The LookWest.ie Insider’s Guide to the West Coast Surf Scene is a series exploring the vibrant West of Ireland surf scene along the Wild Atlantic Way. Your guide to the surf is writer, pro bodyboarder and surf coach Seamus McGoldrick from Strandhill, Sligo.
Seamus began surfing at Strandhill Beach, one of Sligo’s hidden gems, and followed his passion by setting up his own thriving surf school business, Sligo Surf Experience.
So, who better to give you the inside scoop on the Irish surf scene?
Over to you Seamus:
“For our last installment of The Insider’s Guide we land in my favourite county for surfing, the Banner county of Clare. I have spent eighteen years surfing in the County Clare and have made many friends and very few enemies in this southern surfing paradise. Clare is simply a stronghold of Irish surfing heritage and talent. The waves speak for themselves and the vibe is simply magical. When do the waves appear? Nobody knows. When will the next big swell come? It’s impossible to tell. Who will suffer the next big injury? It could be anybody.
While the county’s surf is mysterious its people are straight forward and honest.
Meet Two Locals
A pair of men who have made County Clare their home are brothers Fergal and Kevin Smith. Originally from Mayo, we first introduced these dedicated wave lovers in our Insider’s Guide to the County Mayo Surf Scene.
Kevin runs a successful photography business and Fergal set up one of Ireland’s only Community Support Agriculture farms. Kevin chose to relocate to Clare for a mixture of personal and professional reason. The reason in both cases was the good surf.
Kevin Smith (@kevlsmith)
“Clare has a great range of waves, from beginner waves in Fanore and Lahinch through to world-class waves like the cliffs of Moher. I think it’s one of the most constant counties for waves in Ireland.
I have always surfed from the age of ten but I moved to Clare to shoot an Analog team surf movie for my brother Fergal back in 2012. After that film, we filmed the Growing series for 18 months.
How do you balance surfing with work?
It’s fairly easy to fit in surfs. I live ten minutes from Lahinch and I can see the beach from my house, so whenever I am at home and I see there are waves, I’ll take a break from the computer and get a quick dip in.
What’s cool about the Clare surf scene is that’s its made up of Clare born surfers and surfers from all over Ireland and then international surfers who have moved over for the high-quality waves.
The big difference is in the winter, apart from the water temperature and the weather, is that it never really goes flat but in the summer you might go a few weeks without waves.
Who are the up and coming young Clare surfers?
There are so many, Ross Coyne, Joshua Karbus, Dylan Noonan, Breandan Monaghan, I could keep going!
Clare is famous for its festivals. You were at the 2019 Doolin Surf Festival. How was it?
It was great. It was class to see Irish surfing on the big screen.
Fergal Smith (@moyhillfarm)
Kevin’s brother Fergal is busy running one of Ireland’s few Community Support Agriculture projects in Moy Hill, County Clare
“Clare is a great county for surfing as the coastline is small so you can get along it in a short amount of time with a lot of different waves.
I first came to Clare for surf contests but when I was seventeen or so I started coming down to surf the better waves and then I ended up just staying. Its a long enough drive home to Mayo so I just started living here as I liked it so much and it was too far to drive home.
I run a community farm and the good thing is in the summer the waves are not as good and the farm is at its busiest then, then in the winter the farm is quieter so gives time for surfing.
The special thing about Clare is the closeness to all the good waves and there is also a great variety for everyone. Clare gets more waves than other parts of the Irish coast during the summertime but it can be very wild here in the winter.
One of the craziest things about Clare is its number one tourist attraction: the “Cliffs of Moher”. Underneath the cliffs is also where some of the best waves in the world are!
The Burren Limestone landscape is also a very beautiful place to go and explore.
A new event this year was the Doolin surf festival which went down really well and everyone seemed to really enjoy it so hopefully, that will take place every year from now on.
Peter Conroy (@pedro2468)
One of the first and most straightforward men I met in Clare was Peter Conroy from Miltown Malbay.
“Clare is known as one of the best surfing counties in Ireland. Why? Clare has so many different types of waves, from beginner waves to the most advanced waves in the world. So you can choose what you want to do or work your way up as you go along. We have quite an accessible coastline which makes it easy to get from one wave to another. Clare differs from other countries because of its bays and vast openness to the Atlantic and can handle all the ocean can throw at it.
How did you get into surfing in Clare?
I started working as a lifeguard on Spanish Point beach and on my time off I picked up a board and caught a few waves. I was hooked straight away.
