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Wonder wave - Infamous Aileen woos surfers

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SURFERS pushed themselves to the limit by conquering terrifying 40ft waves off the Irish coast during a storm this week.

This huge surge of water has been compared to a wet and wild mountainside which only the bravest attempt to surf.

A storm could be seen in the weather charts in advance this week, and surfers from as far away as England and Northern Ireland arrived in north Clare for the day-long surf fiesta at the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

Even one of the most veteran surfers to tackle the infamous "Aileen" wave off the cliffs said that this was something he'd remember forever.

Part of the original group of surfers that first rode the Aill na Serracht wave off the 700 ft-high Cliffs three years ago, John McCarthy said it "feels like snowboarding down a big mountain". The Waterford native said: "Later when you're surfing inside the tube of the wave, you're looking at an experience of a lifetime.

"The terrifying part is when the wave breaks and it starts to chase you."

Proving that there is a silver lining in the summer clouds for some people, Mr McCarthy said stormy conditions with an eastern wind were perfect.

Rare

He said it was the "best day of surfing at Aileen's in the last two years. Days like the day we had out there are very rare."

Mr McCarthy, the operator of Lahinch Surf School, added: "The world's surf community knows about Aileen's now and it is doing great things for surfing in Lahinch and Ireland's west coast."

He was part of a group of 10 surfers that formed a tow-in crew whereby the surfer would be led into the wave by a partner driving a jet-ski with an attached tow-line.

Aileen's is now recognised as one of the best known big-waves in the world along with Mavericks in north California, Teahupoo in Taihiti and Dungeons off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.

Images of surfers riding the wave now form part of the audio-visual exhibition at the €32m Cliffs of Moher visitor centre.

Surfing the wave remains the preserve of elite surfers, and Mr McCarthy said: "It is Ireland's most famous big wave.

"But the beauty of it is, on the day when we were surfing it, there were really only six or seven of us actually riding the wave."

He said that the wave was discovered by renowned surf photographer Mickey Smith and a couple of Australian bodyboarders in 2004 and was first surfed the following year.

Our picture by Mark Wankel shows John McCarthy riding Aileen's wave off the Cliffs of Moher last week.