It is 7am on a Saturday, and the sleepiness in Galway is infectious. Most students have gone home for the weekend, and those who haven’t have yet to stir from the warmth of their abodes. Resisting the temptation to follow suit, I slap myself awake and throw back a cup of instant coffee. It is time to surf.
Once you get past the cold, Ireland’s west coast is a surfer’s dream. The physics are nearly perfect. The west coast is the first point of impact for east-moving storms brewing in the Atlantic, so surfers can count on powerful swells most of the year. Shaping these swells are long, sloping slabs of rock protruding from Ireland’s shores. These slabs slow down the base of the wave, causing it to pile up on itself until it eventually topples over and breaks. Surfing spots shaped by underwater rock are called point breaks, and they are a rare find along most of the world’s coastline. On the rocky west coast of Ireland, the point breaks are practically countless. On top of this, Ireland has favorable winds. In California, where I am from, we generally hope for no wind at all, as California winds usually blow from the ocean, drawn in by the rapidly heating inland areas and chopping up the waves along the way. Ireland doesn’t have this problem. It is such a narrow island that winds can easily travel from one side to the other. Thus, a wind that is blowing onto the shore in Dublin will be blowing out to sea in County Clare, slowing incoming waves down, cleaning up their faces, and causing them to break in a hollow fashion. Of course, winds in Ireland aren’t always blowing from the east, but when they are, the surf can be legendary. One of the best big-wave surfing spots in the world, called Aileen’s, is located at the base of the Cliffs of Moher. (Check out this beautiful video).
On this particular Saturday, both the winds and the swell were lined up perfectly. We drove out along the southern edge of Galway Bay, past the fishing village of Kinvarra and around Murrooghtoohy Point. As we rounded the point, officially leaving Galway Bay and entering the exposed, west-facing shores of County Clare, the four of us let out a collective gasp. The waves were enormous, peeling to the right and left, and perfectly hollow. We drove down the coast for three or four miles, necks craned to the right, anxious not to miss a set, then turned around and drove back to the first break we had seen. After parking on the road, we wound our way down through the eerie, fern-dotted Burren landscape, boards tucked under our arms. The waves were somehow less intimidating at eye level than they had been from the road above. We plunged into the water.
If I described that day to you, I would end up sounding like this guy, so I’ll refrain. I will just say that I did get a few barrels, and that Irish surf definitely lives up to the hype.