I’ve been in Doha, Qatar since the start of the new year running a conference for work. As part of an effort to let attendees relax and get to know the country better, our partners organized a caravan of off-road vehicles to take us romping around the desert near the Saudi border. The ride was actually quite gentle compared to my past experience, but it was still thrilling to cruise along the very edge of a dune, and bounce around the desert for a while.
This experience of course reminded me of our full-day swimming, romping and dune-boarding adventure in Egypt. While this trip was shorter due to time constraints, it was great to see some more of Qatar. I think everyone who came was happy to get out of the city (I am a city girl but I need frequent doses of nature), and more importantly, to get away from the conference center and have a few laughs without spending half their rent on a glass of wine.
On our way toward Dingle, Ireland we stopped in Castlegregory for the opportunity to take a surfing lesson. Yes, surfing. In Ireland. It was a dreary, disgusting day, and I was not surprised that only three of us wanted to go–my brother, one half of a nice young couple who got stuck traveling with us, and me. Luckily, our traveling companions were more than happy to cheer us on from shore and take pictures. Even in the cold, Brandon Bay in County Kerry is a lovely place to spend a few hours. It was cold and rainy, and I have a feeling we were warmer than them in our wet suits and booties.
Our instructor, Jamie Knox of Jamie Knox Water Sports, was very understanding with my brother’s and my status as complete beginners. He went over safety rules and explained a few different technique we would use, and focused on getting us in the water early and often, to make the most of our lesson. Both my brother and I have terrible vision (I clock in at -8.00) and I can’t imagine that helps us in our aquatic adventures. Kevin was flying blind, and I wore some outdated contacts. There were several times when Jamie would be gesturing and we just looked at each other and shrugged because we had no clue what he was trying to say, but nobody got hurt so I guess it turned out fine.
We were given foam boards to practice on, because obviously we would be smacking ourselves in the heads quite a few times, so we may as well get hit with foam. We learned the basics of timing and actually catching a wave on our stomachs.
I had a ton of fun pulling myself up on the board and learning to steer and control my own speed. It was pretty easy and it felt amazing to glide along the water so quickly. We were called out of the water to learn how to stand on the board. My brother Kevin and I shared a look like hey, this is wicked fun, why ruin a good thing? Plus, that looks really hard.
And it was really hard. I am quite a bit smaller than the other two, and I spent most of my time getting tossed around and trying to get back on my feet and be in some sort of a position to actually catch a wave. By the last half hour or so, my arms were so tired that I could barely pull myself to the front of the board, nevermind paddle. Luckily, our instructor could see my struggle and would help launch me so I could keep trying to stand up on the board.
I did finally get up standing on the board, on my very last run of the day. Of course, our audience had gotten bored, and one of the downsides of being the only single person on a trip is that no one is particularly invested in photos or videos of you, so there is sadly no proof of my triumph. I can’t wait to try surfing again, although I think I need to seriously improve my arm strength if I plan to be out there for more than a couple of hours.
2-hour beginner surf lessons are €35 per person for adults, € 25 for under 18s, and includes rental of board, wetsuit, booties and hood. If you find cheaper surf lessons in Co. Kerry, they’ll match the price. They also offer windsurfing and stand up paddle boarding as well as surf camps for youngsters and family packages.
One of the things the drew us to Vagabond Tours was the kayaking option in Dingle. We are an outdoorsy crew, owning two canoes and a kayak back home. We knew we were going to be kayaking this trip, come hell or high water. It was also one of the keys to a successful family trip–you are who you are, no matter where in the world you go.
Irish Adventures was right on the waterfront in downtown Dingle. Our guide, Noel, was funny and informative. He also took some great images, although he didn’t seem to understand why it would pain me not to be able to take them myself. Someday, I would love to have a camera or rig that can survive kayaking, but this was not that day.
A few people were in tandem kayaks, but most were solo. There was a quick lesson and continued instruction for those brand new to kayaking. Michelle was a compete newcomer to it but she was able to learn the techniques quickly from Noel and had no problem with the paddle. We paddled along the bay in search of the famed Fungi the Dolphin. I had read about him ahead of time and my bullshit detector lead me to believe there were a few dolphins off the coast and on the rare occasion one was spotted, they were called Fungi. Or that Fungi was a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts or a child’s goldfish, secretly replaced every time he passed on. It turns out there was no need for the cynicism–Fungi is the rare lone dolphin, and he has been alive for over 20 years. Like all Irish folks, he is quite friendly and regularly gets close to passing boats, including kayaks. The closest we got was about 50 yards away, which was a bummer for myself and the other animal loved on the trip, but it was still pretty cool..
After the excitement of Fungi, we got to explore the nuances of the Dingle Peninsula’s photogenic coast. We even paddled through a few caves getting a chance to see the aquatic wildlife in the clear water. Starfish, sea anemones and various fish were everywhere. We had been in Ireland for about a week already, but this was the first time we were seeing cliffs up close, and from water level. We also learned more about the area’s history and some of the local creatures of the land and air as well.
The paddle back was against the wind and tide, and also the day after Kev and I went surfing. Unless you’ve got Michelle Obama arms, I do not recommend so many arm-straining activities in quick succession. But such is life for a world traveler 🙂 I absolutely recommend Irish Adventures to anybody from a newbie to experienced kayaker. It’s a great way to see something different. Noel was a great guide and the experience of exploring sea caves was unlike any other view of Ireland.
There are half-day (3 hours) and full-day tours available. Half-day tours like mine are 3 hours and available to paddlers age 12+ of all levels. Cost €50 adult, €45 teenagers, €40 under 12’s. Full day paddles are from €85 to €100. They are categorized as Medium (5+ hours, open to all 14+) and Hard (5-6 hours, age 16+.) You will need to bring swimwear and a towel. Wet suits and all other equipment are provided.