HOW GREEN WAS THEIR WAVE - The Dawn of Irish Surfing.


1949, The story goes that a fourteen year old boy named Joe Roddy took to the water on his homemade four meter paddle board near Dundalk, Co.Louth. This was a close to actual surfing that anyone got in those days.The inspiration for Joe’s board came from a wood work manual and not having enough wood, he used tea chests to complete the job. Soon after that Joe followed other pursuits, the board was put in storage and there was not attempts to surf in Ireland for the following fifteen years fourteen years.

Joe Roddy, recently at Tramore, demonstrating a replica of his original board.


1955-63 The Cavey family enjoyed skim boarding in Bray, Brittas Bay, Waterville and Innch.

In 1963, I read in the Readers Digest about the "Sport of the Kings" in the Hawaiian Islands, and saw a picture of locals riding head height waves, the sort of which I had often seen in the west of Ireland. I immedatly determined to put Ireland on the map as a surfing country. So as to test if surfing would work, I built an 8 ft long plywood and aero foam board and launched it in Bray in August 1964. I immediately advertised in the Irish Independent, special notices and formed Ireland's first Surf Club and called it 'Bray Ireland Surf Club'. There was immediate response from all around Ireland, Strandhill and particularly from the Antrim coast where they were beginning to build boards.


The original first board. Discoverd many years later in Bray. A damaged two foot section removed. It was then re painted and fitted with new foam.



Around about that time Ian Hill fron the UK visited Ireland as a  tourist with a fibreglass long board and rode waves in Bundoran. He later moved to Port Stewart to live.      


1965, I went on a hotel promotional business trip to USA. As luck would have it, California was included in the itinerary, so when there I grabbed a flight to Honolulu and surfed Waikiki and drove to Sunset Beach with a rented board for what turned out to be the rides of my life.

With ’57 Mustang Convertible at Honolulu Airport.


On the wa to Sunset Beach I came across Makapu. While there I paddled out to the distant Makai reef seen in the background. This is where local native surfers catching all shapes of waes and performing acrobatics at will. One was riding only half a surf board. I joined in , caught a few waves and then continued to Sunset Beach where I caught three large waves and received an enormous wipeout From the beach the point at Sunset looked small in the distance, but when one paddled out it was a different matter.                         

1965. The already formed “Bray Ireland Surf Club” got an official boost by its mounting a stand at the 1966 Irish Boat Show in the RDS Dublin. This proved to be the spring board for an even gater spread of surfing in Ireland.


The RDS 1966. Surfer Magazine of California gave us support by sending surf posters and good wishes. My newly made Balsa board was the centre piece along with a life saving board from the Irish Red Cross an Aloha girl and lots of help and beachboy vinals from Tom Casey of Long Island USA as seen with the magazine. My piece de resitance was short films of Hawaiian surfing and lots of Hawaiian music. 

Immediately after the boat show we went on a surfing Surfari to discover the North West. Thankfully, my new fibreglass board from New Quay U.K. had arrived. Now armed with one glass and two wooden boards we headed North West. At Strandhill we rode the new boad in chest high waves, with no wind. We eventually arrived on the cliffs aboove Rossnowlagh and discovered very small but regular waves. We drove on the bach and surfed for an hour in the cold march air. We then visited the Sandhouse Hotel, the then, Vin and Mary Britton. We explaines the sport and to our excitment they ordered two boards for the famly or guests. As I now had the agancy for Bilbo boards of Cornwall, I was delightd. This sen in motion a family who would become the cornerstone of surfing in the North West and eventually Brian their son to become President of the European Surfing Association.

Rossnowlagh, Easter 1966, with Pat Kinsella sitting and holding a ball of candle wax and Tom Casey holding the new fibreglass board. Just before visiting the Sandhouse Hotel to break the news about surfing! The phot was taken by my brother Colm.


More 1966. Roger Steadman moved from the UK to settle in Ireland and already owned a fiberglass surfboard. I met him at the boat show and he was delighted to find surfers, wanted to come on the surfari but could ot because of moving into his new home in Shanganagh. He joined the club and immediately became its guiding light.

Roger at Lahinch Co Clare


 I'm standing on the right and holding the second fibreglass board brought to Ireland by shaper and surfer Rodney Sumpter from Bilbo Surfboard Cornwall - and the best board ever. It was feather weight and no stringer!




Directly following the Surfing Surfari, I got a surprise invite to surf for Ireland at the World Surfing Championships, San Diego, October 1966. This was a mamoth event and the first they had ever held in San Diego - the City Fathers were proud.  It was a battle by the Icons of the sport, a great experience with a lot to be learned. Naturally I did poorly but noted all the details of running such an event, mand good friends. Here are a few shots of the event;


Ireland reached the quarter finals, as did other new countries like India and Mexico. Rodney Sumpter was ‘on the crest of a wave’ because he had worked in Bilbo to produce a board with a Union Jack on the deck, I think it helped him perform. Every team was given a new ford Camero but they had to be withdrawn as some of the cars had to be taken out of the sea, we never learned who did it!



