The LookWest.ie Insider’s Guide to the West Coast Surf Scene is our new series exploring the vibrant West of Ireland surf scene county by county. Your surf guide will be writer, pro bodyboarder, and surf school manager Seamus McGoldrick.
Seamus began surfing in Strandhill, one of Sligo’s hidden gems and followed his passion by setting up his own thriving surf business. So, who better to give you the inside scoop on the Irish surf scene?
Turning now to his home county of Sligo, Seamus meets some lucky surfers who manage to chase the dream of surfing all year round on the wonderful west coast of Ireland.
Sligo Surf Scene: An Overview
Although the name Sligo is derived from the Irish placename Sligeach or Shelly Place, this coastal county has become synonymous with surfing. One reason is that the Wild Atlantic Way from Cassiebawn Castle in Mullaghmore in North Sligo to Rathlee Tower in Easkey in West Sligo is rich in the raw material of surfing: good waves.
The other reason is that the surf scene in Sligo has exploded in the last fifteen years with the indigenous surfers, artists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs interacting with the legion of foreign surfers who have become magnetised to Sligo shores in a way that exemplifies the very best of modern Ireland.
In Sligo, it is a simple case of West is best. So meet the surfers who will explain why.
Meet The Surfers:
1. The Local: Kian Egan – Surfer/Musician
When Kian Egan left home at seventeen to tour the world and make lots of hit records with his band Westlife he knew nothing about the surf scene in Sligo. When he returned from his musical odyssey back to Sligo over a decade later he had already surfed in Hawaii and had bought his first surfboard. Now the local Sligoman is an avid surfer who makes the most from consistent waves on his doorstep at home in Strandhill.
I ask Kian how he got into surfing in the first place?
“My Dad was a big golfer who played golf in Strandhill Golf Club” explains Kian.
One day while out on the beautiful seventh hole overlooking the famous waves of Strandhill, Kian spotted a bunch of people out surfing.
“I said to Dad, ‘I’d really like to do that, I’d really like to be in the ocean trying to catch a wave’. And Dad was like, ‘why don’t you’.”
The pair finished their game of golf and Kian went down to Tom Hickey at Perfect Day Surf School who took Kian for his first surf that evening. After his first surf Kian was hooked. He bought his own board and wetsuit and sped off on another great life adventure which complemented his passion for music perfectly.
“As the years rolled on, I met some of the local lads who helped show me the way,” recalls Kian.
“We became mates and all of a sudden you become part of the community. That is what happens in surfing.”
“A lot of people would have seen me as that guy from Westlife trying to be a surfer. And I was, I was that guy from Westlife trying to be a surfer. But I stuck with it because I had a passion for it. I loved being in the ocean. I loved the freedom of it especially after doing what I was doing. Living in a stressful city world where it was all about success and selling records and doing concerts in front of 1000s of people. All of a sudden I’m out in the ocean, nobody can ring you, no one can even get to you.”
2. The Surfer Mom: Jane Lamberth – Surfer/Businesswoman.
Dubliner Jane Lamberth first came to Strandhill over eight years ago on a surf trip with some friends. Since then, she and her surfer husband Myles have moved to Strandhill, set up a thriving seaside business called Shell Cafe and Little Shop plus started a family.
One reason Jane relocated to the west coast was to combine her twin passions for the sea and good food but the main reason was the surf.
“When you live in Sligo there are so many waves available to you. I am an intermediate surfer and my husband is a full-on brilliant surfer and both of us can find waves every day of the week to suit us,” says Jane.
Jane got into surfing in her twenties on a random girls weekend to Tramore in County Waterford where a surf lesson sparked off a surf addiction that would completely alter the course of her life.
“[After that first surf] something clicked and I went, wow, this is something pretty awesome.”
As a result, Jane decided to travel to Cornwall for the summer to hang out on the beach where she met her future husband Myles.
“For him, surfing was literally his life. That sealed the deal with me when it came to choosing a surf lifestyle.”
Jane could now benefit from Myles experience and encouragement and her surf skills steadily built.
“Myles brought me out to new waves and different surf spots and got me beaten up a few times, but Myles lines was ‘you have to learn to enjoy the wipeouts too’.”
“My level of surfing has improved being beside the sea, you have a much better understanding of surfing and there is loads of women in the water. It is infectious.”
