Swell surfing: Big wave contest makes a splash


IT WASN’T Aileen’s or Prowlers, but an Atlantic swell sweeping into Sligo’s Mullaghmore Head has provided ideal conditions for Ireland’s first “big wave invitational surf contest”.

Some 22 of Ireland’s and Europe’s most skilled wave riders and their jetski support participated in Sunday’s event held by the Irish Surf Rescue Club.

The “beautiful beasts” of Mullaghmore reef attracted hundreds of spectators, event organisers said.

Tow-in surfing on waves such as Co Clare’s Aileen’s and the recently discovered Prowlers off the Sligo coast has a reputation as a slightly subterfuge sport in some quarters – mainly because of the concerns expressed about the risks by local authorities and rescue agencies in the past.

However, surf rescue club president Paul O’Kane, a big-wave expert from Australia, said his organisation is keen to dispel this myth, to show that tow-in surfing is a responsible activity – and to co-operate with rescue agencies.

“After all, this sport has the potential to bring considerable economic wealth to the west coast,” he said yesterday.

“Human beings like a challenge and bans won’t work, whereas we have a great relationship now with Sligo County Council, the Irish Coast Guard, and the RNLI lifeboats,” Mr O’Kane said. “Our surf riders and personal watercraft [PWC or jetski] operators are all very safety conscious, highly trained, and contests like this can help to further develop skill sets.”

The contest involved three rounds, lasting one hour each, where a team of two – surfer and PWC operator – worked together on towing the board and rider in and out of waves breaking off the headland.

The surf rescue club provides a water patrol, and paramedics on the beach to deal with heavy “wipeouts” which pushed surfers to their limits.

Wave heights hit six to seven metres – “not particularly high, but particularly heavy”, O’Kane said. Judging was based not only on those who rode the biggest waves, but who also displayed the most skill and commitment.

Eric Ribiere and Benjamin Sanchis from France won the open event while the winning Irish team was Peter Conroy, based in Co Clare, working with Welshman Glyn Ovens.