An Irish surf odyssey - SEE GALLERY AND VID
Ireland is now emerging as one of the new frontiers of the surfing world
Surfing. The very word brings to mind golden sunsets over tropical locations. The palm trees of Hawaii. The warm seas and roaring waves of Australia and California. Certainly not the cold and choppy waters of the Irish Atlantic.
And yet Ireland is now emerging as one of the new frontiers of the surfing world. This island perched at the edge of Europe, one of the first land masses to be pummeled by the turbulent Atlantic, has a growing community of surfers who extol what Ireland has to offer. “People are surprised to learn that there is surfing in Ireland,” laughs Easkey Britton, the Irish and British surfing champion who hails from Donegal. “They think the water is full of icebergs.”
Ian Johnson, a South African surfer and surfboard shaper who now lives in County Clare, couldn’t agree more. “There’s such a difference between Ireland and South Africa,” he says. “It’s easy to get into surfing in South."
Despite these obvious disadvantages to surfing in Ireland, these surfers – both of whom have spent time surfing in well-known hotspots such as Tahiti and Hawaii – choose to live and surf in Ireland. Why is this?
The answer to this question is at the heart of a fascinating documentary called Sea Fever: An Irish Surf Odyssey. Filmed over the course of two years by first-time filmmaker Ken O’Sullivan, it captures Irish surfing throughout the seasons and chronicles the development of a surfing culture in Ireland over the past 40 years.
Ken, who is originally from Clare, had worked abroad for many years. When he moved back to Lahinch six years ago, he was taken aback by the changes that had been wrought on the area.
“I was more aware of my environment when I came back,” he remembers. “I was struck by the beauty of the place and amazed by the boom in surfing. The passion of the surfers interested me too. They live to surf and build their lives around it. They surf every day and constantly push themselves to ride new waves.”
He started to film some of Irish surfing’s biggest risk takers – the surfers who ride Ireland’s most famous big wave, Aileen’s just off the Cliffs of Moher. This wave was first discovered by photographer Mickey Smith and a group of Australian bodyboarders in 2004 and was first surfed the following year.
“Many people who visit the Cliffs of Moher are unaware of what happens there,” says Ken O’Sullivan. His film captures the action as it unfolds. Aileen’s, one of the world’s most formidable waves, starts to roll in from the Atlantic. As the swells approach Ireland, they hit a narrow shelf of land. The wave rears up to 50 foot in height and offers surfers a challenging ride right up to the dramatic 700-foot-high cliffs.