The History of Surfing in Ireland

About the time the Irish were defending their shores against Vikings like Magnus 
Bareleg and his compatriots, Hawaii's ancient Polynesian watermen were testing                                                         
out their manhood by riding half logs across the Pacific coral. It was of course 
many years later that the sport of surfing started its long journey half way 
around the world to take advantage of the cool, crisp, curls on the Irish 
Records show that in the late nineteenth century Hawaiian surfers had travelled 
to California, but the real expansion came when Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku 
won Olympic Gold in Swimming in 1912 and 1920 and went on to give exhibitions of 
surfing in California and Australia in the proceeding years. Over the next 
twenty-five years the sport developed slowly but steadily with competition 
surfing coming into vogue in the fifties and sixties. However, in the late 40's quietly
in the North East of Ireland a young Joe Roddy was surfing the Irish Sea on a home made
4m paddle board. Joe went on to dedicate himself to diving and fishing but his
contributon to Irish surfing cannot be overlooked. In 1964 the first World 
Championships were held in Sydney, Australia and ata the same time the 
International Surfing Federation was formed, the first world governing body of 

This was followed by another momentous event, (in terms of Irish Surfing at 
least) the 1966 Irish Boat Show at the R.D.S. It was at this time that Kevin 
Cavey, the daddy of all Irish Surfing, took a stand at the Show under the banner 
of the Bray Island Surf Club. Kevin had read about surfing in Readers Digest in 
1962 and having tried to ride a skim board made by a local farmer in Kerry, he 
progressed onto a sophisticated craft constructed of marine ply with insulation 
stuck to the bottom and on this he became Ireland's first kneeboarder. This was 
not a total success and nor was Plywood Mark 2, except for towing behind boats, 
so Kevin put in an order for a balsa kit board and in the meantime he headed off 
to the States. While he was there he took a side trip to Hawaii and surfed
Sunset Beach, making the mistake of underestimating the size of the waves and 
getting pounded by 12' surf , but only after catching a "gasser". As he dragged 
himself out of the water, minus his board, he watched the sky fill with American 
Globemasters taking off from Hickam field and turning west for Vietnam.
In California he saw his first fibreglass board, which was lent to him by 
friendly locals and he surfed Rincon and Huntington beach with friend, Jim 
Duane. Kevin returned home more convinced than ever that Ireland had 
considerable potential for the sport of surfing.

At the '66 Boat Show a few other external influences came to bear. Kevin got in 
touch with Pat McNulty, Editor of Surfer Magazine ( and father of Joe McNulty, 
the long-boarder for Ireland in this year's contest ) and he sent across posters 
of Greg Knoll at Waimea Bay to help dress the stand whose main feature was a 
fifteen foot safety board from the Irish Red Cross. Roger Steadman, honourary 
Irishman, had just moved to Dublin and he arrived at the show with fibreglass 
surfboards and instantly became a member of the new Club. Kevin had already 
caught his very first wave on the finlee balsawood board at Gyles Quay, Dundalk 
in May '65 but America had convinced him that fibreglass was the way foreward 
and he ordered a new board from Doug Wilson of Bilbo ata a cost of £33.00
Things began to move quickly after the Boat Show. In the spring of '66 Kevin 
organised the first surfing Safari with his brother, Colm.Patrick Kinsella from 
R.T.E. and American Tom Casey who was soon to be drafted and unfortunately died 
later in Vietnam. The Bilbo board had arrived and the first stop for the 
missionaries was Strandhill in Co. Sligo. From there they travelled to Bundoran 
where they managed to get washed up on the rocks ( like many's the one since ), 
having heade out into the eye of a westerly storm. A little further north they 
found friendlier surf at Rossnowlagh where they met up with friends of the 
family Vinnie and Mary Britton. Vinnie and Mary could both see a place for 
surfing on the Irish coast and another critical point in the development of 
surfing in Ireland occured when they took steps to involve their young sons 
Brian, Conor, Barry and William.
From Rossnowlagh the Surfari moved up to Cruit Island, Marble Strand and 
Portrush where Kevin met up with Desmond 'Bow' Vance with whom he had been 
corresponding for sometime. This liaison put in motion what would turn out to be 
a great infusion into the sport.

When they got back from tour they formed the Surf Club of Ireland which was 
based in Mount Herbert, Bray. The first committee of the new club consisted of 
such people as Kevin Cavey, Roger Steadman and Harry Evans who was brought in by 
Roger, who in turn brought in Aer Lingus pilot Johnny Lee, Henry Howard, Tony 
Gleeson, Ken and Helen McCabe and the grommet, Brian Britton. Because of Kevin's 
continuous correspondence with Pat McNulty of Surfer Mag. Ireland suddenly 
received an invitation to join the 1966 World Championships. The Club voted 
Kevin Ireland's first International Cap and he flew to San Diego, California to 
represent us at our first World Championships. Here he renewed his acquaintance 
with Rodney Sumpter, of England, met the legendary Kahanamoku and watched Nat 
Young bring in the new age of surfing. Kevin, who was sponsored by Gordon and 
Smith Surfboards, reached the quarter finals of the contest ata Ocean Beach in 
4-5 feet of surf, so we certainly weren't disgraced.
On his return Kevin began making regular dat trips to Tramore where he involved 
some young life guards, Hugh O'Brien Moran, Paul and Dave Kenny, Brian Griffin, 
Justin O'Mahoney, Eamon Mathews and the Musgrave brothers. He was helped in this 
process by Tim Heyland of Tiki, who had begun to make the first of many journeys 
across the Irish Sea. Roger in the meantime was heading the west as a 
representative of the newly formed C.& S. Surf Board Company ( Cavey & Steadman 
) with the famous shamrock logo which can still be seen on some of the remaining 
boards ( or bits of boards ) from that era. Roger introduced Mike Murphy, Eddie 
Comber, Frank McEnnis, Andrew Brislane, Hugh Milne and Sam Mc Crum to the joys 
of the sport, while they in turn introduced him to all night singing and 
drinking sessions in Lahinch and Ennistymon.

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 
first surfer.
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 
Child Protection.
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'.*