Rodney Sumpter visited us (for the 2nd time) from Cornwall where he was a national surfing hero. As said Rodney worked for Bilbo Surfboards and knew I was to become an agent for their boards therefore I bought his board for £20 used it with success. Rodney is dressed in yellow and holding his feather weight stringerless glass board. This same board ended its days in an 980's John Hinds postcard as it lay on the stones on Lahinch Beach. There is a lifeguard there talking to a girl who later became my brothers wife. Beat that!


The late 60's

In those early days we went on surfaris to Strandhill, Aughris, Enniscrone, Lahinch,Tramore and even the Antrim Coast. one of the founding membes of Bray Ireland Surf Club now called The Surf Club of Ireland, took this east coast photo.







1967, My first Fiberglass Board ride at Greystones Co. Wicklow  To get behind the waves one only had to paddle out the mouth of the harbour (which has now been demolished and re designed to our detriment) Photo by Jurek Delimata.

This trio, was taken in June 1967 at Greystones.



In the meantime the boys in Co Antrim, Led by Desmond, BoVance, from Belfast were working at the same endeavor. We joined forces on many occasions when we went on surfaris West or North West.

Alan Duke and Charlie Adjie and Martin Lloyd create an early surfboard in Portrush.

The photo below is of Portsteward

Martin Lloyd rides white rock Portrush Co. Antrim.


1967, It was june and I made a trip to Tramore and brought two glass boards with me for them anyone to try. What I met was mind blowing. Here were a great bunch of lifeguards all fired up and ready to surf. They only had only ridden a 16 ft paddle board supplied by the red cross on which they attempted to ride the waves, but now with fiberglass boards they became hooked for life. The outcome of this was that Tramore became the Surfing centre for the south est coast and now can boast being one of the most progressive clubs in the ISA and the proud owners of a modern up to the minute architectually designed club house.



The first Irish National Surfing Championships, inspired by what I saw in San Diego. The committee of the newly formed Surf Club of Ireland decided that Tramore Co Waterford was most suited for the event. Because it already had developed a core of surfers and the event would be welcomed.



In September 1968 the Britton Family of the Sandhouse Hotel Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal made a magnificent contribution to the sport. They created the Intercounty Championships and presented a cup to the winning team. This magic event brought the team spirit in to a sport, and team instead of individual performances were paramount.

In the first ever event, Down beat Wicklow in the final (neither county has succeeded in reaching the final since). In subsequent years the winners were, Waterford, Antrim, Antrim, Antrim. 

The 1968 Intercounty cup is presented to the Co. Down team, excepted by Ted Alexander and Davy Govan, but Martin Lloyd is hidden. Bilbo now inserts our C&S agency shamrock on board forward decks.   


In 1969 Ireland sent its first full team abroad to the inaugural European Surfing Championships held in Jersey.

By the late sixties the Surf Club of Ireland began to split as west coast locals forming their own clubs with the effect that an Irish Surf Association was up for consideration. Now the Surf Club of Ireland would represent just the eastern counties. The new clubs were, the South Coast Surf Club, now T-Bay Surf Club, in Tramore along with the West Coast Surf Club in Lain, Rossnowlagh Surf Club, the North Shore Surf Club in Portrush, and Fastnet Surf Club in Cork. In 1970 the Clubs succeeded in forming the Irish Surfing Association, the Governing Body of surfing in Ireland today. By then there were about 400 surfers in the country.


1972 Europeans Lahinch

Ireland soon became recognized as a surfing country with the result that Ireland hosted the 1972 European Surfing Championships in Lahinch, Co Clare. By now there were a growing number of female surfers who also began to compete and also become involved in organization of the sport.

Vivienne Evans Dublin and Jane Cross Cork, Euro Surf  ’72 Compeditors

This event was seen by the media as being good for overseas relations. At the time the country was in the grip of the Sectarian strife in Northern Ireland and most sporting events had been cancelled on that weekend. The in came smiling surf teams from all over Britain, France and Spain with the single intension of having fun. The event was supported by Michael Vaughan, hotelier and chairman of the local tourist association, and this guaranteed the events success.

Unfortunately there were only sufficient waves to run off the junior category, but the senior events were run and a great acrobatic performance was enjoyed by all. However on the Monday all was forgiven as waves were sighted at Spanish Point. The French had by now departed but the remaining teams went there immediately and were thus rewarded.


Graham Nile top, and Pete Jones, some of the first to ride the only just discovered reef at Spanish Point 1972.


