In 1967 the Surf Club of Ireland held the first National Championships in
Tramore thanks to the knowledge Kevin had gained at the '66 World Championships.
Rodney Sumpter turned up to help as did a journalist from California by the name
of Alan Rich along with Tiger Newling, John Trout and Nick Kavanagh from
England. Many of the names at that first contest will be familiar to those on
the north coast, names such as Charlie Adgie, Davy Govan, Martin Lloyd and Ted
Alexander who came 3rd behind Kevin and Eamon Mathews. Ron Sumpter won the
International event. The contest was deemed to be a great success by all and it
heralded the dawn of a new era for surfing in this island.
The contestwas repeated in '68, once again in Tramore with Ted taking the
National title. 1968 also saw the first running of the Irish Intercounty
Championships ata Rossnowlagh where Down beat Wicklow in the final. As they
haven't a wave between them, it's no surprise that neither county has featured
in a final ever since.
The following summer, 1969, an Irish team attended the
inaugural European Surfing Championships in Jersey in the Channel Islands. Aside
from Kevin and Harry Evans of the S.C.I. the team for this first trip was made
up of Tramore and North Shore Surfers, which began a see-saw relationship
between the Clubs that still goes on today. The team included Davy Govan, Alan
Dukes and Bow Vance from the North and Eamon Mathews and Dave Kenny from the
South. The team for the following Europeans in 1970, also in Jersey, included a
young junior who was to become Ireland's most successful international
competetive surfer of all time, Hugh O'Brien Moran. Hugh has benn Irish champion
on 4 occasions and he represented Ireland up to 1991 when he retired following a
Silver medal in the Masters division of the European Championships in France.
Hugh's influence and popularity in the sport would be hard to overstate but
suffice to say that over 400 people turned up fpr his retirement dinner in
Tramore last year. Hugh and his wife, Margaret, former Irish Ladies Champion,
are now professional photographers and official photographers for the I.S.A.
Another surfer from the early days worthy of a special mention was the most
innovative of Irish Surfers, Alan Duke. A few years after the 1969 & 1970
Europeans, Alan, four times Irish champion, was riding his famous six foot six
'Wellington Boot' at a time when most Irish surfers were carefully considering
whether to drop below the nine foot mark. Some never did. Surfers such as Clive
Davies of Enniskillen who still rides a ten foot board which he takes on an
annual tripto the north shore of Hawaii where he counts amongst his friends some of the top
pros of yesteryear .
Another mature longboarder still surfing is Ian Hill from Portrush, father of
six times Irish champion, Andy Hill. Ian saw surfing for the first time while on
holiday in Bude in September 1963 and he bought his first board from Bob Herd of
Bilbo in 1964. He surfed Tullan and Bundoran all that summer before heading to
England where he lived until 1979. Ian could reasonably claim to be Ireland's
In the late sixties members of the Surf Club of Ireland had began to break away
to form other clubs leaving the I.S.A. to represent surfers in the Dublin area.
The new clubs were the South Coast Surf Club at Tramore, the West Coast Surf
Club at Lahinch, the Rossnowlagh Surf Club in Donegal, the North Shore Surf Club
in Portrush and in Cork, Tom Flynn, Jean O'Connell, the O'Brien brothers and
Jane Cross formed the Fastnet Surf Club. In 1970 the clubs created the Irish
Surfing Association, the governing body of surfing in Ireland ever since.
Following the first Limerick Leader Contest in Lahinch in 1971 the I.S.A.
decided to accept an offer to host the 1972 European Championships which was
made by the then E.S.F. and later the world governing body President Reginal G.
Prytherch of England. The Eurosurf '72 committee was made up of the West Coast
Surf Club, Kevin, Tom Flynn, Harry Evans, Michael Vaughan and the youngsters Ted
Alexander and Brian Britton. They organised a highly successful contest in
Lahinch, Co. Clare which was unfortunately devoid of the essential ingredient of
surf. Only the Junior division was held and the winner was Dai Halpin of Wales.
However, Ireland's reputation as a surf mecca was created when Spanish Point
came on line with classic surf the day after the contest and with the swell up,
a major surfari was organised up the west coast from Lahinch to Roonowlagh. That
surfari contained many international surfers and they were rewarded for
extending their stay with waves of eight to ten feet, gentle offshores and
glorious sunshine. The ensuing publicity led to Ireland establishing herself as
a surfing venue for visitors from all around the world.
