This fall was a whirlwind of back to back travel! After wrapping up in Sheboygan, it wasn't too long before I was on a plane again. This time I was crossing the Atlantic for my second trip ever to Europe -- my first being to Barcelona back in college. With Norwegian Air service from TF Green here in Rhode Island direct to numerous locations for budget prices, it was about time I took another trip across the pond. The travel group would consist of myself, Rhode Island board shaper and surfer Kevin Tanner of Soundings Surf Co, fellow photographer Cody DeGroff of Cape Cod, and my little sister who was itching to return after a semester in Galway several years ago.
Our trip was initially planned for 10 days at the very beginning of October, when hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean is almost always in full-swing. We were hoping to make this trip an introduction to the region, a scout of Ireland's west country, to meet some of the locals, and score some big swell at both well known and not-so-well known surf spots. But it seemed the El Niño year had it in for us, because no sooner had we landed then the terrific swell forecast we had been eyeing just days before our travel all but disappeared, and we were left to battle heavy unfavorable winds on and off or the next two weeks.
We flew a red eye into Cork and took the first day to drive up the coast. Driving on the left with such narrow roads took some getting used to, but there's nothing like throwing yourself right in the mix of rush hour in a big city to shorten that learning curve! We stopped first at Killarney National Park and continued north to Ennistimon by Lahinch Bay. Lahinch was reminiscent of just about any small tourist surf town we had been to in New England, with just a little more history behind it. For example, the bridge we crossed almost every day in Ennistimon was older than the whole country of Australia, and we were constantly reminded of how beautifully the old and new coexisted in Ireland.
Our first full day in-country was a bust when it came to finding surf-able waves, but we had already scouted a few spots and taken our first of several walks along the nearby Cliffs of Moher, one of the most breathtaking views I had ever seen (even in the fog and heavy misting rain). Our first impressions of Ireland were of mostly cold gray days and lots and lots of cows. The landscape was also spectacular in a minimalist way, as rolling hills of technicolor green continued for miles, broken up only by the occasional farmhouse or mountain in the distance.
By day 3 and 4 we found surf, albeit a little windy and sloppy, and Kevin in particular was itching to get wet. Learning new spots can be tricky, even just from the basics of where to park and access the water. The tides were also much more severe than back at home, and combined with strong afternoon winds that would turn on quickly, we soon discovered when a wave was working it usually wouldn't stay that way for long.
After coming from unseasonably warm days back home, it was definitely starting to feel like late autumn in the Atlantic. It rarely was over 50°F, and certainly felt chilly if the wind was on. We only saw the sun every few days, and when it did make an appearance it never reached very high overhead. As the days progressed we had already built up a routine, often consisting of toast and coffee in the AirBnB at first light, checking a few spots in the region, then settling on a point break worth surfing sometime around noon. Lunch would happen late for us, and we might squeeze in a second session before dinner, which would also usually happen late.
We absolutely never had a bad meal in Ireland, and the food was just incredible and consistently delicious. Often meat and potatoes, or some kind of vegetable or stew -- my non-gluten free companions often went for fish and chips as well -- dinners involved a lot of locally raised meat and fresh farm to table cooking. It wasn't terribly expensive either compared to what we were used to! I had a lamb shank au jus over potatoes and veg for only $20USD that could've easily gone for $30-40 back in the states. Between swells, lay days consisted of sunset walks at the Cliffs of Moher and even an afternoon jaunt to Galway, Ireland's cultural center.
After several days in the Lahinch region, we also took a few days up north in County Sligo to discover what that area had to offer. We scored overhead point breaks on one particularly windy day, and I went for my first Irish swim. It was a bit daunting but as soon as I got in the water I was amazed at how much easier it was to swim. I had become so accustomed to shallow beach breaks at home that can catch you inside easily, I was pleasantly surprised by the predictability of the point and the deep water which made it much easier to swim under breaking surf.
Our 10 days were up but there was another bump of swell in the forecast, so we decided to extend our stay by another 4 days with the hope of scoring some big Irish barreling slabs -- something that had thus far evaded us. We found a mini chest-head high slab which made for fun swimming, but the iconic big open barrels that could fit a small car never made an appearance for us. But it was still a worthwhile adventure in a new country. We discovered new places, already marked our favorite restaurants and pubs, linked up with a crew of Nantucket surfers from back home, and made a friends with a few of the locals. We're already brainstorming our next trip back... perhaps for a longer stay next time!
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