Surfers roll up for a ride on a secret, thrill-seeking wave
SURFERS call this thrill-seeking secret wave the G-Spot, and for those who go looking for it, there is no mistaking why.
On 364 days of the year it is so quiet and unspectacular that even those who know its location struggle to find it. But at least once every winter it delivers on the promise of its name, becoming the ultimate kamikaze thrill ride as it roars into life as a wave the size of a double-decker bus.
Its exact location, half a mile out to sea off the storm-ravaged west coast, remains a tightly guarded secret but the G-Spot has already been dubbed Europe's heaviest wave by the magazine Surf Europe.
Others have likened it to the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, arguably the world's most famous break, and a boneyard for surfers from across the globe.
G-Spot is just the latest discovery by two daredevil surfers hoping to revolutionise the sport in Europe by riding giant waves that, until now, have been the preserve of Hawaii and a few other exotic locations.
The coast is pounded by 20ft waves every year, but the biggest waves break on reefs up to four miles out to sea and travel too fast for surfers to paddle into without assistance.
Before Richard Fitzgerald and Gabe Davies brought Hawaiian-style "tow-in" surfing to Co Donegal - using a jet-ski to pull themselves into the path of monstrous waves on specially designed boards with foot-straps - the breaks could not be tackled.
"We're not doing this to be heroes," said Fitzgerald (29), a former Irish surfing champion. "We're the first to do this in Ireland, but that's only because nobody else is mad enough."
Although tow-in surfing is so extreme that it will never become mainstream, intrepid thrill-seekers from across the world have been forced to sit up and take notice now that Ireland is firmly on the map of big-wave surfing.
Another break mastered by the pair is at Mullaghmore, Sligo. It is referred to in reverential tones by surfers' bible The Stormrider Guide, and is so big that Tom Curren, a legendary American surfer, could only stare when he visited the area recently.
One of the first to conquer Ireland's big waves was Irish-American Chris Malloy, whose exploits in Co Donegal are captured in surf film Step Into Liquid.
According to Matt Britton, a Co Donegal surf connoisseur: "When Chris first surfed the break at Mullaghmore, he was so stoked; he said it was like taking on a double-decker bus."
The water is so shallow on most of the outer reefs off Co Donegal that the waves are surfable only at high tide, but even then it is no more than 6ft deep.
When the swell is big enough and the wind is off-shore, the waves become among the best in the world, peeling with venomous force as they break, producing long sections of "barrel" - the hollow chamber created in the instant before a wave turns to white water.
Although Fitzgerald, from Bundoran, Co Donegal, wears an impact vest and a helmet, he admits that he sometimes risks his life.
"You're nervous, but it's what we do best," he said. Surf Europe says the wave at G-Spot is so good that it should exist only as "a figment of the imagination".
Gabe Davies (29), a professional surfer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, said: "As a professional surfer I've surfed all over the world, but the best wave right now is in Ireland.
"It has to be the G-Spot: it's so hollow, so fast and so heavy, right up there as our version of Pipeline, and for me it beats everything else."