The cold wind whipped the Atlantic waves into a frenzy as I watched from the safety of the shoreline. Nearly every wave was capped in white foam as they crashed against the empty beach below.
I huddled further into the hood of my rain coat as I watched. Not only was the wind bound and determined to blow us away, but the rain seemed intent on soaking us to be bone before we got even close to the ocean. In a nutshell: the weather was miserable.
“Are you sure it’s alright for beginners?” someone in my group asks, no doubt secretly hoping for a no.
“Ah yes, you will be fine.”
And so began my first surf lesson in Lahinch, Ireland.
For those who, like me, are shocked at the idea of Ireland being a surf destination here’s a fun fact: Ireland is home to one of the best wave’s in the world. The so called Aileen wave off the Cliffs of Moher. When conditions are right, the wave can get up to 12m high and is about as close as you can get to a ‘perfect wave’ for surfers. Thankfully, even though there is the epic wave, Ireland is also a good spot for complete newbies like myself.
Surfing is a sport that I have wanted to try for years. I fell in love with the Movie Blue Crush when I was about 12 years old; watching it over and over convinced that someday I’d go to Hawaii and be an awesome surfer, just like the characters in the movie.
It never happened.
Then I was supposed to learn in Bali from my friend Chantae in September of 2016. But of course we had that unfortunate accident of crashing our motorbikes and ripping apart out knees so badly that we were told we needed to stay out of the ocean for risk of infection. Not that the flayed skin on my hands was very conducive to trying to learn anyway.
So, once again, it didn’t happen.
But, flash forward a few months and there I was on the west coast of Ireland courtesy of Tourism Ireland and Are Lingus, prepping for my first official surf lesson. This moment had been 15 years in the making. And, although the chilly Atlantic wasn’t quite the tropical landscape I imagined learning in, I was oddly excited about getting into the cold and wild looking ocean.
Our guru of the day was local surfer John McCarthy of Lanhinch surf school. John is a former Irish surf champion who has competed all over the world; the perfect man for the job of getting us on a board. After a quick intro a prep talk we were given our first task: wetsuits. For anyone familiar with wetsuits, you understand the struggle. For those who aren’t, let me be the first to tell you that shoving yourself into a wetsuit is a workout on its own.
After we all struggled to crush ourselves into 5mm wetsuits complete with boots and hoods, we took a glorious walk of shame excitement down to the Lahinch Surf School beach hut, ready for our surf lessons.
Our first, and probably most important, lesson was how to properly hold our boards. With the wind lashing away there was no doubt that we’d likely end up being slapped in the face with our boards more often than not. The lesson was given and understood, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t forget every now and again. By the end of the day my surf board and my face were on very friendly terms.
Boards safely held (for the moment) we marched down the beach to practice on the sand. A quick lesson on proper technique and it was time to hit the ocean.
I could feel the undertow almost right away, trying it’s hardest to convince me not to head out to the deep, but rather let it take me away on a mini coastal adventure. Like champions, we plodded through, into the deeper water and away from its coaxing grasp. But we weren’t in the clear. Those rough looking waves that I had watched from the shore were now racing towards us; tall, cold, and fast.
Remembering the surfer babes in the movies I did my best to mimic them, thinking I could jump over it. I waited for just the right moment I bent my knees and jumped.
And ended up with a mouthful of the salty Atlantic.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I clearly was not going to be an awesome surfer girl. There would be no magazine covers or Billabong sponsorships in my future. But I was going to give it my all and have some of the best fun I’ve had in my life.
Three of us stayed in the water for over an hour, fighting the undercurrent when the waves pushed us closer to shore, jumping (or ducking) under the waves as we fought to get out deeper, and even managing to catch a few.
As an ocean lover who is pretty sure she is actually part mermaid (just call me Ariel), I threw myself out in the deeper end with the two experienced surfers of the group. I watched and cheered proudly, though perhaps a wee bit enviously, as they managed to pop up and ride the waves into shore.
I, on the other hand, floundered. I couldn’t seem to tell the good waves from the bad, and I slid off my board on a fairly regular basis, coming up laughing every time. Thankfully I had John (and his contagious enthusiasm) to talk me through it. I wasn’t able to get to my feet but I did make it to my knees and retained enough balance enough to ride the waves that way into the shore. Not too shabby for the clumsy girl who is known to walk into walls and telephone poles!
All too soon our time came to an end. In my elated mind, it felt like only five minutes, but my exhausted body told me it was much more. We plodded back to the solid land, struggling to peel off our wetsuits, but unable to stop talking about how much fun we had.
I may not have gotten up. I may not be cut out to be a professional surfer girl, but that one hour in the crazy Atlantic convinced me that I’ll definitely try again.
Want to try surfing in Ireland? Be sure to take a class at Lahinch Surf School!
My surfing in Ireland experience was part of the (epic) media trip provided by Tourism Ireland Canada, Failte Ireland Internaitonal Media, and Aer Lingus. A huge thanks to all three, and to John and Lahinch Surf School, for finally letting me have my surf moment!