“I always look back [at that first surf trip to Strandhill] and wonder does visualisations and things like that work? After the surf, we climbed the sand dunes. I was on a high and I said to myself, I am going to live here someday because I just love it.”
“Based on one weekend away in Sligo I decided to live here, which is kind of ridiculous.”
Except it is not ridiculous. Although I am born and raised in Strandhill and I am admittedly biased on the subject, it is impossible to deny Strandhill has that sort of seaside charm. I have personally witnessed many surfers who show up in Strandhill with the intention of staying for one weekend and they are still here a decade later.
Jane concurs: “I was sitting on the sand dunes feeling life is good, everything is as it should be and there was a connection, just something magical. Strandhill drew me back.”
“When we first moved here, there was too much going on. There were so many party invitations and things we were burnt out. Oh, there is a gig in Sligo town, there is a gig in Strandhill, this one is having a party, oh there is a beach party or a late night surf session or a camping trip. We were stretched too thin on the west coast of Ireland!”
“There are so many like-minded people and the music and arts scene is off the scale. There is something here to keep you busy all the time.” shellscafe.com
3. The Shaper: Conor Canavan – Surfer/Shaper
For many years during the development of the Sligo surfing scene getting waves was the easy part but it was near impossible to get your hands on a local custom-made surfboard. Today, things are different with master craftsman Conor Canavan turning out perfect custom-made surfboard at his Wax On surfboard factory at Rathcormac Craft Village near Sligo Town.
Having a homegrown Irish surfboard company located on the west coast was a major boost for the Sligo surf scene.
“Surfing in Sligo is very healthy at the moment.” affirms Conor, “Definitely more people are surfing than ever has been.”
“And, we have literally every amenity here in Sligo. When I was living in Strandhill, I had two restaurants and a bar across the road and another bar and restaurant a hundred metres up the road. I had a cousin living in Swords in Dublin and he told me. ‘You I have more on your doorstep than I have in Dublin’.”
Conor grew up in County Galway and spent his summers sailing, snorkeling and diving with his father.
“I grew up with this respect for nature and it was a very natural that I would get into surfing”
Becoming a surfer is one thing but becoming a surfboard shaper is another. A homegrown surfboard business serving the wide variety of people drawn to Sligo shores for the swells, could it work? Conor’s career path proved to be a wise choice as the Sligo surf boom began soon after.
But how did Conor even decide he wanted to build surfboards in the first place? It was 1998 when Conor embarked on the long winding road towards becoming a surfboard shaper.
“I had a daft idea one day. I was out surfing and I had failed another exam in college so I was going, okay, what do I want to do? It was a beautiful June day with just me and another friend out surfing. I was after ducking under a wave and when I came up, I went, what if I could learn how to make surfboards? That would be great craic.’
In the late nineties, it was not unheard of for people to make their own surfboards at home as a one-off project. Making surfboards, especially on an industrial scale, is a serious disciple involving the skills of shaping, sanding, glassing, spraying, and tinting. There is a craft, there is an art and there is a skill. The aesthetics are huge and a finished surfboard should be next to a piece of art.
Conor has been successfully shaping surfboards now for twenty years. At the start, there was a choice: “You could be Paddy backyard or you could do it right.”
Conor went off and spent six months with renowned shaper Craig Hughes at Raglan Surf Co in New Zealand and learned a huge amount about surfboard design. He also spent two years in Cornwall with Chops (Beach Beat Surfboards).
When he came back to Ireland and set up shop in Sligo his customers were the many people moving past the beginner stage of surfing and starting to take it more seriously. When you are thinking of getting your own board you need to talk to a surfboard shaper like Conor.
“Sometimes people would say I am not good enough to have a board that is made for me, but that is precisely when you need one. A cheap mass produced beginner board will get you from standing on the land and into the water, but if you like surfing it is time to get rid of it, get something decent, and you will progress quicker and get more enjoyment out of it.”
“Surfboards are like people, there are all different sizes, specs, and weights. Every single person is different and so every single board is different. A person gets on one board and they progress and move on to another board. And it keeps going like that. I am not trying to sell you one board, I am trying to sell you fifteen boards over the next fifteen years.”
