Waxing lyrical in Celtic seas

A surfari to Ireland and Wales comes with quality waves and stunning backdrops, David Knox writes.

Many of the world's great surfing locations have two things in common: excellent waves and little else to offer as tourist destinations when the surf is flat.

The endless wet weekend can be redefined by a rainy, waveless wait for crowded surf on the north shore of Hawaii's Oahu. Just how many overpriced shops do you want to browse through as you and thousands of other surfers wait for Noosa Heads to do its thing? Port Elizabeth's night-life will wear thin after a few days of waiting for the magic that is Jeffreys Bay in South Africa.

Enter Ireland and Wales, countries rich with surf possibilities, and with the advantage that their surfing areas are worth visiting for their historical, cultural and scenic attractions.

Australian professional surfers Brenden Margieson and Asher Pacey recently visited counties Clare and Donegal in Ireland and the south coast of Wales for the first time, and declared it a great surf trip and they didn't even get memorable surf.

Accustomed to the warm-water perfection of reef breaks in Asia, Central America and the South Pacific, Margieson, Pacey and Newcastle surf photographer Bosko were captivated by these different surfing areas. And when they did get a chance to ride the North Atlantic, Margieson and Pacey ripped, much to the delight of the local surfers.

Ireland, in particular, is a country that beckons anyone interested in riding quality waves without the crowds that normally go with them.

Points, reefs, out-to-sea big wave spots and friendly beach breaks abound.

A great thing about Ireland for an experienced surfer is that most of the surfing population is content to stick to the safer spots, leaving the more challenging breaks to the adventurous few.

While there is some surfing on the protected eastern beaches, the premier area is the west coast, hugely open to everything the North Atlantic has to offer.


When the consistent swell combines with the less-reliable winds, places such as Easky, Spanish Point and the Peak at Bundoran become world-class surfing breaks.

But these spots, even by Irish standards, are on the road well travelled. With the help of a good map, internet weather-watching and advice from the friendly local surfers, travellers in Ireland can find themselves spoilt for choice of uncrowded places.

Imagine surfing a right-hand point break funnelling into a narrow beach with an 11th-century castle as the backdrop.

If you are lucky that is the experience you could have at Manorbier, Pembrokeshire, in south Wales.

Even if the surf isn't happening, a visit to the extremely well-preserved castle, birthplace of Gerald of Wales, will be a memorable event.

And therein lies the magic of a surfari to Ireland and Wales.

When you are not surfing you can be the traditional tourist and not even scratch the surface of things to do and see.

Close by Manorbier is the seaside resort of Tenby, whose fascinating 125-year-old museum would be a place of interest itself in Australia.

Water temperatures in Ireland and Wales for much of the year are more than bearable. A normal full-length steamer is fine, except for the depths of winter when the water gets down to about 12 degrees, still considerably warmer than the air temperature. Thicker neoprene and boots and hoods become necessary for surfing in winter, when the quality of the waves is better than in the warmer months.

Travellers who are tourists first, surfers second are well catered for in Ireland and Wales.

Both countries have an abundance of well-run surf schools that operate all year round. Instructors such as John McCarthy (Lahinch Surf School, County Clare, Ireland) and Simon Jayham (GSD, Mumbles, Swansea) and their teams have a wealth of experience, not only of surfing but also of the local regions.

Accommodation in both countries ranges from youth hostels and bed and breakfasts (still considered by many the best way to see Britain and Ireland) to excellent hotels right in the heart of surf regions.

Irish hoteliers just need to be convinced to include tea- and coffee-making facilities in each room.

Car hire is essential for the serious wave hunter and care should be taken on the narrow, winding roads. Be ready for steep petrol prices.

Take a good supply of fresh water on surf forays, because beaches in Ireland and Wales are not blessed with showers as so many are in Australia.

All air carriers to Europe are familiar with surfboards and, unless you have a huge quiver, there will be no extra charge for taking your board. Board hire in Ireland and Wales is also readily available.

Surfing in both countries is still a family affair, with surf spots thankfully lacking hostile territorialism.

Surfers heading for either country should leave plenty of time to enjoy the attractions in and out of the water.


PLUSES: Uncrowded waves, scenic beauty, rich history, friendly locals, great food and accommodation, lots of non-surfing activities (windsurfing, snorkelling, fishing, golf, walking, birdwatching and horse riding).

MINUSES: Chilly water, changeable weather (from one hour to the next), unfriendly exchange rate, warm pubs (you won't want to leave).

WHEN TO GO: The most attractive time to go surfing in Ireland and Wales is in the northern summer when the air and water are more temperate. However, this is not the best time for waves, particularly in Wales where anything more than a ripple in August is considered a rarity. The depths of winter bring bigger waves, but it's unlikely 12-degree water and even colder air will appeal to any but the hard core. So spring and autumn are probably the best bets, when coastal accommodation will be in less demand.

For more information see http://www.visitbritain.com.au (phone 1300 858 589) and http://www.tourismireland.com.