independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Bundoran: The little town making big waves

Bundoran, Bun Vegas -- call it what you will -- the little Donegal town which for generations welcomed Irish day-trippers, has started making waves on a global scale.

Listed last month in the top 20 Best Surf Towns by that doyen of armchair adventurism, the National Geographic, Bundoran (and associated tourism) is now on the crest of a wave.

The town, which was once cherished for its small-town-seaside mentality and loathed and loved in equal measure for its one-arm bandits, appears to have turned a tourism corner.

We have long known that the kiss-me-quick hats and pink rock won't cut the holiday mustard any longer, not with the budget airlines air-lifting pale-faced locals to the safety of the Costas, sangria and guaranteed warm weather; yet luckily for Bundoran and it's environs, the world and their surf buddies are already gate-crashing the beach bonfire sing-a-long.

Apparently Ireland is known among surfers as 'Europe's Coldwater Indonesia', and long have they recognised that these chills are worth the endurance.

Such are the quality of swells heaving across the Atlantic, that two of the top five waves recorded on the planet last year crashed on to a beach on Mullaghmore -- both resplendent with hardy souls balanced on carved lumps of wood.

"This listing is a recognition of the quality waves that we are getting in Bundoran and along the coast," surf coach Pascal Devine remarked. "It's no accident."

And he should know.

Into the blue on a regular basis with his Surf School at Rossnowlagh outside Bundoran, Pascal from Tyrone is a former judge on the ASP ( Association of Surfing Professionals) Pro Tour, and he also had the honour of representing his country at the World Games in 2000.

"Bundoran made the list obviously because of the quality of the surf but also because the town's reputation is growing," he continued.

"Some time ago there was chat about building a marina in Bundoran but because it was thought this would affect the surfing, the idea was eventually dropped. There were international appeals.

"And it's the town itself which is attracting people. There's Fitzgerald's (hotel) and the surf shops and the whole surfing culture which has built up in Bundoran over the years, and all these things come together to appeal to surfers."

As Pascal points out, the international surfing community also has infinite time, appetite and fondness for a pint of the black stuff after a session in that other kind of drink.

As outlined by the article in National Geographic: "If you buy a round for the locals, which you should, expect to be drinking for the rest of the night."

Barring that traditional warm Irish welcome, Bundoran Tourism officer Tracy Ferguson says it helps that overseas visitors have no preconceptions.

'I understand that Bundoran has this nostalgic thing for people all over Ireland. Wherever I go people say: 'Ah Bundoran, I haven't been there in years.' It's understandable because the market has changed," she admitted.

"Because of that maybe, there has been a resurgence in our local culture and we have so many things going on here that are apart from the traditional seaside holiday.

" Surfers and visitors are coming here, they're enjoying the waves and they're enjoying interacting with locals -- and interaction with local people is an important part of any good holiday. After this article in National Geographic, it's going to be interesting times."

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