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World Class Waves

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Monstrous, crashing swells, howling winds, a weather-beaten coastline and a lone figure on a board riding it all in his or her stride.

It’s a sight you’re sure to see at any of the Wild Atlantic Way’s renowned surf spots, especially during Ireland’s surf season from September to April. British big wave surfer Andrew Cotton knows all too well what it’s like to be that thrill-seeker, having recently chased what he considers the wave of a lifetime off the Wild Atlantic Way. 

Andrew Cotton

“The Atlantic has always been known as the place for the perfect storm”

Born in Plymouth, Andrew has travelled the world in search of the very best waves, first arriving on these shores in 2005. Since then he’s watched surfing thrive here, noting that “the amount of people surfing in Ireland has quadrupled.” And Cotton’s just one of many surf pros to fall for the west’s waves. Wonder why? Andrew divulges that even for board riders, variety is the spice of life. “Surfers don’t just want to go to the same spot," he says, "I think Ireland really lends itself to that.”

While the rest of us may complain about the Irish elements, they're just what a hardcore surfer is after. Cotton notes that the Wild Atlantic Way has “wind and weather that the rest of Europe just doesn’t get in the same way. It’s had some of the biggest waves on the world stage, and definitely has the possibility of more, it’s just a matter of time.”

In 2016 Cotton was the subject of RedBull.TV’s jaw-dropping documentary Beneath the Surface, which followed his adrenaline-pumping quest to find the mammoth 60ft wave he spotted 13km off the Wild Atlantic Way some five years before. 

  • Scene from Andrew Cotton: Beneath the Surface

Cotton and his crew decamped to a coastal idyll on the route for the entire surf season in the hope of catching it. Braving bitter cold and extreme weather, the team tracked the patterns, swells and sea conditions needed to profile the scale of this juggernaut so they’d know just when to grab a board and seize it.


Waves Out West

A spot that never fails to charm, one of Andrew’s favourite Irish destinations is Lahinch, the lively County Clare surf town that’s also home to the iconic ‘Aileen’s Wave’, “...one of the craziest waves in the world.” 

The town, he says, is one of the best places for beginners, too, as it’s brimming with surf schools. To anyone looking to try the sport for the first time, Cotton recommends going to life-guarded beaches and using the surf schools there. “Don’t be afraid to get advice from local surfers,” he adds. “It’s about safety as well – the ocean is amazing and beautiful, but you have to respect it. Everyone in the surfing community, especially in the west of Ireland, has first aid and watercraft training. It’s a real community; we’re looking after our friends.” 

  • Surfing at sunset on the Wild Atlantic Way

Surfing the Sights

Just like millions of local and international visitors, Andrew’s been pretty enamoured by the Cliffs of Moher, too, albeit from quite a different angle. “It’s definitely one of the most interesting places anyone can surf. The setting is amazing. When you’re surfing at the bottom of the cliffs, there’s just nowhere else like it, especially on those days when the sun’s shining.” 

  • The Cliffs of Moher

Ready to hit the waves yourself? Once you’ve picked a surf destination – and here are some more great options –  the world is practically your oyster.

“If you’re prepared to travel, you can get some amazing waves here,” says Andrew. Of course, getting from beach to beach can be as memorable as the surf itself. “The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the most breathtaking, beautiful roads you can drive on [and] surfing takes you up and down these small coastal roads looking for waves," Cotton notes. "Ireland’s full of nooks and crannies; you never know where you’re going to end up or what you’ll find.”

Before you zip up that wetsuit, check out our incredible 360° footage of champion surfer Ollie O’Flaherty battling the very same waves Andrew Cotton’s been so charmed by.

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