As a professional Fireman, how do you balance surfing with work?
The older I get the more I realise that there will always be another swell. There will always be another best day ever. So I just get what I can and when I can. If it looks like it’s my kinda swell I might try to get off work. But nowadays I just wait until I’m free for the swell.
The people in my home county make the surf scene special. That and the vast amount of waves and the scenery. The waves we get in the winter are heavy and solid. The summer swells lame and inconsistent.
Any up and coming young Clare surfers?
Loads. Too many to name.
Best surfing beach in Clare?
If you want to get into surfing in Clare just get a board and get a few lessons off one of the many surf schools in Lahinch or Spanish Point. Once you have the basics, practice makes perfect.
Clem Mc Inerney (@clemmcinerney)
Another professional cameraman who makes Clare his home is Clem Mc Inerney. In the last several years Clem has dedicated himself to capturing Irish and foreign surfers in the best waves the wild west of Ireland has to offer.
“The Lahinch area as a whole has a really great variety of waves. It’s an amazing place to learn how to surf on the beach and then if you stick with it you almost have this natural progression to move further to the cliffs near the beach where you have reef breaks. When you park in the top car park you have such a good overview of the bay and where you want to surf, you don’t have to do too much trekking around!
I was always encouraged to be around the sea as a young fella by my parents. I swam competitively, sailed and fished. I’m from Limerick so I spent all my summer holidays in Kilkee jumping off rocks terrifying onlookers and swimming all day every day.
It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I really fell in love with surfing and spent more time in Lahinch. My poor parents would be left sitting in the car waiting for hours while I attempted to surf! Then when I was a little older there were a few of my buddies from home who were into it and then I never really looked back. After a couple of years of silly missions and doing laps of the coast with good friends and I settled in Lahinch.
I am in a very privileged position where I work in the surf industry. It’s the only industry where ‘Sorry. I am only coming back to you now. There were pumping waves’ is a reasonable excuse for not coming back to someone!
My background of study and work is in law but I eventually followed my passion and began working with some incredible people in the most amazing locations close to home. Now, in saying that I don’t get to surf as much as I would like because if the waves are very good I am filming but when I do surf it makes it even more satisfying and I appreciate those moments more! That is why I try filming mostly from the water because I still get to be in the sea and get closer to the action.”
What makes the surf scene in Clare so special?
I think in Clare we have a very close surf community because we all work, surf and hang out together. That’s a great thing about Lahinch. It is hard to go for a quick walk down the prom because you just bump into someone every few feet!
We also have amazing board shapers here, for a small area. We have three active board shapers each doing there own techniques and designs: Tom DH, Luke Underwood and Shaun at Coded Surfboards are all pushing themselves for the surfers and waves here.
As a surf fan that’s really cool to see in a small area. We have a massive range of surfers as well from all different backgrounds, we have all found a way to be able to find a great work/surf balance.
I think my favourite beach is Doughmore in Doonbeg. That beach is very special to anyone who surfs in County Clare. It is really stunning and has produced some really special moments over the years.
What is the difference in summer and winter surfing in Clare?
Winter is the reason I live here, we are right on the front line of the storms from the Atlantic and to feel the power of the sea is something special. There is nothing better than being in the sea during one of these storms or standing on one of the cliffs being hammered by gale-force winds and rain coming from every direction. Then summer is just cruising, hoping for a wave really. We tend to surf longboards to keep ourselves sane while we wait for the good waves to return.
We have really epic Pitch and Putt courses here in Clare, a really nice way to spend a few hours when the waves arent great!
Any up and coming young Clare surfers?
We have such a great crew of groms coming up. It’s really exciting to see the local groms in the line up now hassling us for waves! I think the future of the sport is in really good hands, the boys and girls coming through really just love the sport for what it is and want to spend as much time in the water as they can. There are too many to even mention which is a very positive sign for the talent coming out of Clare!
We have some really excellent surf schools in Clare. If you are looking to start surfing contact Mono in Lahinch Surf Experience, his standard of lessons are excellent and its very personal which is key to learning to surf the right way. Then if you are looking to progress to an advanced level I would contact Ollie’s Surf Academy. Ollie has years of competition knowledge and works closely with the ISA. You’ll need to stop into Lahinch surf shop to get your gear as well, that shop is one of the originals in surfing in Ireland!
