Stand up for Donegal - Wave and Flatwater Oct 2012

Donegal 2013 - Book Now!

The Usual Plug

Fanta Pants Takes Off



A few years ago, the Autumn windsurfing week in Donegal would have at some time seen us all standing around looking glum muttering about the lack of wind. And of course having to listen to Wookie saying 'It's about to come up' every 20 minutes like a mad, hairy alarm clock stuck on snooze. But that's all changed now thanks to SUPs and so this year, on the days when the wind wasn't kind and Wookie was repeating himself, we were on the water. With a paddle and with a sail, but on a SUP and standing up. So, no matter what the weather, this year we earned our Guinness...


Lord SUPs standing up

The other big change was in format. Yes, we had 6 days of wave sailing tuition courtesy of the excellent Hobbits - Phil and Danielle from - but then we had a 3 day non wave course for a whole new bunch. And it all worked fantastically!


Flathead bay




We had a real mix of the usual suspects and some new people. We knew the Hobbits were coming over with a van load of kit for us to use and possibly buy, including that luxury of being able to try on new wet suits before buying - something that's pretty difficult for us in NI. But we were really amazed when Marcus rocked up in a pimped van. Now I have to admit that I don't really get the whole van mania. Yes, they're clearly the answer to windsurfing kit and getting changed on a freezing beach in January (when even the elderly voyeurs we normally get won't come and sit and watch from their cars). But this excitement and fawning over big arches and bull bars I just don't get. Nonetheless there was a lot of stroking and indeed licking of customised paintwork when the team saw Marcus's masterpiece. Even more so when we got to look inside it and found pretty much a full house. Cooking, bed, wardrobes, jacuzzi, TV - oh and some windsurfing gear too. We were dazzled by the blue lights, at least until we realised that Marcus had also lowered the suspension.


You can only imagine his increasing fear as he left civilisation at Derry and began the bumpy decent into Donegal roads. A few miles past Letterkenny he was turning pale and he was positively ghost-like by the time he made Gortahork! Needless to say he never ventured down the track to Magheroarty beach - but amazingly he eventually made the ferry home with all his dangly bits (on the underneath of his van - I can't comment about anything else) intact.


And another new member was the giggling Naomi. If it moved she giggled, if it sailed she giggled, if she fell in she positively bust herself laughing. This woman just never stopped laughing. Naturally she fitted right in and we loved her! Naomi was completely undaunted by driving for 15 hours to meet a bunch of weird Norn Iron windsurfing blokes she'd never even heard of until recently to try her windsurfing (and giggling) in the wild Atlantic breakers. This girl is made of stronger stuff. She'd recovered from a major windsurfing accident such that she lost the use of her arms for 2 years and then went straight back out windsurfing. She is like a female version of Ming the Merciless, although fortunately without the aesthetic deficiencies, in that she is repaired with duct tape and string and yet is relentless about getting out on the water and staying out there. Oh and did I mention she's relentless about laughing about it. An amazing girl.

We also had Ashley Piele back with us. Originally from Portadown, he's now a dentist in Wales - who knew that sheep needed dentists? We last time we saw him was in Tenerife and his windsurfing and wave riding have come on a long way since then.


Weatherwise we got a mixture. The first 2 days were light and SUPs were used. The next 2 days were windy with most people on 5.5-6.5m and some good waves. Friday was light and it was sails on SUPs and Saturday some people joined the non-wave people for a blast.  On Sunday a couple of us took SUPs with sails again at Carrickfinn (Donegal airport). We mostly used Magheroarty which provided excellent waves even when the wind wasn't great and the flat water stuff was run at Lunniagh. Actually this location provided us with some significant problems as it's not on most maps. There was a confident cry of I know exactly where it is from the Emperor Ming and so a huge cavalcade of dodgy windsurfing vehicles (and one pimp my ride - of was it ride my pimp?) followed - causing massive problems for the locals on the narrow roads. It should have taken 20 minutes, but an hour and half later we still hadn't actually arrived at Lunniagh. We had however arrived at a number of other interesting locations, including 2 other beaches and seen a lot of sheep (at least Ashley was happy) and angry locals. As one wag put it, Ming the Merciless - Master of the Universe wanted to show us his entire universe. I can't tell you what fun it was to see 15 vehicles, many with big trailers, having to turn on Donegal lanes. And then turn again. Fortunately Andy does know his way around and he eventually pointed us all to the beach.

As I mentioned, SUPs really transformed how much we could get from the week. On the first day we paddled out or to be more exact we wobbled out to the reef at Magheroarty with very mixed success at catching the large waves there.



