Joe Roddy and the Origins of Irish Surfing

I was in my local bookstore recently, browsing through the magazines, when I ran across one I had not seen before. It was a glossy, 150 plus page, beautifully designed monthly magazine titled “Tonnta; the Irish Surf Magazine (www.tonntamag.com).

I was a bit surprised. Surfing in Ireland? Is surfing such a popular sport here that readership and advertising could support such a professional publication?  Looking through the magazine, with its articles on numerous surfing related topics from around Ireland, and the number and quality of the ads, the answer was, “Yes.”

Much of surfing in Ireland is concentrated on the north  and west coasts from Clare to Antrim.  But it turns out that Dundalk Bay in Co Louth, played a part in the origins of surfing Irish waters. Kevin Cavey, considered by many the father of Irish surfing, did ride his balsa wood board for the first time in the waters of Gyles Quay in 1965, but the Dundalk Bay origins go back further.

They go all the way back to 1949 and to the 14 year old Joe Roddy, son of the lighthouse keeper.  He had read in a magazine about the paddle boards the natives used in Hawaii.  He set about building one of his own but as this was after the war and wood was still scarce, he put together tea crates and pieces of furniture to create the first known surfboard in Ireland. 

His first day out, Joe was paddling his 14 foot board in  Dundalk Bay, off Soldiers Point in Dundalk. It was a summer’s Sunday and there were many on the shore as well as swimming in the water enjoying the day off and the good weather.  As he got closer to shore, the board picked up speed with an incoming wave.  He instictively stood up and to the shocked beachgoers, appeared to be walking on water as her arrived on shore. The crowd was stunned into silence and Joe recalled seeing nothing but the” whites of their eyes and their gobs wide open.”  Such was the reaction to the first surfer in Irish waters.

It was the curiosity and the ingenuity of a 14 year old boy that allowed Joe Roddy, in 1949, to be the first to surf on his native shores.  60 years later, on June 21, 2009, Joe was honored in Tramore, Co Waterford, as part of the T-Bay Surf Club’s annual “Legends” dinner.  And on that day, on a 14 foot replica of his original board that he built from memory, he again surfed Irish waters. 

Information about Joe Roddy was gotten in part from www.irelandsurfari.com and www.surfmag.com. And if you are interested in surfing here in Ireland, be sure to check out www.tonntamag.com.