Crisis rocked Irish surfing in 1979 when the Smirnoff International was held in Easkey, Co Sligo. With perfect surf, perfect weather and the resulting publicity both at home and abroad the event organizers declared it a success. However the event was not regarded a success by all. "We enjoyed surfing until we discovered Smirnoff" was painted on a banner and hoisted on Easkey castle during the event by those who opposed the commercialization and exploitation of the surfing in Ireland. The Irish surfing community met with impasse, on the one hand there were those who wanted surfing in Ireland to remain pure without organization, commercialization and publicity and the other side were those who wanted to grow and develop the sport, recognizing the need for organization, commercialization and publicity to do so.



The Father of Irish Surfing, Brian Britton, at Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal


Many of us immigrated in the late ‘70’s and on his return Brian Britton and Roci Alan took on them selves to manage the Irish Surfing Association which was in need of direction, but also to re establish team competitive spirit, which also needed a lift. This magic undertaking saw teams travel to compete in South Africa, Puerto Rico and Australia. Brian also became President of the European Surfing Federation. The following activity was the result of Brian and Roci’s endeavors;

(Quote, Irish Surfing Association;)  ‘ The popularity of surfing continued to grow in Ireland. Irish teams competed regularly at the European and World Championships. In 1985 the European Surfing Championships returned to Ireland, hosted in Bundoran and Rossnowlagh. In 1988 Rossnowlagh Surf Club opened the first purpose built surf club house and the country’s first surf shop, Lahinch Surf Shop opened 1989. The ISA initiated its Surf Instructor Development Programme in 1990 with a Level 1 Surf Instructor Course. Surfing was becoming increasingly popular with young people and in 1992 Ireland returned from the European Junior Surfing Championships with two bronze and one silver medal. In 1995 the Irish Surfing Association set up its headquarters in Easkey and employed a full-time development officer. By then the ISA was actively involved in club and youth development, promotion of safety, coach education and organization of competitions. In 1997 the ISA hosted the European Surfing Championships in Bundoran, Co Donegal. The surf was flat for the first seven days of the ten day event however it picked up on the eighth day and due to the efficiency of the event management team the entire competition was run in two and a half days with perfect Peak on the final day. The contest is still regarded as the best European Championships ever held!’

In the late 90’s Surfing Schools began to appear around the Irish coastal resorts. These introduce people of all ages to safety while surfing – level one. It also is available for advanced surfing lessons called second or third level. However that first level one lesson is vital as it instills in the student ‘ocean sense’ a respect for the elements and above all, for other people. Though there were fourteen surf clubs around Ireland, The East Coast Surf Club was formed. Though this was the second attempt, this time it was a success brought on by big population and general surfing appreciation by young people. In recent times the Killiney Bay S.C. has been formed by people who regularly surf that area of the coast.

In 2001 the Irish Surfing Association was once again rocked by controversy, to host the World Surfing Games 2004 or not. Following much debate it was decided to abandon the World Surfing Games to focus on grassroots development. In 2006 there was a memorial event called the Silver Surfari forty years (1966 -2006) on, when fifty of the old brigade rallied for a reunion at both Lahinch and Rossnowlagh. This was mainly Brain Britain’s venture and involved a memorial dinner with a big surfing session on Rossnowlagh Stand the following day. Look out for 2016 as that will be the fiftieth!

By now surfing has done the full circle, starting with redwood or mahogany wood in the Hawaiian Islands two hundred years ago, spreading to California, Australia, Biarritz, Cornwall and then to Ireland via Bray. Today it has branched into many forms, Paipo boarding, Knee Boarding, Wind Surfing, Kite Surfing, Paddle Boarding and finally Tow-in Surfing. This latter sport is almost like a space age adaption, where a jet skier pulls a surfer on to a wave that is too big to paddle onto. The surfer releases grip, and rides the wave with great results because he or she arrives early on the moving face of the wave and can therefore take all advantages derived. This has become a completely different discipline, with its own safety rules and regulations and a Tow-in association, all which can only lead to great new opportunities.

John Mc Carthy towed onto a heavy wave at Aileen’s. Photographer, Mark Wankel on the Cliffs of Moher August 2009.

Today there are approximately 20,000 surfers in Ireland and the ISA comprises of 2500 members and twenty surf clubs each representing a different geographic location or surfing ethos. With more surfers in Ireland than ever before the surf industry is booming. There are approximately forty surf schools and a similar number of surf shops. The ISA is still faced with the challenge of balancing the views of Irish surfers on issues such as competition, commercialization and publicity along with new issues such as environment, overcrowding and increased safety concerns.

Soon after that I was blessed with a trip to Australia where RTE the Irish national TV service, made a film of me being towed in at Currumbin Alley, Queensland - called ‘your wish before you die’! The visit was a great experience.

 Tow-in at Currumbin Alley, Queensland AUS




Slan an’Aloha,