This really was a tale of two swells. It's easy enough to write the past three days off as 'hurricane Larry hits the UK and Ireland,' but that would be a huge disservice to what's just happened.
Before we get into that though, just look at how far our Larry has come (and yeah, we're sort of emotionally attached to this swell). The storm produced three days of waves, Monday September 13 through to September 15, almost a month after it first began life off the west coast of Africa. That's right, Africa. Larry went on a little tour of the Atlantic, stopping off in the Caribbean (see HERE!) When it was done there, Larry careened into the night and up to the US east coast where it pumped for what felt like days upon days (you're going to want to click HERE). Blowing a kiss in the rearview, Larry then boomeranged towards Europe, which is where we're picking up his story, before it was finally laid to rest. And not to sound too twee, but this a cross-Atlantic connection of cosmic proportions.
Spot guide: UK + Ireland
You see, we had comments from frothed out east coasters who were stoked to see their dear Hurricane Larry, who had unloaded one of the best sessions of the year so far for them, now doing its thing for Europe, and in particular, Ireland.
And this is what's so rare about this swell. Monday evening, and into Tuesday, the swell generated by Larry was from when it was a hurricane, some 2,000 miles away, sending largely uninterrupted pulses straight to the UK and Ireland
How the great circle route of swell can bind us all together over thousands of miles of travel is brain-melting.
But connections aside, Hurricane Larry was so much more than that, from a forecasting perspective. And this is where the tale of two swells begins. Monday evening, Hurricane Larry delivered a tiny pulse of swell in to the north coast of the UK's Cornwall as well as the the far reaches of Ireland's western shores and Scotland. The dominant swell from Larry capped out at 1ft@20secs on Monday evening, right before sunset.
The following day, Larry really began to fill in. And this is what's so rare about this swell. Monday evening, and into Tuesday, that swell was generated by Larry when it was a hurricane, some 2,000 miles away, sending largely uninterrupted pulses straight across the Atlantic. And that rarely ever happens. The UK and Ireland will usually get the scraps of a hurricane with devil wind and stormy seas. Not a long period with somewhat manageable wind.
“If you were in the right place, at the right time, you could score some unusually shallow and shapely waves,” says shredder and all-round gentleman, Alan Stokes, after Tuesday's session in Newquay.
But what came after was a second pulse on Wednesday as Larry went into post-tropical mode, a shorter period swell backed by that cross shore wind -- a more typical sighting for this time of year. For those surfing, you would have noticed a completely different type of wave in the water. A touch more grunt, in it perhaps? Lots more paddling? Even in Ireland, the wind swung and the sets were kinda washy. Scroll down to read the entire science of why this was, from our expert forecaster Tony Butt.
For most though, what Larry ended up being was the first proper swell of the season and the first proper swell of the past month, period. A lake-like seascape has dominated south west UK shores for what feels like an eternity, the kind of flat spell we've not seen in the past 13-years (seriously, we ran the numbers...)
OK, enough, we know why you're here and that's the images and vids. So let's run down how Larry turned out for different regions across the UK and Ireland.
There's no two ways about it, Ireland won the Larry swell contest. There. We said it. Joking aside, we're almost as frothed out about that fact as those who scored over there yesterday. If you thumbed over to our Instagram stories throughout Tuesday, you'd have seen we joined Gearoid McDaid and Angus Scotney for a chase around home, attempting to score Larry at its most barreling-est (spoiler: they did, see above edit)
If you missed it, because IG stories only has a shelf-life of 24 hours, we cut them together and uploaded to YouTube. Forgive the vertical format (one day YouTube might accommodate for uploads from stories to its own platform...) but it's some rad insight into the amount of time that goes into scoring, all hosted by the unflappable Gearoid.
“I was actually on my way back from Indo when I first saw this on the long range,” said Gearoid McDaid (aka Gman) “Great because every time I looked at the chart when I was away, it was flat as hell. So this was my first time surfing since I came home.
"It was pretty crazy having a hurricane like this fully hit into us and have the lightest winds, pretty strange combination, from what I’ve been told.
“First session, we pulled up to pretty pristine 4ft peak. Super fun surf and you could really tell how much power was behind the swell, it was so groomed. As the tide turned to come in the swell really began to push in. We got out quickly and rushed to a slab down the road. Saw one set, got changed and were out there in about 15 mins after we just got out of the other spot [laughs].
“Everyone had some sick waves, Angus Scotney, Noah Lane and Conor Maguire all get bombs. And even just seeing all the boys again was a pretty epic day.
“By the fourth surf of the day back at The Peak, we saw the swell really pick up there were full wash throughs. We had a couple waves but one close out set washed me in and I couldn’t bring myself to paddle back out [laughs]. I was too dead.
"It was a pretty epic opening day, not too big or hectic but super fun all round and made me super hungry for some big proper winter juice coming.”
“With the lack of swell for the last couple of weeks it takes a special mindset to bring it all together on the day,” said photographer Conor Flanagan, who shot everything across Ireland you see throughout here.
“Waking up predawn to be on location is the only way to guarantee a chance of getting the best out of the day.
“Guys like Gearoid McDaid, Conor Maguire and Noah Lane just to name a few, know this all too well. Good day.”
