So… who’s Aileen? She’s a wave. In fact, she's one of the biggest waves in the world. Rarely spotted, she's the stuff of legend, inspiring myth and mission for in-the-know surfers.
Aill na Searrach (Foals’ Leap) was the spot where seven Celtic gods transformed into seven foals – and leapt into the afterlife, furious at St Patrick for bringing Christianity to Ireland.
The wave they left behind bears the fury of seven angry horses and then some. Rising farther than 3km from shore, it rears as high as 12m. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor anyone but the most experienced surfers.
First ridden by Irish Surf Champion John McCarthy in 2005, Aileen’s has since attracted top international big-wave surfers in search of the biggest waves in the world to this stunning spot along the Cliffs of Moher. And she has not disappointed; Aileen has been feeding the surfing frenzy that’s been building in the West for years, as amateurs and enthusiasts pack up their boards for a go at the Wild Atlantic Way, and a chance to watch pros like five-time National Champion Easkey Britton test her skills.
So remarkable is Aileen’s Wave that what started as an undergraduate paper at the National University of Ireland Galway turned into a full-blown scientific study – all to examine what makes her the ‘perfect wave’. With a giant, plunging breaker, the steepness of the wave face gives surfers the board speed they need to carry through the wave’s huge vortex, or tube, finally letting them ride in the barrel.
But what made Aileen what she is? It helps to look at a wave from the bottom up; here, a jagged, shallow reef formed out of the sandstone sea beds, and around it, even softer shale eroded to allow the surrounding waters to be much deeper. This juxtaposition concentrates the wave’s energy with the pull of the tide to produce her great height and clean shape, and the unabated power of the Atlantic swell coming in from the open sea gives her heft.
For Aileen to hold her own against the biggest and most famous waves in the world – and she does – she needs more than the physics of the ocean itself. She needs the Irish weather. We might associate surfing with sun, coconut palms and big waves like Teahupo’o in Tahiti or Pe’ahi in Maui, but bracing cold-water giants like Belharra off the Basque Country have earned their place in surfing lore, too. Aileen needs perfect stormy seas and easterly offshore winds, but the sea at the Cliffs of Moher is completely exposed to the wildest that the Atlantic coast can throw at it, so you can be waiting a long time for just the right combination. The die-hards say that waiting for one of the stars of the Wild Atlantic Way makes it all the sweeter when she does appear.
While you’re waiting, you can have a look at the impressive exhibition of surfing shots on show at the stunning Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre. Otherwise, you’d better don your best, warmest wet gear, stand back and enjoy a truly wild show – if you’re not paddling up to Aileen yourself, that is.
Want to know more about the Wild Atlantic Way's waves? Discover the Signature Point and surf spot Mullaghmore Head. Want to read more on the Wild Atlantic Way's watersports? Read about Learning to surf on the Wild Atlantic Way or the top surfing locations of the Wild Atlantic Way.