4. The Architect: Elizabeth Clyne – Surfer/Professional
Sligo-woman Eliz Clyne has long been one of Ireland’s top surfers. Eliz is definitely a soul-surfer and contests were never her thing. She was in it for the lifestyle and the adventure. For Eliz, the question always was how to combine her love of surfing with her career aspirations.
Growing up near Strandhill Beach, Eliz began surfing at age twelve. She surfed regularly through her school years with other world-class Sligo surfers Jessie Smith and Áine O Donnell. Then she met her future fiancé Barry Mottershead, a traveling South African surfer, who was one of the people who came to Sligo for surf and simply never left.
“Barry and I started going away over summers to Indonesia to surf. At the same time, I was studying architecture in UCD, a long course with long hours, so it was hard to get the surfs in. I would be in my studio designing while at the same time checking the surf back home on the internet. Then, I would be on the last train back to Sligo at the weekend to hopefully get a surf.”
“When I qualified, I tried to get somewhere to work where there was surf. That was first.”
To Eliz, it was always about the proper work/life balance. She didn’t necessarily want to be away from the coast but at times had to make sacrifices for her career. Eliz worked in Dublin for a while before moving to Sydney.
On paper, Eliz’s lifestyle in the Sydney suburbs was ideal, except she could never get used to the large number of people at each surf spot compared to Ireland.
“I did learn to hustle which is a good skill to learn but it doesn’t compare to living here and going to spots that are empty.”
“When I got back to Sligo I started trying to figure out how I could live here and surf. I started working for myself as an architect and now in the last year myself and John Monahan joined to form Noji architects. He is another surfer originally from Sligo who moved back from Dublin.”
“The fact you can do a full days work and get a surf afterwards is amazing, I mean, there is nothing more satisfying. A surf after work, what it does for your head. That is what the drug of surfing is, it detaches you from all that is going on. I don’t think anything matches it for what it does for you, mind and body. ”
Elizabeth is an architect at Noji Architect in Sligo noji.ie
Surf Scene in Sligo: A Closer Look
Kian Egan would say Sligo is the best place in the world to live as a surfer.
“I had the option to live anywhere in the world. I don’t say that lightly. I did. I had the option to go and live in any part of the world. But Strandhill in Sligo is where my heart beats.”
“Even over the Californian dream, the west coast dream is where it is at.”
The surf scene in Sligo is multifaceted and composed of a mix of artists, entrepreneurs, architects, film-makers, postmen, bakers, nurses, doctors. You name it and we have it. Sligo town provides an amazing urban centre for the surf community. Many traveling surfers who have settled in Sligo have gone back to education in IT Sligo. Kerry Larkin is a top surfer and lecturer at the IT along with Emmet O Doherty who also runs a Stand-Up Paddle Board business named SUP Dude in based in Mullaghmore.
“If you want to live by the sea and go surfing as much as possible, have good schools, good lifestyle. You can’t really beat the west coast of Ireland.” says Kian, “There is little traffic compared to Dublin or a large city. Sligo town is an easy commute. The surroundings are incredible.”
A Global Community
Eliz Clyne affirms Sligo Town, which may not be Europe’s prettiest town, nevertheless is surrounded by world-class beauty. But the main factor for Eliz is not the surf nor the spectacular setting, it is the community that comes as part the surf scene in Sligo.
“I am sure the GAA has it in a certain way but that is much more organised. What I love is that you can go out in the water and meet someone you haven’t seen in two months and chat and just pick up where you left off. Lovely organic chats about all sorts.”
“We are surrounded by nature and community, that is the big thing, the surf community, and how open it is. It isn’t a closed club. From the outside, when you are not part of it, it might seem a little cliquey, but, when you meet someone you don’t know who surfs there is that instant connection.”
“I think it is important for the Irish in general to remain open to the travelers and surfers they meet on the Wild Atlantic Way who are coming.”
Jane Lamberth, whose friends know her to be a queen of hospitality, tells me, “At the end of the day, Strandhill is just a small village on the west coast of Ireland but any day of the week in Strandhill you could bump into a local or visitor from anywhere in the world.”
Kian Egan is a global ambassador for Sligo. He says, “Sligo has so much to offer. If you take Strandhill as a centre point and you go north towards Donegal you have plenty of great surf and if you go west towards Enniscrone and Mayo there are loads of breaks.”
