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Surf masters in Easkey

I’m not sure when Easkey became one of the hottest surfing locations in Europe. Certainly not as far back as the 15th century when the O’Dowd clan of Tireragh ruled the roost from Rosslee Castle, overlooking one of the two reef breaks that make Easkey a surfer’s paradise.

Neither can I remember seeing a surfboard when I spent happy summer Sundays there in the late sixties and early seventies on family days out. In fact, you wouldn’t even swim in the treacherous waters off Easkey’s rocky shoreline. For those of us from Ballina, swimming was done in Enniscrone, Ross, Lacken Strand and from Lough Cullin’s many sandy coves.

Surfer carving at Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Surfer carving at Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

What we can say for certain is that the powerful Easkey waves were famous by 1979 – the year Easkey hosted the Pro / Am Surfing World Championships, drawing surf masters from many parts of the globe to the West Sligo seaside village who most likely helped spread the word about Easkey as they travelled the world in search of the perfect wave.

In my own case, the nearest I have ever come to surfing has been body-surfing and body-boarding ( on baby waves in comparison to Easkey, I might add! ). But I have always been fascinated by the sport and as someone who loves the sea, I have an affinity with the pull of the wave that the surfer must feel.

Originating in Hawaii,  surfing came to this part of the world via California where the Beach Boys and Hollywood played their part in bringing the excitement of riding the waves to the wider world through song and film in the 1960s.

October Surf Fest

Catching a wave Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Catching a wave Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

My earliest memory of watching the surfers in Easkey was in the early 1980s and I can remember wondering was this some new fad unsuited to the chilly waters of the North Atlantic – and even colder air of the West of Ireland.

Of course, my understanding of surfing at that time was clouded by common misconceptions such as surfing was a summer activity best enjoyed in warm water places like California.

But the truth is the best conditions for surfing are usually in the Autumn/ Winter months when ocean storms create the big swells and waves with the perfect peaks for surfing. And the high-tech, super-stretch neoprene suits, caps, gloves and booties, we see surfers wearing today make it possible to stay in the water for long periods.

Catching a wave Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Catching a wave Easkey Left, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Over the years I have journeyed to Easkey and nearby Enniscrone whenever the surf is up to enjoy the spectacle of the fearless surfers paddling out over the swells to ride the towering waves that can rise up to 20 feet high.

What makes Easkey such a perfect location for surfing?

Easkey has two reef breaks that offer up consistent waves that are both hollow and fast.

Often referred to as Easkey Left, the first of the two reef breaks is in front of Roslee Castle, at the mouth of the Easkey River. Easkey Right is further along the shore road, east of the castle.

Surfer terminology

Surfing Easkey, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Surfing Easkey, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

This year, October’s beautiful sunshine was the icing on the cake for a month of great surfing in Easkey. Temperatures were in the mid-teens, most days, and the ideal offshore wind under blue skies made for spectacular surfing.

The surfing carnival was in town. A long line of camper vans and cars parked along the shore road from the UK, France, Germany, and all parts of Ireland, were bumper-to-bumper some days. The car park by the Castle was full, too, signalling that Easkey was pumping to use the surfer’s parlance.

Indeed, I found out that surfers have their own terminology to describe their sport.

Such as Carving – a surfing manoeuvre that sees the surfer turning on the top of a wave, a skill that’s so exciting to watch.

Surfer doing an aerial maneouvre Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Surfer doing an aerial manoeuvre Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Duck Diving is diving under an oncoming wave when paddling out to the break. Pumping is a good swell where the waves are nice and powerful and it also describes a surfer trying to generate speed.. A wave surfed by several people at once is called a Party Wave and, of course, Wipeout needs no explanation.

One of the most exciting manoeuvres is riding the board into the air above the wave, landing back on the wave, and continuing to ride.

I noticed that there were very few exponents of that particular skill during my time in Easkey. Over time, it is easy to pick out the more experienced and skillful surfers whose more exciting manoeuvres make them stand out from the lineup of ten or twelve surfers bopping between the swells and the troughs, waiting for the next wave.

Fun place to surf

Surfing Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Surfing Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Armed with my camera I spent a few enjoyable days along Easkey’s craggy shore meeting and photographing the friendly surfers who gave me an insight into their sport and how they rate Easkey.

A surfer from Bath, England, explained the attraction of Easkey.

Having surfed all over the world, he said Easkey’s waves were consistent and equal to the best in the world. Surfers paddling out to the reef on the Left can take the deep channels off the pier and by the river mouth to avoid the breaking waves and conserve some energy.

But more than that Easkey was a fun place to surf. It was never too crowded and unlike some of the more famous surfing hotspots in Hawaii, California and the South Sea Islands surf etiquette was respected.

Up in the air. Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Up in the air. Easkey Right, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

So what’s surf etiquette, you might ask?

A visiting surfer from Cornwall explained it is the code or rules used by surfers to ensure not just everyone’s safety, but enjoyment during their time riding the waves. For instance, the surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. There are also rules for paddling out to the waves and the importance of maintaining control and contact with your board.

Over the years, Easkey has warmly welcomed surfers from all over the world and has provided facilities, including camping, toilets, changing and shower rooms in the car park near Roslee Castle. The friendly staff of the Easkey Surf and Information Centre in the village are always helpful to visitors and the centre also has internet access.

Hopefully, Easkey has benefitted in some small way over the years since the arrival of the surfing fraternity who bring a special, exciting and alluring sport to the pretty Sligo seaside village.

Surfing Easkey Left, October 2016. Photo Anthony Hickey
Surfing Easkey Left, October 2016. Photo Anthony Hickey
In full flight. Surfing Easkey, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
In full flight. Surfing Easkey, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Happy days. The next generation surfing Easkey Left, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Happy days. The next generation surfing Easkey Left, October 2016. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The photos here are by necessity hugely compressed for a low resolution to deliver a faster web experience. However, I hope the images give some idea of the exciting surfing that made October such a memorable month in Easkey.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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