Sligo is named the ‘Surf Coast of the Wild Atlantic Way’ for good reason. What makes Sligo so popular for surfing is that it has the most consistent swell of anywhere in Europe. Swell is a word used for the slow and regular movement of the sea in rolling waves that do not break. This is important for a surfer as it gives them the ideal conditions for practising their sport.
In fact, Sligo holds the record for the largest wave surfed in Ireland. Sligo’s surf is world-famous. Mullaghmore, in particular, has a terrifying worldwide reputation because of the size and power of its winter waves.
Professional surfers from USA, Europe and Australia have all visited Sligo to brave the wave but that is not to say there is not a homegrown band of local adventures who call the Sligo waves their own.
In this Gnarly Guide to Surfing in Sligo, we give you the full run-down of where to surf, whether you’re a novice or a more experienced wave warrior, who to know and where to hang.
Geography of Sligo’s Surf Coast
Sligo’s surf coast lies between two picturesque zones, the Bay coast and the Northern Headlands. Sligo has a gentle meandering coastline with limestone geology. The softer limestone coastline gives rise to gently rolling sandy beaches and bays allowing the world-famous waves to form.
Sligo’s varied limestone coast faces northwest and receives the full force of the wind and waves from the North Atlantic. Despite being home to Ireland’s largest waves, Sligo is the perfect destination for anybody considering hopping on a surfboard for the first time.
History of Surfing in Sligo
Strandhill is one of the nuclear centres of Irish surfing along with Bundoran in the north and Lahinch in the south. In the late 1960s, Kevin Cavey, the Godfather of Irish surfing, and his band of merry men made several historic surfing safaris to Sligo.
When the Surfari arrived in Strandhill the surfers sampled the Irish waves before repairing to the Strand House hotel to sample the local stout. A local lad named Willie Parkes, who was 16 at the time, overheard these guys from the East Coast talking about something which involved entering the ocean with a plank of wood.
Willie inquired where you could buy one of these planks or surfing boards. Kevin arranged the sale of the equipment and Willie became the first surfer in Strandhill. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Strand Bar is now run by the legendary Byrne brothers and has been a focal point for surfers in Strandhill ever since. The inside of the bar is a veritable surfing museum. The Byrne’s were part of the first generation of Sligo surfers to join the Irish surfing team and compete and win at an international level.
After the millennium surfing, surfing took off in Strandhill and the rest of the west coast in a big way.
Learn to Surf in Sligo – Where To Go
The North Atlantic is calmer in the summer; the wind is calm and the waves are small and gentle which makes perfect conditions on the surfing beaches for novice surfers.
Although there are plenty of places in Sligo for surfing, like Enniscrone, Easkey and Streedagh, the beach at Strandhill is probably the most popular spot. This is because Strandhill is a long beach capable of holding huge waves in the right conditions.
Typically Strandhill works best when the tide is on the way in from mid to high tide. At high tide, however, it can be quite dangerous to surf there because of the rebounds of the waves against the rocky promenade.
Any of these sandy beaches are perfect for novice surfers aiming to catch their first wave and there is a network of world-class, Irish-Surfing Association approved, surf schools in Sligo to show you the basics if you are up for giving surfing a go. (See the list below)
Key to learning to surf is a positive attitude and a willingness to go out in all types of conditions.
Sligo Surf Spots – Top Tips:
- Strandhill Beach is the number one surfing beach in Ireland. More national surfing champions have grown up surfing in Strandhill than any other beach in Ireland. With great camping facilities, a good range of accommodation to suit every budget and top-class surf schools, Strandhill is the ideal destination for both beginner and advanced surfers. The most exciting recent development for surfing in Strandhill is the new Failte Ireland ‘Surf Centre of Excellence’ which is due for completion in 2020 and will further enhance Strandhill’s worldwide surfing reputation. >> gostrandhill.com
- Streedagh is a 3km long beautiful sandy beach and a favourite for surfers, windsurfers and windsurfers. Streedagh also is a unique Irish beach because of its associations with the Spanish Armada of the 16th century and the Armada Centre in nearby Grange village is a must visit for any explorer of the Wild Atlantic Way.
- Easkey: The beautiful village of Easkey is recognised internationally for its firing reefs. The left is a popular reef-break, working on all tides and any swell. Handles plenty of size. Easkey reefs are not for beginner surfers.
- Enniscrone: Enniscrone beach is renowned as one of the best beaches in Ireland, 5km of golden sand and gentle breaking waves makes this the perfect location for beginners and improvers.
- Mullaghmore is a big-wave spot for professionals-only like local legend Conor Maguire and Sligo’s own Olympic hopeful Gearoid McDaid. The huge waves break off Mullaghmore Head, a place with a breathtaking view of Donegal Bay with Sliabh Liag in the distance. Mullaghmore itself is a fishing village with a beautiful harbour and a visit is essential for any outdoor enthusiast.
Surf Schools in Sligo
- Sligo Surf Experience: Run by professional body-boarder and Clean Coasts Warrior Seamus ‘Shambles’ McGoldrick, Sligo Surf Experience offers year-round surf lessons and camps in Strandhill. Sligo Surf Experience offers first-rate surf and bodyboard lessons along the edge of the Wild Atlantic Way in Strandhill, Sligo.
- Mother and daughter team, Linda and Ioni Byrne run Seventh Wave Surf School at Enniscrone Beach. 7th Wave Surf School is a family run business who offer surf lessons to beginner/intermediate adults and kids. In summer they run Kids Surf Camps in July and August. They now also offer kayaking guided tours in Enniscrone and Aughris.
- Former Irish Surf team coach Tom Hickey and his daughter Elisha run Perfect Day Surf School in Strandhill. Perfect Day opened at Strandhill Beach in 1998 and is the original and best surf school in Strandhill. Perfect Day Surf and SUP school is Strandhill’s Original Surf School, established in 1998. A family-run surf school, Perfect Day prides itself on providing top quality surf lessons in a unique 1:5, instructor:surfer ratio. This maximises the safety, fun and coaching potential of all surf lessons.
- Strandhill’s newest surf school is run by Melanie White and is called Rebelle surf school. Melanie organises surf adventures for improvers in Enniscrone and Streedagh as well as beginner lessons in Strandhill.
- Strandhill Surf Experience: Strandhill Surf Experience is owned and run by lifelong surfer Eddie Moran. Eddie is a highly experienced surf coach who has been surf coaching for 8 years at Strandhill beach and offers the highest standard of instruction from total beginner to advanced surfers.
- Strandhill Surf School: Strandhill Surf School is at the centre of surfing in Strandhill and is conveniently located in a corner premises on the beachfront. Run by owner Paul Buchanan, from New Zealand, it is a great place to learn to surf or improve your surfing skills.
- SurfnStay Surf School: Conveniently located on the Lodge and Hostel property, and just a few steps from beautiful Strandhill Beach. Guests, visitors, and locals are all welcome to experience the thrill of Ireland’s world-famous West Coast surf!
- Eithna’s By The Sea (Mullaghmore)
- The Strand Bar in Strandhill
- Shells Cafe in Strandhill
- Pudding Row Easkey
- Strandhill People’s Market (amazing food vendors for post-surf chow)
- Irish Surfing Association
- Magicseaweed Sligo Surf Spot Listings
- Strandhill Surf Cam
- Enniscrone Surf Cam
- Sligo Tides
Warning: Surfing is addictive and can lead to considerable thrills and spills.