“And the surfing community in Ireland is still a very tight-knit community. The west coast is very connected it seems when it comes to surfing. I didn’t know anyone from Clare ten years ago and I lots of guys from Clare now.”
One main reason surf communities around the world are so tightly knit is because at some stage everyone gets a fright out while out surfing. A close call, a near collision or a bad wipeout are just a part of the game. As you learn to surf you begin to realise that people need to watch out for each other.
Conor Canavan particularly likes the van culture in the Sligo Surf scene and the pre and post-surf gatherings that organically happen as part of the process of surfing.
“That is where I do most of my socialising, nowadays, when I am out and about surfing” explains Conor.
As a father of two young kids Conor doesn’t find as much time to socialise in the many great pubs in Sligo, ‘but then the beach and the reefs become it and it is a great thing’.
“The kids love it, particularly with the van. In and out at different places, preparing hot chocolate or frying a few sausages. I am of that generation that was all about hanging out in your van. I have a full oven in my van and am very self-sufficient. It is lovely, however, to be able to go into Shells for a hot chocolate or coffee or take your kids for a treat to Mammy Johnstons and get them all ice creams and have a great day.”
Just as Conor’s surfing business provides surfers will the equipment they need to catch the waves, Jane Lamberth’s business all about providing that space where hungry, tired surfers like to go to relax and, more importantly, talk about the surf.
“It is lovely,” Jane tells me, “you come in from a surf and all the guys and girls hang out on the benches outside and have their coffee and catch up. It is lovely to see. And when you have your coffee and cake after a surf you have really earned it. Everyone talking about the waves, did you see the wave where I did this or who is going out later? It is great craic.”
Parents Jane, Conor, and Kian all tell me they feel blessed to be able to raise their children in Sligo.
The Next Generation
Kian explains his reasons why. “One day, when myself and my wife Jodie were in London in Liverpool Street Tube Station, one of the busiest train stations in England, and we saw thirty kids lined up with their teachers going on to the tube. The kids were six or seven years old, it was a dark, busy underground environment, not very nice for the children.”
“Then we came back to Strandhill a week later and we saw the same age school kids going down to the beach with their teachers on a sunny day. And you say, hold on, the difference here is incredible. That was one of the big turning points for us in the debate about bringing up kids here or in London.”
“Life can be hard on the west coast in one sense if you are used to a fast-paced world. But we still would never change it because it is not about us it is about our kids. I have three little boys now.”
“Now I feel we couldn’t be in a better place, and surfing is a massive part of my life.”
“I got involved in the Sligo Surf Club committee because I want the kids of the village to learn to surf and County Sligo Surf club is the perfect vehicle for that. They do an Hour of Power surfing program in the summer and my oldest son, who is six, started doing that when he was four. ”
Conor Canavan agrees. “I think it is great that the surf club is encouraging young people to go out and have fun and let them know the ocean isn’t this dark dangerous place.”
Kian explains, “The surf club brings local kids surfing each week in the hope of teaching them skills that will last them a lifetime, which will get you catching waves all around the world, which will get you friends all around the world. That is what surfing is.”
Loads of parents are involved. Shells are fantastic because they got on board with the surf club this year and sponsored a parent Hour of Power session so the parents can learn to surf too.”
Jane recalls, “I remember watching the surf club doing the kid’s surf sessions. I would often see these moms who I would never see in the sea with smiles on their faces, in their wetsuits pushing their kids into waves.”
“Surfing sometimes seems like a bit of a cliche but it is quite a cool sport. It can feel a little intimidating if you aren’t in that age bracket or that genre. I had this idea, I saw all these mum and dads on the beach and they were so happy, I thought wouldn’t it be so cool to get them in surfing now they have a taste for it now they are used to being around the water.”
“We partnered up with the surf club and did the Shells parents sessions. Lots of parents showed up and were so enthusiastic about it – some were people who would have never considered surfing or thought they were too old.”
“Surfing enhances your life living here. If you are a family, even on the rainy days there is something to do with your kids, you are going to get wet anyway so it doesn’t matter.”
Although it is very beginner and family friendly, make no mistake, Sligo is not exclusively all about beginner surfing. The most striking element the Sligo surf scene, which makes it world-famous in fact, is the high-performance surf scene which seems to be growing every year.