County Clare has amazing festivals. If you are looking for something non-surf related there is the ‘Match Making Festival’ in Lisdoonvarna and I would highly recommend checking out the Agricultural show in Ennistymon.
We have some surf competitions coming in Lahinch as well. Check out the West Coast Surf Club website for details on those, it’s a great club that pushes the sport forward in the area.
Hotel Doolin has some epic festivals as well, the folk fest is world-renowned and they had the first Surfest last year which was a massive hit. It will be on again next March and even if you are not a surfer I would go check it out- its a weekend of great music, movies, talks, and food. Hotel Doolin not only hosted the event but contributed donations to the West Coast Surf Club and the Irish Tow Surf rescue club which is very positive for surfing in County Clare.
Are there any up and coming young surfers in Clare we should be looking out for?
Yes loads, it is not easy to mention one without the other fifty! So what I would recommend is grabbing a coffee from Joes, go sit on the prom and look out at the groms who are ripping!
Who to know
- Dusty the Dolphin: Respect the locals and you’ll be fine.
- Hugh Galloway if you are looking for a good sandwich. And I mean really good.
- Peter Conroy. Pro surfer, safety guru, fireman and secret superhero.
- Ollie O Flaherty
Female Surfers in Clare
Who are the females in the Co Clare surf scene?
Check out this beautiful video by Kev L Smith showing the female chargers of the banner; counselor/therapist Lisa O’Reilly, occupational therapist Alison Derham, Surf school manager Liz Quinn, and doctor/GP Marese Mannion, all of whom have chosen to live and work in one of the furthermost reaches of Europe, on the edge of Ireland so as to pursue their love of surfing. It is entitled ‘This Wild and Precious Life’ and it is dedicated to all such souls.
Where to hang out
Kevin Smith: “Visit the Cliff of Moher, take a ferry to the Arran Islands, check out the Doolin music scene. Go rock climbing and don’t forget a plain old stroll along the prom in Lahinch. Go visit the Burren. It is magical. Take one of the loop-walks near Fanore beach. Good festivals I recommend are the Doolin Folk festival and the Willie Clancy week in Milltown.”
Fergal Smith: “Lahinch Beach has something for everyone and is very easy to get to but quieter beaches like Fanore or Doughmore would be more my kind of places to hang out on. I guess if you want to get to know the Clare surfers Lahinch is the centre of all things surfing in Clare. if you hang out around the beach in Lahinch you will get to meet all the surfers of the area.
Peter Conroy: “A good cafe in Ennistymon or restaurant in Liscannor. Lahinch promenade. Spanish Point. The bottom of the Cliff of Moher. Quilty. The Aran Islands. Doolin Cave. The Burren.”
Clem Mc Inerney: “County Clare has so many amazing places to hang out. For coffee, Joes Cafe. For pints its Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch. Both are great places to warm up after a surf or sit and talk with friends when the waves don’t produce! Try to get a sunset walk in at Hags head as well, it’s a great angle of the Cliffs of Moher. Obviously, the Cliffs of Moher are a must but it is a little too touristy. I would highly recommend a stroll around the Burren or else check out Doolin Cave. Ennistymon is a little hotbed of restaurants, Oh LaLa is really tasty and have a walk down to the falls after. I think people miss the falls when they just drive over the bridge to get to Lahinch, its definitely worth a stroll.
Peter Conroy: “The Cliffs of Moher. Doolin Cave. The 99 icecreams in O Dwyers shop in Quilty. The Willy Clancy week. The West Coast surf club longboard competition and 50 year anniversary. 2020 Doolin Surf Festival.”
Kevin Smith: “Summer surfing in Doonbeg.”
Clem Mc Inerney: “Go explore south of Lahinch, head down to Loop head and stop in Kilkee on the way! Areas south of Lahinch are a little off the beaten track. There is tons of history, traditional music, amazing food and the scenery around Kilkee are stunning. I’d highly recommend getting a Nolans breakfast roll and eating it up on the cliffs looking out over the bay!”
Fergal Smith: “There are surfing events through the year in Clare and check out the West coast surf club to see what is happening with surf contest or beach clean-ups. We also have our Moyhill farm event from September 20th to 22nd. It is called a Farm Gathering and it where people get to come and camp on the farm for the weekend of the equinox and share in the great food with music, workshops, and lots of tours and farm demos. I hope to see you at that one Shambles.”
Sligo Surf Experience (Seamus McGoldrick’s surf school in Sligo)