Ireland wasn’t on the top of my list for places to take surf lessons, but in Donegal, I visited a gem of a destination both for surfing and other active adventures in Bundoran.
A top European surfing spot, Bundoran’s super wide, gorgeous beaches, backed by high dunes and dramatic cliffs have been attracting travelers for over two centuries. Today it’s known as the surf capital of Ireland.
Having surfed as a child growing up in Myrtle Beach, I had some experience going into the adventure. One of the benefits of surfing in this part of Ireland is that there are beaches for every level. At Bundoran Surf Co, you can also join organized private or group lessons through their surf school, which caters to adults and kids with camps and Women’s Surf Weekends, complete with lodging in Bundoran Surf Lodge. If you’re a solo woman traveler, the women’s surfing weekends or the combo weekends that include yoga are a good pick. If you’re already set with lessons and are just a traveler that wants to surf, they can rent you the equipment you need for taking on the waves here.
The day before my lesson, I got my adrenaline pumping and checked out the waves by galloping on horseback on the beach, watching the locals surf as I relished riding an awesome Irish horse from a local stable. It would be the first time I’d surfed in over a decade, and I was slightly nervous, mostly about being super cold. I was there in May and do recommend further into summer if you want a somewhat warmer experience.
I met my instructor Tom at Bundoran Surf Co’s Main Street shop and got hooked up with a wet suit and board. We hit the beach at Rossnowlagh, a Blue Flag beach that is a good spot for beginner and intermediate surfers. Depending on the waves and your level, you may end up at Tullan Strand, a top summer spot known for its consistent waves, Streedagh, which has more powerful waves, or in the big swells at Mullaghmore beach.
Tom started me out on the sand with the basics, working to gauge how much I knew or forgot from my childhood surf sessions, when it was my older brother who gave most of the lessons. After getting back into the grove at least on land, I was feeling pretty confident and we paddled out. Once I was in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic, attempting to paddle hard and pop myself up, I found that it was not easy at all. Crashing into the water quite a lot, I was truly burning calories. I did get up and ride several waves, but considering that the Irish weather was not cooperating and a steady, cold rain was falling, I had a few challenges with which to contend. Let’s face it. I ate a lot of water. I did laugh the whole time, as Tom egged me on with continued thumbs up for every short ride. By the end, I knew that with a few more lessons, I could actually surf a bit, at least on the easier waves and it’s something I want to try again, perhaps in a warm spot like Costa Rica or back in South Carolina.
There are special events throughout the summer in Bundoran, like during the Sea Sessons Surf and Music Festival every June. If you’re thinking of surfing in Europe or taking lessons to get back into it, Bundoran is a fun option that will definitely earn you bragging rights.