Wild West – SUP hunting in Ireland

Words: Doug Paton

Pics: Kayleigh Scott Photography & Janey Campbell

Summer 2015 didn’t really arrive in the west coast of Scotland… It was wet, the Primaloft jacket didn’t reach its summer resting place and worst of all there was no wind or waves to satisfy the windsurfers and surfers among us. Autumn provided the perfect weather for surfing the never ending waves on Loch Lomond, but still no major swell to speak of. Fortunately a friend’s wedding in Dublin gave us the perfect excuse to get across to the west coast of Ireland to hunt for some waves that we were badly needed.

Upon leaving Dublin, we headed in convoy to Achill Island. We camped up with a few beers and awaited what the morning would bring. Overnight the van was blasted by the wind and sand so hard that I was surprised to find it still had paint on it in the morning. The main strand at Keel Beach was our first port of call and we found the swell absolutely pumping. However, so was the wind in a cross-on direction. It was huge and messy and therefore the SUP boards stayed in the van in favour of windsurfers and kites. We braved up to logo high waves and a heavy rip for a short time before calling it a day. That night we camped up at Keel Lough and the girls took the paddleboards out to explore all corners of this remote spot.

Irish stand up paddle surfing Doug Paton

The next day, we moved on. There was no major wind to speak of and we were heading ultimately towards NW Donegal as we were chasing a big windsurf day on Thursday.

We stopped in at a busy spot called Strandhill. This is one of the most accessible spots for the town of Sligo and hence was fairly crowded. With the pushing tide and no wind, the waves breaking over the rocky section at the left hand end of the carpark were perfectly formed. More of a longboarders wave on the day we were there, but a nice peeling left and right. As soon as I paddled out, I received the usual warm reception that a foreign paddle surfer receives from the local surf crew. Despite this, most were chatty and friendly.

Ireland SUP Doug Paton SUP Mag UK

I rode the left a good few times, which was fun. It broke, steepened up for a few turns, before mellowing and then jacking up steeper on the inside. It was a good long ride and broke so predictably. It worked well from low tide to mid, before the deeper water made for a fat wave that became increasingly difficult to catch. The high tide meant the exit was sketchy, as the sea meets the rocky shore defences.  After drying off, we visited a few bars – in particular ‘The Strand’, which is a mix of surf après bar and traditional Irish bar. It had a nice atmosphere and, like most Irish pubs, sold great Guinness. Having camped at Strandhill, we had breakfast at the surf café called ‘Shells’ – which is well worth a visit – before heading on our travels further north.

On the road north we stopped in at Bundoran to check out ‘The Peak’, but with a small swell and the tide wrong nothing was happening so we continued towards our destination called Magheroarty in the North West. This is a long strand with a pier and reef at the left hand end and multiple beach break options along its length. We camped up in the dunes and my girlfriend and I used the last of the light to go for a sunset flat water paddle session in the tidal lagoon inside the main strand. The flat water was combined with fast flowing tidal streams, which made for a slightly more exciting session than your average calm evening session. The short autumn days meant it was dark early and we huddled around a BBQ at the back of the van as the expected wind blew up.

Ireland west coast SUP M

By morning the boys attempted a kite and a windsurf, but I didn’t bother as it was borderline windy enough and just rode the knee high morning waves on the paddleboard. The swell was due to pick up. Magicseaweed was showing almost flat in the morning yet building to over 14ft with a long period by that evening. When the tide started to push, the swell started pumping. What a difference a few hours make. The wind fully dropped off and in the afternoon we were presented with sets of up to head high and above with only our group there to enjoy them.

The local shortboard rippers were out at the reef beyond the pier at the left hand end. This wave, which looked double overhead, looked fantastic but I didn’t venture out as it looked out my league. Some came to the beach as the face was too bumpy! Our crowd stuck to the beautiful peeling rights that were exploding off the horizon. My first stands out as my best ever… I dropped in on an overhead high right hand wave, and immediately raced down the line avoiding my friends before glancing over my shoulder and cutting back left on my toes like only a goofy footer can! After hitting the whitewater, I headed off down the line and pumped it over a slight flatter section before clearing the steep inside section all the way to the beach.

Doug Paton West Coast Ireland windsurfing

The board I was using was my trusted Loco 8’11 with K4 Fins. It has enough glide to catch the fast moving waves and once on the face has a progressive enough outline to allow me to turn tightly and pivot about the back foot. I’m not Kai Lenny, but I was having the most fun ever and this stick was just spot on. The rest of the boys and girls were enjoying wave after wave and it only stopped when the tide reached the top and we were all too tired to go on.

After another campfire with everyone gazing into the fire whilst wrapped in down and woolly hats, we settled in expecting big Thursday to be the windsurf day of the century… In the morning, it was there, but with too much east in it – for those who know Magheroarty, that’s bolt offshore! So an 8am lagoon session was had before packing up and heading to a quaint local Irish pub to drink Guinness and have some local seafood.

Ireland west coast SUP hunting

The next day, we got up and headed back to Larne to our ferry. A 2.5 hour drive means it’s so accessible from mainland UK that it is almost criminal that some of those beautiful waves go unridden. Get yourself in the van, take your windsurfer or kite – as it might be windy – pack your SUP and surfboard and get over there. You don’t have an excuse not to…

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