From the big swells of the north, right down to Aileen’s Wave and the gentle pace of Cork, the west coast of Ireland is a surfer’s playground. Whatever your skill level, here’s where to find a beach and wave height to suit you, and with some of the best surf spots in the world on offer, the bountiful region known as the Surf Coast delivers.
With rippling waves, ocean swells and pristine beaches, it’s not surprising that surfers flock to the Wild Atlantic Way throughout the seasons. We’ve profiled some of the essential destinations to help you find your ideal surf spot.
A legendary surf spot, the wild ocean swells found off Sligo’s Mullaghmore Head make it a big wave surfing paradise. These waves have provided the platform for the Billabong Monster Tow-In Surf Session, with pro surfers Benjamin Sanchis, Éric Rebière, Easkey Britton and Richie Fitzgerald. In winter, the North Atlantic is the most prolific wave-generating ocean in the world and the Wild Atlantic Way feels the brunt of every storm, here waves can reach nine metres. Check out this epic video of surfer Andrew Cotton chasing big wave bombs at Mullaghmore in January 2015.
Often considered the surfing gem of the Cliff Coast, Lahinch is a popular destination for surfers and kitesurfers alike. “There's a lot more to Ireland than big heavy tubes... I reckon it's got to be the best place in the world to surf,” says Lahinch native Ollie O’Flaherty. Check out this short film Winter Glow to see what you can expect.
Nearby, Doonbeg’s secluded White Strand Beach is famous for its white sands and tranquil nature. Located in a designated natural heritage area of ecological importance, it’s a perfect spot for beginners with a regular lifeguard patrol during summer months.
The area is also home to a beautiful, long sandy beach in Spanish Point. Nestled in a sheltered location, this pristine beach makes for a perfect destination for beginners. Surf schools operate during the summer. A full list is available via the A – Z on our handy directory.
Home of the raucous Sea Sessions Surf and Music Festival, lively Bundoran is often called the ‘Surf Capital of Ireland’. Here you’ll find breaks, peaks and waves that have attracted top international surfers in search of the world's best surf spots, such as record-breaking world champion Kelly Slater, who has described it as a “cold paradise”. Advanced surfers will find an excellent challenge and afterwards the nearby main street is lined with cafés, restaurants and bars for that all important après-surf.
Preparing to hit the waves in Bundoran, County Donegal
Just outside Bundoran and graced with waves that climb almost two metres high, Tullan Strand is a magnet for surfers of every level. The stunning backdrop of the Sligo-Leitrim Mountains and extensive network of sand dunes provide tremendous views, whether you’re a spectator or surfer.
Tullan Strand Beach, via Raymond Fogarty
Strandhill Beach, County Sligo
One of the prime locations on the glorious Surf Coast region, Strandhill Beach offers choppy waters and gorgeous panoramic views of Knocknarea and Benbulben. The area also boasts a number of amazing trails through the region, which are great for pre or post-surf strolling. It’s perfect for seasoned surfers and also for learners, with loads of surf schools in the area devoted to getting you up on your feet in no time.
Surfing at sunset on Strandhill Beach, County Sligo
Ireland’s largest island, the distinctive Achill Island is home to five great surfing beaches, which have all been awarded Blue Flag status for their beauty and clear waters. The magnificent 3km Keel Beach is an essential destination for surfers, but before hitting the water, look for the signs that tell you which parts of the beach contain dangerous rip tides. On Keel Beach, surfing should only take place in the western half of the beach waters.
Surfing on Achill Island, County Mayo. Image via Shane Cannon
Located just a short drive from the charming and lively seaside town of Clonakilty, the pristine, sandy Blue Flag Inchydoney Beach is a very family-friendly location and a fine spot for gentle surfing. Those who favour a refreshing ride will enjoy the rippling waves which often rise as high as five feet tall.
Inchydoney Beach in County Cork
If this isn’t enough to whet your appetite then see things from a surf photographer’s perspective in Dark Side of the Lens, a stunning six-minute piece filmed on the coast of County Clare with “endless glimpses of magic”. In it, Mickey Smith talks about his goal of documenting wave riding the way he sees it in his head, and how he feels it in the sea.
Every surfer knows the search for the best surf spots in the world is a neverending one, and out on the Wild Atlantic Way, new spots are being discovered all the time. Get inspired by its surfers and the Surf Coast to start, before discovering the best places to learn how to surf. And if you’re craving more adventure, check out the finest locations and top schools for kitesurfing or get inspired by this incredible footage at Mullaghmore.