The popular image of surfing is all about the sun. Films and our collective imagination link surfing with sunny places such as Hawaii, California or Australia. We think of tanned surfers with the water sparkling, catching the sunlight in the crashing waves. When people think of the Irish coast, they picture rugged shores, currach boats, Aran knit sweaters and ponies. But seasoned surfers know winter is an amazing time of year to catch some waves, and Ireland’s west coast offers fantastic opportunities for surfing.
Prime surfing season in Ireland starts in September. The water is cold, so a good wetsuit is essential, including a hood, gloves and booties. A thermal rash guard is not overdoing it at all. Those waves rolling in from the Atlantic are intensely cold. They’re also stunning, both to ride and to watch.
Ireland’s west coast is dotted with excellent surfing spots where the Atlantic pounds the beach with exciting swell after swell. But the most popular and amazing place to surf in Ireland is County Donegal. Tucked up in the extreme northwest of the island, this slice of the Republic of Ireland features Atlantic coastline on almost all of three sides, except for the short border with County Sligo, with Northern Ireland to the east.
Surfing spots in Ireland
The most beloved spot to surf in Ireland is arguably the beaches around Bundoran, at the southern edge of Donegal just above Sligo. The town is known as the surf capital of Ireland, and Donegal boasts a slew of surfing schools. The combination of surfing possibilities make this a perfect place for a group with a mix of surfing experience to enjoy together. Rosnowlagh is a fine beach for beginner surfers, and the reef break known as The Peek is world class. Tullan Strand, just north of Bundoran, is considered a reliable spot for excellent waves.
Donegal’s surfing spots extend further north, beyond the immediate area of Bundoran. More experienced and adventurous surfers might like the beaches of Inishowen Peninsula at the north of the county. Fanad Head is a stunning spot that juts out into the North Atlantic and features a lighthouse. Dunfanaghy in Sheephaven Bay is also hugely popular with savvy surfers.
Even if you prefer watching the surf roll in to experiencing it on a board, Donegal is a magical place. National Geographic Traveller named it the ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’, and it hasn’t lost its charm since then. The 600 meter tall Sliabh Liag Cliffs give you a bird’s eye view of the waves crashing below. Take the ferry out to Irish-speaking Tory Island, and you might be rewarded with a glimpse of the rare Corncrake bird. And you’re likely to spot a seal, whale, shark or dolphin if you take a boat tour of the Donegal coast.
If your Christmas list includes a woman who loves to ride the waves on her surfboard, ocean wave necklaces or earrings make the perfect holiday gifts for her.