freeston, head forecaster with magicseaweed.com– which has almost two million monthly users – explained that the unique topography around Cape Farewell in the southern tip of Greenland contributed to a phenomenon known as the “Greenland jet tip”, driving “regular hurricane force winds”.

“In this case, an area of exceptionally high wind stretched for almost 1,000 miles west into the Atlantic, funnelling increasingly large swell directly at western Scotland,”Freeston said.

“Ireland’s good fortune was to lie a little to the south of the carnage, picking up still exceptionally large waves, but with slightly lighter local winds much better for surfing giant waves. This sort of event isn’t unprecedented, but might only occur a handful of times a decade on this scale. And not for 15 years in March,” he said.

Cotton’s record 15.24m wave is a little less than five metres short of the largest wave on record in Irish waters, which occurred last December.