Kian Egan tells me, “In Sligo, we have a very high standard and it is only going to get better. Gearoid McDaid is the first professional surfer from Sligo whose sponsors pay him to travel the world. He has paved the way.”
Gearoid McDaid grew up surfing in Strandhill and was a part of the County Sligo Surf Club. He turned professional after he left school and is now sponsored by RipCurl [vid link].
“Gearoid is at such an amazing level and the kids in our club will look up to that. The future is very bright. With surfing, you are going to see a huge change here in the next ten years because you are going to see kids in Ireland doing what the kids in Hawaii are doing.”
Eliz agrees, “Gearoid has his whole surf career ahead of him. You would hope that in the future that there will be more potential Gearoids.”
Conor Canavan from Wax On surfboards supported many top Sligo surfers like Gearoid McDaid and Aron Reid. Eliz Clyne herself and her friends Aine and Jessie are some of the most stylish and accomplished surfers in the country. Eliz’s fiance Barry Mottershead has become a world famous big waves surfer since he landed on Sligo shores. Even her business partner John has had the opportunity to take his surfing to the next level by moving back to Sligo.
Mullaghmore – Bringing Sligo Surf to an International Stage
“John said to me early last year one of his big aims was to surf Mullaghmore.” Eliz explains, “Mullaghmore is a big wave spot beside a beautiful little-sheltered harbour one side and a wild side around the corner where one of the best big waves in the world breaks.”
“My fiance Barry would surf there a lot and John would chat to Barry about it whenever they would see each other. John was aware that you needed to be part of the safety team and there is a very strict etiquette out there. There always has to be two jet skis out there for safety. There is a good bit of learning in it but John was totally up for that along with his tow partner Art, a guy who runs a little surf pub in Strandhill village called The Dunes.”
Art Counihan is another Sligo surf entrepreneur. In fact, before getting involved in the bar businesses, Art was working at Wax On with Conor Canavan studying surfboard design.
“I met Art when he was seventeen: a good local kid from Carney who grew up surfing. He came in and began learning the craft and now he makes a kick-ass board. I trained him that he can do a board from start to finish including shaping, sanding, glassing, colours, tints, the whole shebang.”
“When an opportunity came up with The Dunes and himself and his friend Tom took that over. I personally think it is fantastic, it has given another avenue of life to Strandhill. He has his own surfboards up on the wall.”
Conor tells me Art and John have been training for over two years since they got a jet ski. Practicing towing in, build up their experience and doing freediving and surf safety courses.
“Out surfing, a lot of people would say to me, ‘where is Art, I haven’t seen him in ages?’. They were fobbing off good days to train but it is all coming good for them and now. This winter they are braving Mullaghmore and they are doing really well.”
Kian Egan fills us in on this world-famous big wave spot:
“Mullaghmore has just exploded. All a sudden you have people who are traveling from all around the world to surf Mullaghmore, this massive wave sitting on our doorstep in Sligo. People are surfing it bigger and bigger year in and year out. The whole world is noticing. Mullaghmore is the new thing.”
When I hear people are coming to Ireland I always tell them not to make the mistake of just staying in Dublin, fly into Knock or rent a car and explore by driving up the west coast. There is a list of places to visit and Mullaghmore is at the top of that list, especially in winter when you will get to see guys charging twenty-foot waves. Whether you are a surfer or not, for anyone to stand there and watch that happen your jaw will hit the floor.”
Jane has stood on that cliff and watched those waves and backs up what Kian is saying:
“Yeah, it is surreal, but there is no ego about it. They come in and can look shy and quite retiring and then you see them being towed into these massive waves, you are thinking where does that come from, that courage, the training, the bravery? I often wonder what it is that lets them by-pass that thing in their brain, it is insane.”
And the spectator aspect. When Mullaghmore is on, the guys are out there and everyone on land is cheering them on. It is really insane.”
Who To Know:
1. Peter Clyne: If you want to know what the surf scene in Sligo is all about just check out a few of the surfing films from the creative mind of Peter Clyne of Outer Cells media. Peter started out making surf films and moved on to films focusing on nature, music and of course, adventure. Peter’s big sister Eliz recalls a trip with Peter to Baja Mexico two years ago.
