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Increasingly, the ocean which alternately laps gently and crashes against Mayo’s coastline has come to be perceived as a giant playground, especially for surfers, many of whom relocate from around Ireland and overseas, to be close to the waves. Many for whom relocation is not a luxury spend their every waking moment of leisure time surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing because in some choice locations in Mayo wind and waves merge to create a magic formula resulting in extreme fun.
Advances in wetsuit technology have changed the landscape and people’s expectations. In the past, beach-goers ventured with trepidation to the sandy shores in the hope of sun, but often retreated disappointed. As well as swimmers being able to endure long stints in the water, lightweight, portable equipment has made it possible to engage in water-based activities for hours at a time in all weathers and seasons.
Mayo is fast becoming a centre for all things water-based and the range of activities is impressive, including sailing, kayaking, water-skiing, wakeboarding, scuba diving, snorkelling, paddle-boarding, surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and water-trampolining. A recent addition is coasteering, which involves jumping off cliffs, scrambling on rocks and swimming all as means of travelling along a craggy coastline without using boats.
A network of water trails, known as Mayo’s Blueway offer safe and controlled water-based activities such as snorkelling and kayaking. Blueway trails are located in Old Head, Louisburgh, Keem Beach on Achill Island, Inishbofin and Killary Fjord. Snorkelling at high tide offers magnificent underwater sights, such as shoals of fish, crabs and sea anemones while kayaking offers a different kind of physical challenge, while offering a new perspective on the shoreline. A relatively new and unusual twist on traditional snorkelling, which is not for the faint-hearted, is bog snorkelling, a competitive water sport which requires competitors wear snorkels and flippers and ‘swim’ without using their arms in a water-filled trench cut through a bog without using using only flipper-power.
As well as the ocean, there are many lakes and rivers which experienced paddlers sometimes favour. Sea kayaking is one of the best ways to appreciate the majesty of the cliffs and to explore sea caves. Exploring the coast by kayak enables you to hear and see wildlife up close and to see the mainland and islands anew.
For surfing, Carrowniskey Beach south of Louisburgh and Keel Beach on Achill Island are among the favourites. One of the advantages of the coast is that the wind (which can get high) proves perfect for windsurfing and kitesurfing. You might find yourself alongside a pod of dolphins or seals.
Good old-fashioned sailing is still very much in style, in spite of all the competing activities for water adventurers. Sailing remains a passion for many coastal dwellers in Mayo with sailing clubs dotted about ports from Westport to Belmullet and private and commercial expeditions departing regularly from a variety of ports. Boats are available for a variety of purposes, from fishing trips to short sightseeing tours to speed boating and cruising. Add to that visits to Clare Island and Inishturk and Inishbofin.
The newly designated Wild Atlantic Way, stretching from Mizen Head to Malin Head, has added to the interest in Mayo’s coastline. Recent events draw active visitors and residents alike, such as Gaelforce, a 67km multi-sport race which begins in Westport and incorporates running, walking, cycling and kayaking through a variety of terrain, culminating in the deep waters of Killary Fjord. Whether jumping off cliffs, exploring sea caves in a kayak or jet skiing around any of Mayo’s numerous islands, there’s little in the line of water-activity which is not happening somewhere in this county.