Ming as usual stood out because of his big surfing experience. Wookie was another standout and Ashley didn't disgrace himself, but the rest of us took a bit of a beating - but did learn a lot about waves - and value of having a leash. In case you didn't know, when you fall in when paddling, the wave takes your board rapidly away from you until the leash kicks in. The result often enough is that the board gets dragged underwater, where you as the unfortunate until recently Supper will be, and then it pops up like some intercontinental ballistic missile and takes off to nuke the Ruskies. I can tell you that by the end of the day the USSR could have been obliterated.



Tuesday saw some wind but not really enough to take a windsurfing board out, so for many of us it was the first experience of sail on SUP. The 11-12 foot size of a SUP allows you to get out over the waves, turn and then catch waves and ride them in. A good modern SUP can be remarkably agile and even I managed to do things which were recognisable as top and bottom turns. So wavesailing in 9-10 mph is possible and enjoyable! And you can really use these conditions to learn and start to spot waves.


Wednesday and Thursday were more traditional Donegal wave days. These were another two days at Magheroarty but now winds from the north. Few of us had sailed Magheroarty in this direction and there was much muttering and discussion over the usual huge fry at breakfast. But it turned out to be great. You could get out past the breakers if you wished via a flat channel which appeared a lot. But the waves were good and very benign, poor old Wookie was really annoyed not to be able to watch the usual pummellings going on - this is considered top entertainment on his home planet.


The Wookie smile - be very afraid

Friday the wind was falling so a couple of people thought they'd start on windsurfing boards and then move to SUPs. I got 1 run on my 110 FSW and realised it was SUP time - with the same 6.9m wave sail incidentally. Ming had the same experience, launching from much further round the beach to get the best waves. Wookie took his slalom kit out and had a good blast before the wind dropped and Cormac took his smaller kit out onto Ballyness Bay and actually did some freestyle. Turns out he can Spock but he can't Flakka - means nothing to me either...

Shipman tried to emulate the Wookie but his blast ended in tears as the wind dropped, his kit was too small and then he ended up with a very long swim. Just to add insult to injury, Wookie went round to help him and then sailed Tony's kit back. On the plus side however, this was Tony's first real outing in 6 months as he'd previous hurt his knee and was ordered to rest. So it was really great to see him on the water again and once he'd found his sea legs (or sea knees) he was catching some good waves.

Saturday, once everyone had recovered from the long and scenic journey to Lunniagh, most people went for a blast. Andy and I however took a run down the road to Carrickfinn.

Lord CarrickFinn


We had Suzie and Andy Murray with us - now you know why he's such a good tennis player, he's a secret SUPPER.

An alternative to tennis


The wind was cross off which made sail on SUP difficult as the direction you wanted to sail put your SUP side on to the waves - interesting as there were some large ones. Andy squared used paddles and got some good runs. I used a sail and after I got used to the direction also had a really good sail - including riding one really big wave in from the outside right onto the beach.

The photographs tell it all, so if you're reading this on e-mail, go to windsurfcraic and see the pictures. A lot of people really impressed. Wookie and Andy are of course very good in waves, especially Wookie with his ability to plane on so little wind and thus take out a really small board. He looked smooth as usual - or at least his windsurfing did.



Andy was a bit wobbly on his SUP at first, first time on waves with a new one, but took off after that. Literally during the windy days as he got some serious jumps - the landings no doubt adding to the waves. We particularly enjoyed the video of him on waves when, after doing everything right, he bottom turned to find the wave had vanished. The video microphone clearly picked up his erudite thoughts on the matter 100m away.

Tourettes particularly impressed the Hobbits. His carving tacks have always been good and he rode some good waves too.

Marcus loved the conditions which are so much bigger and better than all that mush on the English south coast. And once he knew his precious can had survived intact, he really took to the waves. He scored well on both board and SUP.

Naomi did the same, with of course various sound effects, and relentlessly did stuff which was far too advanced for her - and pulled it off. She almost out-waved Ming on one glorious wave as she not so much dropped into his wave, as dropped in on top of the Emperor!

Backside riding?


And she earned the name 'night nurse' (although the night bit is a tad unfair) as she carried more bandages and medical kit than Shipman - which even included gold plated scissors. And I'd like to tell you where she warms up the magic plasters she uses prior to applying them to your hands. Suffice to say that only she, and possibly Andy, were suitably equipped to fulfil this function...

Ashley sailed very well, all his surfing seems to have helped and all his sheep molesting doesn't seem to have hindered him.

It was good to see Michael sailing again on the course and he certainly was getting his confidence back in the waves.

Cormac was slightly more subdued on the water, by which I mean he sailed excellently as usual but the lack of huge winds stopped some of his more esoteric antics - no supermans and no riding big waves front to sail this year. On the other hand, why tack in the waves when you can heli-tack?