“Myself, Barry and Peter headed down to a friend in California. Barry is a kayak guide. He set up his business knowing that he loved the water and the outdoors but he didn’t want to go straight into surf so he went into nature guiding. So he wanted to use kayaks to go explore a piece of coastline in Mexico.”
“Peter was drafted in to film the whole thing and the three of us headed off with a Californian friend. We were away from the world for thirteen or fourteen days with no phone signal. We probably saw only four or five other humans. We came back and Peter entered that at the Shore Shots film festival in Sligo.”
Peter won a recent surf film festival in Donegal with his film Halycon about professional big wave surfer Conor Maguire.
Super talented surf videographers like Peter Clyne and Peter Martin from Sligo and Fionn Rodgers from Enniscrone contributed enormously to the perception of Sligo as a surf mecca and imagery of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way as the ultimate surfing journey.
2. Barry Mottershead: A South African surf adventurer who set up Sligo’s first adventure business showing people the stunning inland waterway and tranquil coasts of the region, Sligo Kayak Tours.
After taking the biggest drop of his life by proposing to longtime girlfriend Eliz Clyne on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, Barry can usually be found expertly guiding groups around famous Sligo beauty spots or else out on the massive waves at Mullaghmore when conditions permit.
3. Conor Canavan: Need a board in Sligo? We know just the man.
“Sometimes people ask me what I do for a living and my standard line is, ‘I make people happy’. I make glorified toys for adults and that in turn makes them happy.”
“What I absolutely love is when I paddle out in the water and I see someone surfing on a new board I have made them and you see them more confident and surfing better with big smiles on their faces.”
4. Allan Mulrooney: Allan Mulrooney is a local Strandhill surfer who has worked closely with Barry on a number of projects including the successful Strandhill Indonesian Relief Fund in the wake of a devastating tsunami in a surfing region they had both visited.
Allan has helped set up the definitive online guide to Strandhill (gostrandhill.com), the Strandhill People’s Market at Sligo Airport – which fast became the biggest and most popular market in the northwest – and the ever popular, at home and abroad, Shore Shots Irish Surf Film Festival which is now in its fifth year.
5. Veronika Kinsella: Veronika is the brains behind Loved & Upcycled – a freshly grown eco-label based in Strandhill, Sligo. Veronika upcycles post-consumer materials into new products giving them a new lease life and saving them from ending up in a landfill. Loved & Upcycled product range includes laptop cases made out of wetsuits and bags and wallets made from bike tubes and kites.
“I moved to Ireland nine years ago for a job in Google. I had my first surf lesson seven years ago and got instantly addicted. When I lived in Dublin, leaving the office after work on Friday heading West was my favorite feeling.”
“I had dreamt about living in places like Lahinch, Strandhill or Bundoran and eventually gathered enough courage and left my job. Despite a few bottlenecks, I’m happy living here now with the ocean at my doorstep in an amazing community of people who are willing to do utmost to shape their work-life around their lifestyle and passion for the ocean.”
I’ve moved to Strandhill only a year and a half ago, so I am still fairly new here, but I’ve felt welcome from my first day. My surfing connections made it easier for me to become a part of the Strandhill community. For example, just a few days after my launch in 2016 I got a stall at the Strandhill Christmas market. I got invited to participate at various local events such as Shoreshots surf film festival 2017, where I was able to showcase my work alongside well established local businesses and artists such as Atlantic Equipment and Lanis Surf Art.
6. Ashleigh Smith: Born on the northwest coast of Ireland, raised on the side of a mountain overlooking the bay, Ashleigh Smith grew up with nature in her bones. To be outdoors in the countryside or on a beach is to be at home for her.
Ashleigh Smith occupies the rare position in the Irish surfing community as a female bodyboarder and was awarded several Irish and international titles in her teens.
Ashleigh now focuses her efforts on designing her own range of bags, the Atlantic Equipment Project, inspired by the surfing culture on the west coast.
7. Gearóid McDaid:
At just 16, Strandhill native Gearoid McDaid became the best surfer in Ireland by winning the Men’s National Championship. Just 3 years on and Ireland’s surfing prodigy is fast earning recognition as one of Europe’s best young talents. Gearoid is on the brink of huge success and has already represented Ireland on the world stage.