In the early seventies new groups of surfers began to appear. Grant Robinson
(who later became National Champion four times and European Masters Champion in
1987), Dave Pierece, Stan Burns, Tom Hickey, the Byrne brothers and Roci Allan
(who rteurned to the sport having first surfed with his sister Susan in
Rossnowlagh as far back as 1968 on a board belonging to a friend from the
Channel Islands). Youngsters such as Brian Cromie, Wesley and Ashley Moore and
Graham Stinson became the second generation of North Shore Surfers. Ray McDaid,
Kevin McClosky, Dara Daly and the McGuinness brothers took on the mantle in
Rossnowlagh while a never ending supply of young Moores began to dominate on the
south coast. However, about this time many of the major names in organised
surfing began to take sabbaticals. Harry Evans stepped down due to work
pressures, Roger Steadman left Ireland with his wife Rosemary in 1973 to go to
Kuala Lumpur and from there to Africa where he still remains. In 1975 Kevin
Cavey left for Canada to return six years later and we are happy to report that
he continues to surf in Ireland today. 1975 also sew the departure of Brian
Britton to Zambia although he returned with renewed enthusiasm for the sport in
The mid-seventies was also a transitional time in the development of world
surfing. Abroad the sport had begun to split into two factions. In 1976
professional surfers Fred Hemmings, Randy Rarrick, Peter Townend and Ian Kearns
who had benn running the Pro Classic Trials as well as a number of professional
contests such as the Pipeline Masters, the Kananmoka Classic and the Smirnoff
Pro. devised an event rating system that would be used to determine surfing's
first World Champion. They also came up with a name for this new concept -
International Professional Surfing or I.P.S. (later to become the ASP). This was
purely for the professional surfer and it prompted the formation of the first
amateur surfing body when the International Surfing Association was formed in
1976 with South African Basil Lombard as its President. Today, the I.S.A.
represents surfers in 44 countries throughout the world. Through the I.S.A.
surfing finally achieved Olympic recognition in the winter of 1996 and it is
expected to be shown as an exhibition sport in Sydney in 2000 and to become a
full sport in 2004.
Back in Ireland surfing was experiencing its own difficulties. the return of
Brian Britton heralded the restructuring of Irish surfing and in 1979 the ISA in
conjunction with Smirnoff Vodka, organised a highly successful international
event at Easkey in Co. Sligo. The surf and the weather were perfect and the
resultant publicity both at home and abroad took Irish surfing into a new 'fast
track' which culminated in Guinness Eurosurf '85 being held in Bundoran. The
Smirnoff International also became a rallying point for those surfers who felt
that surfing was becoming too organised and that the arrival of a multi-national
sponsor was taking surfing too far from its roots. This 'revolution' led to a
meeting of all the surfers of Ireland which set out some parameters for the
successful development of the sport in Ireland with broad harmony being achieved
amongst all surfers.
However, the success of Guinness Eurosurf '85 and the popularisation of beach
life by T.V. programs Baywatch and Home & Away combined with the elevation of
surf wear to 'trendy' status left the ISA with its hands on the tail of a tiger
by the earlier nineties. Fortunately, the combined energies of people such as
Brian Britton, Roci Allan, Zoe Lally (Ireland's top woman surfer for many
years)., Michael 'Sceach' Kelly, Ian Hill and the Fitzgeralds blended with the
steadying influence of gentle but contttinual pressure from non-aligned surfers
such as Gary Salter, Davy Govan, Willy and Barry Britton and Patsy O'Kane, has
led to the development of an extremely vibrant Association. The I.S.A. now
boasts twelve clubs, runs courses for coaches, beginners and disadvantaged
children, supervises the standards of outdoor pursuit centres and is heavily
involved in such diverse areas as Environmental Protection, Health & Safety and
That Ireland has surf to rival any country in the world is not disputed. It can
also boast organisers who have chaired the European Surfing Federation for more
years than almost any other country and it currently holds the Vice-Presidency.
At world level an Irish man is presently one of the four Vice-Presidents in the
International Surfing Association, co-ordinating the development of surfing in
the Euro-Africa region. We have produced many international judges of world
ranking such as Stan Burns and Irish judges have won acclaim at every level in
world surfing. The challenge for the next decade is to see whether the Irish
surfers, through the I.S.A. and its non-aligned friends, can meet the challenge
of the pressures being created by the huge increase in the popularity of the
sport and still retain the friendly welcome for which Ireland has become
renowned around the world. Only time will tell and in the meantime the waves
roll in on a coastline that 'has the best surf outside Hawaii'.*