We saw this one coming. A few days ago, a swell was brewing off the coast of Ireland, a crazy, swirling mass of oceanic juice that whipped up the North Atlantic in to a September delight – marking the first proper swell of the season that filled in to spots all across Europe yesterday.
Technically, autumn does't start until September 23. But this month holds a special place in many northern hemisphere surfer's hearts as the time when swells really start to kick up. And Monday, sheltered spots across the UK and Ireland began to feel the impact of this first run of waves, rifled to shore from that storm humming up top. A clean, 2-4ft at the exposed areas, coupled with a strong southerly wind. Which meant, north-facing beaches, or some of the west-facing areas with protection from high cliffs, would have been the go to for protection.
It wasn't until Tuesday [September 6] that those fingers of swell really stretched out into parts of Europe's western flank, from the UK all the way down into Portugal. For those who preserved the hottest and one of the flattest summers in European history (especially as it follows the 2021 summer, which was the flattest it's been in 13-years), September kicking off with a boom is some much welcome pressure release. This is how it panned out from up north to down south.
The UK's surfing Mecca of Newquay was the standout for this swell on Tuesday. North Fistral was serving up barrels and beatings in equal measure, amidst that brisk southerly wind.
“That was amazing," said Tom Butler. "My first surf in about five, six weeks. There was a really long flat spell and then I had COVID, which took all my energy for a couple of weeks. It was extra special actually, first time paddling out on a new 6'6” from Dylan Longbottom, the Predator model. It went unreal, I was just trying to find barrels. If the tide was a bit lower, it might have have been a bit hollower and if the wind was south easterly rather than SSE, then that might have opened it up a bit better as well. A nice one out the blocks, 6ft plus.”
“It was very satisfying to dust off the long lens and shoot some proper waves again," said photographer Jon Snook, pictured above, left and his vision of Fistral, right. "Even though it's been so long, it felt all too familiar once I saw a few sets roll through. Fistral was absolutely firing 4-6ft. The wind was howling into the rights making them hollow, and the sets were really consistent. Hopefully this is the start of a good run and a decent winter us.”
Meanwhile, Kam Matthews (pic above) was finding his own space out there. "I saw this swell come coming from the report with perfect offshore winds. Everyone was ripping and trading some solid 4-6ft waves, it was that perfect North Fistral shape. Doesn't get much better than that.”
Rhys Phillips, pictured above on the left here: “Low tide at Fistral was offering the first of the winter swell, after a slog of a paddle out, sitting out back watching everyone getting barrelled at north was great. The waves at the south end of the beach were even had the odd overhead peelers. Only a handful of people out.. bring on the September swells!"
Bonus Ireland! The usual haunts were pretty much flat, we were told. But Grace Doyle and Craig Butler (pictured above) manger to find a little bit of shelter close to home. "There was a lot of energy out there and plenty of waves at one of my favourite spots," said Grace. "Exactly what was needed after that flat summer. I rode two boards, a 5'9” Quiver Poppa and a 5'11” W.O.C model in the evening when the swell got a bit bigger. Felt much better having more volume. Such a good feeling to have noodle arms again.”
"I can't remember a summer so terrible for surf," said Craig. "Was great to see there was a good buzz around town for the arrival of this swell. Easy to say, after a couple of flat months, there were a few people with spaghetti arms after that session. Bring on winter!"
Up in Croyde though, come mind surf those empty September sessions! As captured by our live cam.
We've got a shiny new Fistral cam! See here
On the same day, France's south west was soaking up that same swell. In the morning yesterday, wind was light as the swell filtered in from the WNW. Not quite the ideal NW angle, but still enough for the likes of Joan Duru and Marc Lacomere to find a quiet few runners. "First swell finally arrived after a really flat summer time," said photographer Seb Picaud. "It wasn't those perfect conditions we can often see here, but it was a really good start of the season.Mostly, it was just the morning, the wind was too strong after that. Not too crowded, great barrels, let's see what's next."
Where to surf in France? See HERE
Portugal, a land with many options for a country so small. Our regular lensperson Helio Antonio took the day to scoot around Peniche and beyond. "There was barely anyone out at Supertubos when I got there," he reported. "But one guy was ripping. I haven't seen him before, chased him down and took a portrait picture of him. Really talented."
Turns out, it was Julian Serres, a surfer from Argentina over in Portugal for the pro world tour's Qualifying Series, as pictured above. "My coach Turko Adi owns a house here in Peniche so I came here to train for a month and a half," he told Helio. "I know the season is only starting here in Portugal but there's always some good waves and I take every chance I can to surf. Today's session here at Supertubos was very surprising because there weren't a lot of people surfing and there were some good waves, a few barrels and some nice air sections, so the surf was a lot of fun."
Live cam: Supertubos
MSW North Atlantic Swell chart from Saturday September 2 to Wednesday September 7
MSW forecaster Tony Butt runs this swell down: The swell originated from a cut-off low (a storm that is detached from the main Atlantic westerly flow and therefore tends to drift around in the same place - as shown in the animated chart above. The cut-off low is above Ireland) that started to develop just northwest of Ireland on Friday September 2.
Over the next 48 hours it grew stronger and, by around midday on Sunday Sept 4, it had morphed into a binary system, (aka two storms circling each other, giving it that yin-yang look) with the two centres southwest of Ireland. Strong north and northwest winds on its west and south flanks respectively, started generating some swell for westerly exposures in southern areas.
By Monday, it had returned to a single-centred system and drifted slightly north, now with strong west and southwest winds pumping swell into Biscay and up into southwest UK and Ireland. On Tuesday, it was just west of Ireland and started to weaken, but swell was still reaching exposed spots from southwest Ireland right down to Portugal. The swell is expected to continue for the next couple of days, gradually weakening and disappearing by around the end of the week.
And after that? Potential swell from Hurricane Danielle! Stay tuned...