After that flat, sticky European summer, September has come out swinging. First, that cut-off low last week made for a season opener to remember. And now, over the weekend, western Europe got another licking of swell from Hurricane Danielle, setting off spots from Ireland right down in to Portugal.
In fact, on Saturday, the bulk of Danielle had actually turned away from Europe. Instead, the first hurricane of the season meandered around the mid-Atlantic. But on Friday evening, Dani had already flicked its tail towards the UK, Ireland and Bay of Biscay, generating a range of conditions from at least one XL wave up in Ireland to slow conditions in the morning for south west of the UK that cleaned up in the evening (after that north wind had blown through).
“Yeah, the sandbank's really heavy at North and Little Fistral at the moment,” said Tom Butler. “I had a few that pinned me to the sand. In a weird way, that felt nice and is always a good tester pre season for more colder hold downs that will follow...
“I had a few turns here and there, pulled into one closeout on a right. Felt like quite a few of the waves were bending out to sea. I didn’t really find one all session with any more than room for one or two turns. It felt like it was getting better as I was getting out around 11:30am. But had to go help out my wife who went out for a friend's hen do and take over with the little man Ziggy. Life’s all about balance, as we know."
Portugal was generally wild. Not enough to wake the main peak at the largest wave in the world at Nazare but enough to set off the shore break at Praia do Norte (the beach where Nazare breaks). Even at this size, it is heavy and unforgiving. “It looked accessible,” said photographer Helio Antonio. “But it's just not. Heavy along the coast, it can catch a lot of people out, so much power.”
At roughly the same time, under the cliffs of Moher (and a bit further up) Ireland was copping the brunt of this swell, nothing harrowing, but a little taste of what's to come for the season. For those out there, it was a warm up, to feel things out before the Emerald Isle gets those week of waves.
“It was one of the smallest possible days to surf the cliffs,” said Matt Smith, pictured up top as the cover shot here. “It was gentle and easy and also inconsistent, so there was just a couple of close friends out there. It was a very easy start to the season. Tom Gillespe got a cracker and other than that it was just a couple of nice drops.”
"The morning was really weird at first light," said Ollie O'Flaherty. "So much fog we couldn't see the ocean. Then we drove 10 mins up the coast and it cleared. Waves were 6ft but it was five minutes of total flatness then 15-to-20 waves sets. First session, four boards were destroyed in one set. The power was mind-blowing. Felt like it was double the size of what it was."
Now though, western Europe is bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Earl. What makes this so special? The swell produced is from when Earl was still a hurricane not after the fact like Danielle here. This means, a long period swell, and you'll need to find some shelter from that north wind. Basically, if you know where there's a good sand bank, or point, that will help chop the swell up and stop it closing-out. Head there.
MSW forecaster Tony Butt runs through what happened with Hurricane Danielle: The swell originated from Danielle as it crossed north of the Azores around the middle of last week, and then arced around to the north while transitioning to an extra-tropical storm. The strong westerly winds on its southern flank, combined with the movement towards the ENE generated a pulse of west swell that arrived at west and southwest exposures late Friday, September 9.
Note that these types of systems are often smaller in area than typical winter storms in the North Atlantic, so any movement of the (relatively short) windfield in the same direction as the swell it is producing, makes a big difference to the wave heights generated.
The main bulk of the swell reached Galicia, Portugal and southwest Ireland, and peaked early Saturday. But it struggled to filter into northwest-facing spots along the north coast of Spain and in northwest Ireland, for example. The long period and WSW direction meant that local effects increased wave heights at swell-magnets, particularly in southwest Ireland. Weak pressure gradients over most of Europe also meant that local wind conditions were good.