8. Ian Mitchinson
Always in the water when the waves are big at Mullaghmore, adventure photographer Ian Mitchinson’s feed is one to follow for its stunning range of adrenaline-filled photography from across the North West. @ianmitchinson
Where to Hang Out
1. Shells Cafe and Little Shop
Shells Cafe has helped build community in Strandhill since they opened in 2010.
“Shells are fantastic.” says Kian Egan, “Shells is the hub for people visiting Strandhill. It is where to go to grab their coffee or chat inside the Little Shop.”
“The ideal morning for me,” says Eliz Clyne, “is to drive out the beach early and have a crisp winter surf session and follow that with a little takeaway Shells coffee.”
2. Kilcullen’s Seaweed Bath
This traditional Seaweed Bathhouse in Enniscrone was established in 1912 and is the perfect place to relax and unwind on a visit to Enniscrone. Or you might fancy a hot seaweed bath after you try surfing for the first time at one of the surf schools on the fantastic Enniscrone Beach. You might even catch Cain Kilcullen, a multiple Irish surfing champion, delivering fresh seaweed to the Bathhouse.
3. The Strand Bar
The Strand Bar is Strandhill’s famous surfing pub run by the Byrnes brother who grew up surfing in Strandhill. A great pub with a classic Irish atmosphere with plenty of surf memorabilia up on the walls for any curious visitor.
4. Strandhill People’s Market
With so much entrepreneurial talent in Sligo, Strandhillian Allan Mulrooney had a vision: the Strandhill People’s Market. Within a few years, it has become one of the most popular markets in the northwest with plenty of special events to keep people entertained.
Of course, lots of surfers are there each week with their wares including surfing sisters Ashleigh Smith from Atlantic Equipment Project and Jessie Smith of DriftWood Coffee.
5. The Building Block
The Building Block in the centre of Sligo town on the banks of the Garavogue is a co-working space which allows small business to have a place to work with high-speed internet, hotdesks and lots of fresh air, space and light.
John Monahan from Noji Architects was a co-founder of the Building Block. Eliz Clyne explains:
“The Building Block is quite unique, I would say that over fifty percent of the people there surf. One business here, Ox Business Systems, is a three-person team. When two of them, a husband and wife, moved back from Australia and she sent him out on a field trip and said ‘go find where we are going to live’. He explored the whole west coast and chose Sligo and the Building Block to set up their business.
Shore Shots Irish Surf Film festival, The Model Sligo, April
Shore Shots is an annual surf festival which takes place in Sligo in April. Don’t miss this action-packed weekend of surf, adventures, and parties along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Jane – “Shore Shots is unbelievable, and the crowd it draws to Sligo. There is this great food, great talks, and speakers, brilliant movies plus the social side of it, the connecting of people. I know people who have made great business connections at that festival.”
Conor – “Shore Shots is great at promoting Sligo, there are people who come here and they say, wow, I didn’t know this was going on in The Model. I set up a stand there and people come and you talk about boards and you show them different models and stuff.”
The County Sligo Open, August Bank Holiday Weekend
Jane: “I wouldn’t classify myself as a good surfer but I actually entered the women’s longboard this year. That will tell you how inclusive it is. It was so much fun. I was blown away by the experience of surfing in a competition. It pushes you, which is great, and I would say to anyone to compete in one just for the craic.”
Kian “There is lots of really cool events based around surfing in Sligo. The County Sligo surf contest is going to grow and turn into a surf festival as the years roll on. It brings such a buzz to the village, everyone is hanging around the promenade watching it. People get to know each better because they are down at the beach all day. The Sligo Open is on every bank holiday weekend in August. We had a big junior contest in Strandhill last summer too. I got Quiksilver on board and they sponsored 1000s of euros worth of prizes through a local surfer and former club member David O Donnell who now works for Quiksilver.”
A huge thanks to Seamus McGoldrick for this article. @seamusmcgoldrick. You can watch more about Seamus in this video about him by Peter Clyne.
Featured Photo Credit: Strandhill Sunset, Andrew Kilfeather @andrewkilfeather
Conor at Waxon Photos: Mark Capilitan Photography – www.markcapilitan.com.
Like this? Read our Insider’s Guide to the Donegal Surf Scene here.