Early mornings, surf board on top of the car, coffee at the ready, you might spot Mark Tindale leaving Wicklow Town and heading to the Wicklow beaches to catch some waves before anyone else! Thinking of giving surfing a go? Have a read of his top tips…
Mark Tindale’s East Coast Surfing Tips
As most people know, over the last few years, surfing participation in Ireland has boomed and, as the winter swells begin in September and October, there will be people flying in from all over the world to sample some of the finest surfing the North Atlantic has to offer. It is no secret amongst surfers that the west coast of Ireland has the size and consistency that experienced surfers crave, however there is a growing number of people enjoying a number of spots on the east coast and for those people living in Wicklow the local beaches can often provide fun waves for beginner and intermediate surfers.
Hopefully the following hints and tips may be of some benefit to anyone thinking of trying surfing or those just starting out:
- Lessons – Whilst it may seem obvious, a lesson from a qualified surf instructor* is the easiest way to start out. In addition to the basic paddling and stance techniques, a good surf instructor will give you some important safety advice, particularly when considering the beach you are on. For example, what to do if you are caught in a rip (which put simply is moving water that can pull you away form the shore) and how to avoid hurting your fellow surfers.
- Boards – Everyone wants to look the part and often the finest looking boards are the least appropriate for those of you starting out. The right board can make a substantial difference to your wave count and there is a world of technical specifications and terminology you will find out over time. There is, however, no escaping the simple fact bigger, wider and ‘fatter’ boards catch waves easier, help you to progress quicker and ensure you stay motivated and have fun. Most people start out on foam boards (soft on the top and a little harder underneath), they are cheap in comparison to other boards, have soft fins underneath (that don’t snap off when you are learning and ride the board all the way onto the sand) and don’t hurt when they hit you! The next stage for most surfers are often plastic ‘Bic Boards’ which are very durable and have a good resale value. Once you are surfing larger, durable boards comfortably, you will begin to have an understanding of the many types of boards available for different surf conditions. Wherever possible, try to get advice from experienced surfers and ensure you have a suitable leash (the leg rope attaching you to the board).
- Wetsuits – As with surfboards, there is a vast range and array of wetsuits** and your preferences will develop over time. The main advice with a wetsuit is to spend time trying them on, it can sometimes be a little frustrating (and hot!) trying them on in shops but a little discomfort in the shop will serve you well when you have a properly fitted suit for hours of fun in the sea. As a general rule of thumb more expensive wetsuits are lighter and more flexible – try pulling the sleeves of a few and see if you notice the difference. Summer suits and ‘shorties’ are usually 3/2 – 3 millimetres thick around the chest and body and 2 on the arms, winter suits are normally 5/3 but you can get thicker and warmer suits if necessary. If you are surfing in the winter you will need boots, gloves and a hood (if there isn’t one already attached to the suit). Be patient, take good advice and you will find a comfortable, warm suit. Always rinse your suit after surfing and avoid leaving it in direct sunlight and it should last a little longer.
- Forecasting – if you think Irish people talk a lot about the weather then try listening to fellow surfers discussing tides, swell, wave period, low pressure systems, wind direction etc. If you are serious about surfing then you will need to spend time talking to local surfers about ‘their’ beach (there is a territorial element to surfing especially as spots get busier) and it also helps to learn a little about the weather. The irony of surfing is swell is generated by strong wind- often thousand of miles away- but surf is more enjoyable in light offshore winds. There is a wide range of surf forecasting sites on the web. Maybe start with exploring ‘magicseaweed’ which is a worldwide forecasting site with great surf footage and links to wind and swell information.
As with all sports ensure you are safe. The sea is unpredictable and good advice could save your life. Tides and wind can change quickly, sometimes more so on the east coast which can have very heavy currents.
The only other danger with surfing, which is rarely discussed, is it can be particularly addictive, you have been warned ! Have fun and ride safely…
*Talk to Hugh at Brittas Bay Surf School if you are interested in taking surf lessons.
** Talk to The Sports Room about your wetsuits – come in and try them on! We have a wide range of 3mm and 5mm wetsuits – perfect for surfing. We also have surf wax and boots.