Oh but Larry didn't stop at Ireland. Oh no. Larry enveloped the northern tippy top of Scotland in a swift yet stern embrace. Delivering a pulsing swell to that magnetic region. Not the biggest day, but then, it's not every day you surf a proper pulse from a proper hurricane in the land of the brave. That was Tuesday. Then, as that pulse from Larry subsided, it went in for round two, marching its post-tropical waters back to the headland, jacking up the size from the day before, albeit with some funky and foggy conditions.
“Larry hit us a little later in the afternoon on Tuesday,” says photographer Malcolm Anderson. “It really didn't start filling in until then. But that didn't stop the car parks from filling up. From first light, people were waiting for Larry to make its appearance. And it eventually did. Craig Mclachlan was on it as was Cieran Hugs and Chris Noble. Not the biggest we've seen, but the first of the season.
“But on Wednesday, the wind came in a little bit and the size jacked up. Tricky out there. Overall, clean on the Tuesday and loads of folk were up for it, interesting to see it come in all day.”
Ol' blighty. This was always going to be a few days for the north and west of Cornwall. We've seen comments from people further afield who felt Larry left them short changed – but like we said right from the start of our forecast, Larry was never going to make it up the channel to the likes of Wales. Soz. (Though we heard rumours of a fun, glassy 2ft day on Wednesday that broke the swell deadlock *wiggles eyebrows*)
Why was that? Easy. Ireland's in the way (see above). Go take your grievances to Ireland, Wales!
Hurricane Larry arrived in a fabulously drawn out fashion. An initial tiny pulse began building throughout Monday and into the evening, with spots reaching the head high range by sunset. Not ideal, you might think but the hour before the sun went down was special, if you had the patience to wait 20 minutes for a set. And so many of us did!
That's the problem with a long period swell for a beachie, lengthy waits between waves but oh so worthy when they came through. Tuesday though, and the meat of this hurricane swell was in the water, on the buoys, a long-range pulse that got the crew foaming at the mouth. But with it? A cross shore wind! Larry, why?! Though light, it made for some tricky conditions at the more exposed and popular spots. But still a decent enough pulse to get the collective juices flowing.
“Lovely to see finally a lined up ground swell along the coast. Looks like there’s some great banks around after the months of flatness, sand has been left in some really unusual places,” says Alan Stokes. “It won’t be long before a swell washes it away. I guess this little long period swell was a great indicator for where has good banks and where doesn’t.”
Stokesy, never one to let a little wind get on top of him, took to the air on a few occasions. That's not the easiest of things to do given the wind's fickle, northerly nature.
Much like Scotland, by Wednesday, the wind was up and the swell felt...straighter with a little more grunt in it. Still didn't stop the car parks filling up from 5am, pre-first light, to eke the most out of Larry. And by George, we can't blame 'em.
The bottom line is, after a month or so of no surf, three days of hurricane waves is somewhat of a blessing. Wind be damned. Swell size be damned (from 1ft to two times overhead at some beachies!) this really was a swell for everyone and a welcome return to waves, pour yourselves and ice cold chiller if you powered through all three days, all day every day. We salute you. And ol' Lazza. Oh, but there's more swell on the way too. Check your local UK and Ireland forecast for the end of the week and into the weekend.
Full Hurricane Larry Analysis by MSW Forecaster Tony Butt
Larry, the twelfth named storm in the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, started off as a tropical wave depression that moved off the coast of West Africa around August 27.
It quickly intensified, becoming a tropical depression on August 31, a tropical storm on September 1 and a category 3 hurricane the following day.
Over the next seven days it tracked westwards, gradually arcing around to the west-northwest and expanding into a large system covering a wide area.
Then, on Friday September 10, it turned towards the northeast and accelerated, crossing Newfoundland on Saturday 11th and then moving out into the open Atlantic as a post-tropical storm. Later in the weekend, it continued to track towards the northeast and merged with a mid-latitude depression that spawned out of the Labrador Sea, forming a larger system that deepened southeast of Cape Farewell.
Larry generated two distinct pulses of swell. While it was just south of Newfoundland, before fully transitioning to a post-tropical storm, it was still a really powerful system with an area of hurricane-force winds on its southern flank. This spat out a pulse of swell that spread out across the Atlantic, hitting westerly exposures on Monday 13th.
For the UK and Ireland to receive a swell from a system while it still has most of the characteristics of a tropical storm (aka a hurricane) is very unusual.
These types of swell are distinct from ‘normal’ swells for a few different reasons; First, relatively small area of extremely strong winds – such as a hurricane – will generate a large swell, but the swell will quickly spread out and diminish as it propagates across the ocean (HERE), resulting in quite small wave heights at the coast.
Then, the different period components of the swell will spread out more than usual in the propagation direction (HERE), resulting in super long periods when the swell arrives. Lastly, due to the relatively small ‘point-source’ of the swell, there will be very little variation in direction at the receiving end, resulting in long, straight lines instead of shifting peaks (not so good for beachbreaks that don’t have well-defined sandbars).
The second pulse of swell, that arrived on Wednesday was very different, and much more typical of autumn and winter swells in the North Atlantic. It was generated by a windfield that was much larger in area than the first one, containing strong winds but nowhere near as strong as the first one. The windfield was directly in line with areas in the far northwest such as northwest Ireland and western Scotland, which received quite large wave heights, but hidden behind Ireland for the southwest of the UK, which received smaller surf.