One of this year's revelations was Fanta Pants. His orange-ness (ok - his strawberry blonde-ness) was out in the waves and giving it some welly. He got some great waves and started to really commit. And he's not afraid to take a SUP out in waves and take a good pasting along with the rest of us.


Fanta on the move

The important thing on a course like this is to learn stuff. Phil and Danielle spent most of the days filming both video and stills. In their expert hands, the quality of the material was fantastic. One can only wonder about how they could do this, especially on the 2 northerly days when temperatures plummeted. The answer, apart from turning blue which Danielle did frequently, was the Hobbit Hut. A bit like a rabbit hut but without the furry creatures inside it. Ming provided this and the poor Hobbits had to cuddle up to each other in there just to keep from freezing.


Hobbit central

The other key to survival was of course soup. With the icrecream van sold, Ming had adapted the back of his van to have a clip on roof and cooking facilities. So we enjoyed hot soup each day - but without the cordon blu touches - until the day Alan Yeates turned up then it was cream, cress and where the hell are the croutons?

Each night, powered by large quantities of Guinness (us, not Phil), Phil would play back the videos and patiently point out the learning points from each - while we all made ribald and derogatory comments - as you would expect. It's amazing how much this can sink in and improve your windsurfing (Phil's comments I mean, not the slagging) and there were clear improvements throughout the week for all the windsurfers.

So, another great year for the wave sailors - and bookings are already in for 2013! If you don't own a SUP, of if you're stupid enough to own one without a mast fitting - get yourself sorted for next year.



Well of course if we're the Waveheads, then the other have got to be the Flatheads right? There were 14 of them and they were awesome! For many it was their first time sailing in Donegal and they were fearless. Although it has to also be said that some where legless too....

The first day was at Lunniagh with a gentle cross shore breeze. Some excellent coaching on basics from Danielle and then out they went with instructions to tack up wind.

Later non planing gybing came under the lens and I'd have to say that night's video feedback session (fuelled by a record amount of Guinness) was one of the most entertaining I've ever seen. Remember also that we had 2 fathers and 3 sons in the room (Mini Ming and 2 Mini James) so there was room for a lot of banter. It was also great to see so many sails on the water, 20 at one stage really filling the bay.


After the videos came the usual 'small' Loch Altan feed and then some serious drinking started. Certainly there were some people who were on the doubtful list for Sunday breakfast - and others who just couldn't face it. To paraphrase one wag - great to see so many sails on the water, but to see Davy on Sunday morning - priceless!


Sunday, and this time actually knowing how to get to Lunniagh, was windy and the flatheads really took off. Paddy had joined to sail with us and he and Ming blasted while the grommets (junior windsurfers) started into planing gybes. Danielle then ran a beach start and water start session - one of the areas which was always going to provide the greatest improvement. And so onto Sunday night when the pattern repeated itself.

Monday went back to being light, so Magheroarty was the venue where an on shore training session was followed by a run out in gentle conditions for everyone. After hearing so much about this near legendary location, there were a lot of happy faces who could now say they'd sailed it.

The improvements made were visible, right from day one. Not one person didn't make huge strides - even if some of them were straight into the water. A few standouts for me were those inseparable lovers (or at least they argued like lovers) Robbie and Kev who seemed to take it in turns to be frustrated - sometimes at the windsurfing. But who improved hugely - and this time at the windsurfing.

Fred looked really good on the water as did Gary Pope. Not surprising since they were probably the 2 most experienced, but it's still remarkable how a little tuition and attention to core skills can really make a difference.


Jenny, as the token girl (unless we count Kev) in the non wave people did well and is now talking about taking a further course with the Hobbits in Egypt - which is of course their second home. Noel, Gary H, Liam and Brian all improved - despite some really dodgy on the beach wear.


And the happy Toland and Ming families really excelled. We're used to male rivalry and competition driving improvements amongst the grommets. But it's real fun to watch father and son rivalry (aka embarrassment) spurring on the dads!

So all told a huge success. Some people are going to have a real issue deciding which course to do next year and we're quite sure that over the next while many will graduate to the waves. All they need to do is to continue to improve their windsurfing - and also their ability to drink large quantities of Guinness and still be able to windsurf the next morning...



In a break with tradition and in a fit of being organised (it won't last I hear you say) we've already set the format and dates for 2013. So get your bookings in now and get it into your holiday plans for next year. The format is:

  • 6 day wave course Sat 14th Sept to Thurs 19th Sept inclusive
  • 4 day flat water course from Fri 20th - Mon 23rd inclusive (2 instructors)
  • Costs are likely to be similar to this year
  • Both courses are likely to become fully booked
  • £50 deposit secures your place

The first bookings are actually already in and I do want to stress that there will be a limit on numbers. So contact me for bank details if you don't already have them and get moving. Places in the hotel are also likely to be limited and this is another reason for arranging now.


The Usual Plug

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