Hailed as the cold water Indonesia by enthusiastic surfers the world over Ireland has its fair share of Aussies, Kiwis and Yanks occupying its surf breaks countrywide. Though kite spots in Ireland tends to be the preserve of ruddy faced locals in 5mm wetsuits with lunch boxes packed by their mums.
Kitesurfing in Ireland tends to have the backdrop of an idealised postcard, and even a few sideways hailstones and wicked northerly winds won’t change that. A three hour Atlantic session on an October afternoon, then a steamy shower, salty chips and a pint of Guinness – it’s enough to make a man homesick.
As far as I’m concerned all other kite spots in Ireland pale in comparison to this craggy rock off the west coast. The local trees have taken to lying completely horizontal in response to near constant gales, while the rest of the landscape has that windswept, rugged charm peculiar to this corner of the world.
By being lucky enough to be an Island Achill has a beach for almost any wind direction, allowing riders to take down their hoods for a spell when those balmy southerlies arrive. While the heavy Atlantic swells that batter the coast year round make for fantastic wave riding, the Island’s secret weapon lies at its heart. There’s a little lake just a few hundred metres from the ocean – exposed at one side to the expanse of the Atlantic, and at the other two mountains create a venturi effect that whips a ten knot breeze into a twenty knot session as if by magic.
Tearing up waves in the morning washed down with an afternoon flatwater sesh, a cold water nirvana.
Poolbeg would not be too heavy on the aesthetic charm. A small strip of sand lying between Dublin’s electricity power station and one of Europe’s busier ports, it was never destined to appear in the adventure travel brochures. Luckily, though, if the wind happens to be blowing from the northeast a kiter’s gaze is constantly directed away from this industrial nightmare and towards the shimmering sweep of Dublin Bay.
The beauty of this spot lies in its proximity to the city centre and relative lack of kites in the sky. Also Dublin bay has a huge tidal range which is fantastic for shallow, flat water though it can mean you’re stuck with a mile-long hike to the water’s edge.
With a strong summer southeasterly blowing on a mid-tide I’ve been known to find a certain municipal beauty in the grey shipping cranes and barbed wire fences. Though I’ve also been known to get carried away from time to time.
This is small town Ireland at its finest. Duncannon comprises of a shop, a pub, a chipper and a kitesurfing school – all entirely owned by one family. Not famous for it kitesurfing pedigree, in the last few years a few hardy locals have turned this corner of Ireland into a mini-Mecca for the kite scene.
The town faces out onto a long sandy beach that stretches down the coast for miles. While being susceptible to choppy waters at high tide this is still a spot that works on most winds, and when it works it works. The area also has a whole lot of other beaches only a short drive away, along with cliffs for jumping off and great bays and coves to SUP around when the wind’s not playing ball.
Locals claim that Duncannon has its own microclimate and I find it hard to argue. I have yet to see the sun not shining there – which is frankly scary by Irish standards.
Sligo’s coast is where generations of Irish surfers have cut their teeth, though recently a few world class kite spots have reared their illustrious heads. Most notably of these is Rosses point, a beach split in two by a grassy headland that welcomes our prevailing westerlies with open arms.
A pair of local rippers by the names of Peter and Eamon Armstrong began a school there a few years ago. Since then the place has become a bit of a destination for Irish riders, and it seems the surfers might have been onto something as the wave riding is some of the best in the country.
Due to a cruel twist of fate Ireland’s prevailing wind direction happens to be the aforementioned westerly. This means that out west where the Atlantic churns up the swell surfers get the dreaded onshore conditions. While back in Dublin where the flat water creates a playground for the kitesurfing contingent, the city is subjected to a barrage of offshore days.
Just like the nooks and crannies of the west coast offer the best surf in Ireland to find their offshore breeze, Dublin has an ace up its sleeve. Burrow beach happens to be a lovely stretch of sand that bravely faces a westerly head on, making it one of Dublin’s few ports in a westerly storm.
This part of Ireland has no qualms about perpetuating a well worn stereotype. A travelling kiter will find no shortage of assorted Paddywhackery – flat caps, tin whistles, sheep wrangling, pints of Guinness… the list is endless. Set in the midst of all this bejaysus is a fine kitesurfing beach with a generation of windsurfing pedigree behind it.
Castlegregory is another fantastic beach for a mix of good clean Atlantic breezes and pumping waves. For the adventurous souls there’s no shortage of surrounding beach and point breaks to explore, and it’s not out of the ordinary to befriend a cold water dolphin while out for a session.
Mulranny village stands beside a little collection of seaside lakes in the far west of the country, you might even pass through there on your way to spend a few days on Achill Island if you’re lucky. If the wind finds its way through the surrounding hills and inlets you could be treated to the flatwater session of a lifetime – though you might want to steer clear of the hardy local kiting crew.
Dolly would generally be considered the most famous kite spot in Ireland. It lies on the north side of Dublin’s port, the opposite end to Poolbeg, and there are those who claim that Dollymount is susceptible to cleaner winds and better conditions. The real drawback of Dolly, and the reason that it holds a place so far down the list, is the crowds. In a country of endless coastline and empty spots it’s hard for me to justify going to a spot that rivals the packed skies of kitesurfing in Tarifa on a sunny Saturday.
Crowds aside, some of my best sessions have taken place here. A crowd of French kiters calling themselves ‘Puremagic’ have made this their home – opening a school/shop, holding competitions and generally giving Irish kitesurfing a base.
I like to think of Donegal as Ireland’s frontier. A big lump of a county with a coastline stretching all the way up to the northwest tip of Ireland. Here, once again, there are a million and one beaches to be explored and a wealth of great, clean waves and generally onshore conditions to be found.
Tullen strand is another favourite of the surfers, but the sheer expanse of the beach and variety of peaks leave enough room for everyone. Just keep an eye out for stray bullets from the army training ground that lies just behind the beach.
Finally it would be a foolish move not to mention Ireland’s own slice of Southern California, Lahinch Beach Co. Clare. This is the favourite stomping ground of university surf club outings, while half the country learned to surf on this hallowed beach. The town is home to numerous murals of waves, surf shops and pubs such as O’Looney’s Surf Bar.
Recently the town has been getting an influx of kiters, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a few kites in the sky especially if the wind happens to be blowing from a west-south-west direction. While not Ireland’s foremost kite spot it’s a fine place to spend a few days, and you could always treat yourself to airing over a pod of floundering surfers during their first lesson.