Paipos or prone thin plywood bellyboards were the first form of surfing to arrive in Ireland, popular from the late 30s/ early 40s.
Joe Roddy, 1949
In 1949 fourteen year old Joe Roddy took to the water on his homemade four metre paddle board near Dundalk. The inspiration for Joe’s board came from a wood work manual.
In 1962, Kevin Cavey discovered surfing when he saw a picture of a Hawaiian surfer in a Reader’s Digest. This picture was his inspiration to build his first board and for a life-long passion for surfing. For the next few years Kevin and several other pockets of surfers around the coast experimented with making and riding their own surfboards. In 1964 Davy Govern, 14 was riding his home shaped board in Portstewart, Ian Hill surfed Bundoran Beach while he was living in Northern Ireland for a period before returning to live in Portrush and establish Troggs Surf Shop years later and a young Roci Allan and his sister Susan enjoyed a summer surfing on a borrowed board at Rossnowlagh.
In 1965 following a trip to California and Hawaii, Kevin placed an advert in the Irish Independent inviting interest in Bray Ireland Surf Club. Among those to respond were Alan Duke, Davie Govern and Bo Vance in Northern Ireland. They were already making advances in shaping fiberglass surfboards, producing wetsuits and analysing weather forecasts. Two other key connections at this time were American surfer, Tom Casey who was studying at UCD and Pat Kinsella, Dublin. Kevin decided it was time to tell Ireland that surfing had arrived; he took a stand titled “Bray Island Surf Club” at the 1966 Boat Show. The show led to further connections including Roger Steadmann who became a lifelong friend and with Kevin played a pivotal role in the early development of Irish Surfing.
Following the success of the Boat Show, Kevin, who had just received delivery of his first custom fibreglass surfboard, his brother Colm, Tom Casey and Patrick Kinsella set off in a Vauxhall Victor 101 station wagon with a stack of surfboards on the roof for the West on the great Easter Surfari. There first stop was Strandhill. At this point Kevin had already made contact with the first Strandhill surfers, Willie Parke, Jean Parke and Helena Condon. From Strandhill they travelled to Rossnowlagh, meeting Vinnie and Mary Britton, owners of the Sandhouse hotel who placed an order for two surfboards, laying the foundations for the development of surfing in Rossnowlagh. From Rossnowlagh the Surfari preceded to Portrush before returning to Dublin. Once home a meeting of the new club was call, joined by more members including Harry Evans and further surfaris were planned including Lahinch and Tramore. When Kevin arrived in Tramore in June 1966, he invited local lifeguards who were already using recue paddleboards to try his boards meeting Dave and Greg Kenny, Dave Griffin, Derek Musgrave, Eamon Mathews, Niall and Hugh O’Brien Moran.
The 1966 Boat Show
When an invitation arrived to compete at the 1966 World Surfing Championships, Kevin packed his bags and set off for San Diego to become Ireland’s first representative at the World Surfing Championships.
The Bray Ireland Surf Club changed its name to the Surf Club Of Ireland, a club representing the whole island, that later became Irish Surfing, the National Governing Body of Surfing today. The first committee included Kevin Cavey, Roger Steadman, Harry Evans, Dave Kenny, Bo Vance and a young Brian Britton.
The first Irish National Surfing Championships, inspired by Kevin’s trip to the World Championships, was held in Tramore in 1967. The title was claimed by Kevin Cavey with Eamon Mathews, Roger Steadman and Martin Lloyd competing in the final. The following year the first Intercounties Championships was held in Rossnowlagh where Down beat Wicklow in the final (neither county has succeeded in reaching the final since). In 1969 Ireland sent its first full team abroad to the inaugural European Surfing Championships held in Jersey.
By the end of the 60s as surfing grew the members of the Surf Club of Ireland began to break away to form other clubs. The North Shore Surf Club in Portrush, South Coast Surf Club, now T-Bay Surf Club, emerged in Tramore along with the West Coast Surf Club in Lahinch, Rossnowlagh Surf Club, and Fastnet Surf Club in Cork. In 1970 the Clubs founded the Irish Surfing Association, the Governing Body of surfing in Ireland today. By then there were about 400 surfers in the country.
Euro Surf Lahinch Program, 1972
In 1972 Ireland hosted the European Surfing Championships in Lahinch, Co Clare. Unfortunately there were only sufficient waves to run off the junior category, however some visitors travelled up the west coast to Easkey and were treated to some excellent waves.
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 organisers 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 commercialisation 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 organisation, commercialisation and publicity and the other side were those who wanted to grow and develop the sport, recognising the need for organisation, commercialisation and publicity to do so.
For over three decades from the late seventies to 2001, Roci Allan and Brian Britton directed the Irish Surfing Association. Their foresight, ambition and determination was momentous during this era, establishing the foundations that we continue to build on today.
Through the eighties the popularity of surfing continued to grow. 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 Irish Surfing Association initiated its Surf Instructor Development Programme in 1990 with a Level 1 Surf Instructor Course. Surfing was becoming increasingly popular with young people. Ireland attending the first European Junior Surfing Championships in 1990 and in 1992 Ireland returned from the European Junior Surfing Championships with two bronze and one silver medal. Since then Irish Junior Surf Teams have continued to attend Eurojuniors.
By the mid-nineties surfing was starting to explode. In 1995 the Irish Surfing Association set up its headquarters in Easkey and employed a full-time officer to manage activities and administration. By then the Irish Surfing Association was actively involved in club and youth development, promotion of safety, surf instructor education and organisation of competitions and other events. In 1997 the Irish Surfing Association 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 was regarded as a huge success by all.
In 1999 TBay Surf Club opened their purpose build club house, the TBay Surf & Eco Centre. Over the years the club and centre has gone from strength to strength, to accommodate an expansions in activities and members, TBay recently completed an impressive extension to their existing facility.
In 2001 the Irish Surfing Association was 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. Michael Kelly was appointed Chair following the resignations of long time Chair, Roci Allan and President, Brian Britton.
In 2011, the Irish Surfing Association once again hosted the European Surfing Championships in Bundoran. The event was a resounding success but by mid 2012 the Irish Surfing Association was in turmoil and facing demise until Henry Moore and Cliodhna Fawl stepped forward. A restructuring soon followed and by early 2013 a new board of directors was in place to govern the Irish Surfing Association. In 2014 Irish Surfing Association rebranded as Irish Surfing.
In 2017, Ireland celebrated a historic 3rd place finish at the European Surfing Championships held in Stavanger, Norway. Ireland had 4 surfers on the podium. Ashleigh Smith secured a silver medal in the Women's Bodyboard and Shane Meehan also took silver in the Men's Bodyboard. Copper medals were awarded to Andrew Kilfeather, 4th Men's Longboard and Gearoid McDaid 4th in Men's Surf.
Over the last decade the growth of surfing has continued. The Surf School Industry has expanded to 60 plus schools operating around the coast. Surf clubs continue to grow and strengthen supporting their local communities. The Irish Surfing Junior Tour comprising of 6 event, Irish National Surfing Championships, Rossnowlagh Intercounties continued to thrive along with a host of club competitions,coaching, social and other fun events.
If you are interested in the history of surfing in Ireland, get your hands on:
“How Green Was Their Wave- The Dawn Of Surfing In Ireland”,
a first-hand account from the legend himself, Kevin Cavey.