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Being a small island nation, Ireland is watersports mad. Whether it's scuba diving, canoeing or kiteboarding, there are oceans of water sports on offer in Ireland. No part of Ireland is more than 70 miles from the sea. So wherever you are, you're bound to be less than a few hours’ drive from the coast.
Scuba diving has become very popular in Ireland and dive centers have sprung up all along the coast. Canoeing is a year-round sport in Ireland so there's never a bad time to do it. In fact, Ireland is home to the huge Lough Neagh, in Co Tyrone, and there are several excellent canoe trails across the country.
Finally, two newer water sports in Ireland include kiteboarding and wakeboarding. Counties Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal are the best places for kiteboarding while Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan is the go-to spot for wakeboarding.
So, if you can brave the freezing cold Irish water, get into that wet suit, and get going!
Oceandivers is based at Dún Laoghaire harbor, just six miles south of Dublin city. It caters for all levels. The school dives at several locations in Dublin Bay and also tours dive spots around the country. The school dives all year, although easterly gales tend to limit local diving during the winter. The season usually runs from early April till mid October during which time the visibility averages about 10 to 26 feet.
Dalkey Island and the Muglins Rock lie within 20 minutes of the dive center, with depths ranging from 26 to 85 feet. There are several wrecks to visit, including the RMS Leinster, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1918 off the Kish Bank and the Bolivar which sank in 1947. Marine life is excellent throughout the bay with shoals of pollack as well as plenty of anemones and crustaceans.
The school says that the Atlantic coast offers world-class diving; visibility can reach in excess of 98 feet and the waters are teeming with life. The underwater scenery is every bit as dramatic as that above, with wall dives,wrecks and amphitheaters.
However, there are still hundreds of places to visit from Donegal to West Cork, Connemara, Kerry or Clare.
Other dive centers include Dive Tory (www.toryhotel.com ), on the island of Tory in Donegal. The locations, which often feature seals and dolphins, vary from sheltered, shallow coves, to wall dives and wreck dives for the more experienced diver. Further south, the Burren Adventures (www.burrenadventures.com ), which operate from Ballyvaughan and Doolin in Co. Clare, cater for every level of scuba diving, from novice to expert.
Tackle the rush and gush of Ireland’s rapids and weirs for a pure dose of adrenaline.
During the winter, slalom and white-water racing take place on the Liffey, the Lagan, the Barrow, and the Nore, as well as countless rivers around the country. But you can always take it easier in any number of rivers and canals, paddling through Ireland’s picturesque countryside with a leisurely, laid-back tour.
Ireland’s inspiring coastline is dotted with remote islands that are perfectly explored by sea kayak. There are a number of centers along the Atlantic Coast including Galway, Clare and Cork, that will test your stamina and courage.
Deep Blue Sea Kayaking at Kilmacanogue, Co. Wicklow, offers courses, day trips and expeditions in Dublin Bay and throughout Ireland for all skill levels. They also sell a range of sea kayaks and gear. (www.deepblueseakayaking.com)
Northern Ireland also has some great canoe trails, including one 13-mile trail at Lough Neagh. This is the largest lake in the British and Irish Isles, and is 90 miles in circumference. The trail is a superb flat-water venue for canoeing enthusiasts of all abilities. From the head of the trail at Maydown Bridge the river meanders lazily through the countryside acting as the boundary line between the counties of Armagh and Tyrone. The river comes to an end at Maghery Country Park, where it flows gently into Lough Neagh creating a breathtaking view.
Kiteboarding is one sport that benefits from Ireland's wild windy weather and LSD Kiteboarding (www.lsdkiteboarding.com) might be one place to start. LSD, in this case, stands for the counties of Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal, all of which feature large, sandy beaches that are next to deserted all year around. Riders have a choice of riding waves or flat water, and can ride in all wind directions. As many visitors to the Northwest have discovered, the LSD region can be very windy, and so these factors make the LSD region ideal for starting, improving or perfecting your kiteboarding skills.
There are a number of centers around the country where you can try wakeboarding. One of the big ones is the Lough Muckno Waterski and Wakeboard Club, in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. Castleblayney, which hosted the National Wakeboard Champions in 2008, is an easy place to get to at about 60 miles from both Dublin and Belfast.