By Wayne Patrick Murphy
Visiting surfers beware! The friendly disposition of many an Irish
surfer is no longer what it used to be. The traditional Irish greeting
‘céad míle fáilte’ (a hundred thousand welcomes) is evaporating
like a soft sea mist at the Cliffs of Moher on a hot day. Travelling
surfers, even those from different counties within Ireland, are
now likely to be greeted in the line-up with raised eyebrows
and conspiratorial whispers, or worse, the cold shoulder from
protective natives, particularly those who frequent some of the
more remote and lesser-surfed locations.
Locals at many of these secluded breaks now follow a
new doctrine – ‘is iad na muca ciuine a itheann an mhin’ (it’s
the quiet pigs that eat the meal). In other words, the preferred
modus operandi nowadays is to travel in small numbers and
keep the stories of the waves you score to a tight and trusted
circle of friends only. Arriving at a break with a convoy of vans is
considered poor etiquette. Phoning or texting your whereabouts
and inviting more eejits along is bad form. As for posting pics
on the internet of waves that have previously been kept discreet,
well, that can make you about as popular as a lone Orangeman
marching along Bundoran’s main street on St. Paddy’s Day.
Much has changed in the Irish seascape in recent years.
Surfing is now super-trendy and, consequently, is experiencing
rapid growth. This has coincided with Ireland’s economic boom,
which has seen a larger percentage of the population with more
money and leisure time than ever before. That, coupled with
the rapid rise in popularity of extreme sports, improved wetsuit
technology and the opening of numerous coastal adventure
centres and surf schools, helps explain the dramatic increase in the
number of Irish surfers.
In just a few short years Ireland’s regular surfing population has
grown from a couple score or so of hardy enthusiasts to a sizeable
commercial market of keen exponents all looking for somewhere
to ride their next wave. Hundreds of beginners have now evolved
into competent surfers, which means crowds are now the norm
at popular breaks whenever the surf is up. Weekends at many
locations have become a jostle and a joke and, with thousands more
people taking to the surf each summer, it won’t be too long before
favoured breaks are being scoped seven days a week, all year round.
As well as a burgeoning indigenous surfing population there’s
also the steady stream of surfers from Great Britain, Europe, USA,
South Africa, Australia and New Zealand visiting these shores
annually in search of good waves and some sort of unique Irish
cultural experience, albeit Guinness-fuelled diddly-i-diddly-o
pub encounters while waiting for the surf of their expectant
imaginations to appear. Like Vikings from yesteryear many of
these wave raiders are causing havoc when they arrive en masse
via ferry and van for their autumn hit-and-run raids, pillaging
and plundering the coastline while showing scant regard for an
increasingly irritable over-wintering population. At this point
I should mention this article isn’t trying to begrudge anyone
enjoying the surf in Ireland, be they locals or visitors. Clearly
though, it’s time we all got a reality check and faced the facts.
Yes, Ireland does have world-class surf. But it’s a small
coastline with good surfing waves limited to a few specific areas
with lengthy flat spells and, more common than not, howling
winds. Moreover, the numbers game at certain places along
the west coast has reached critical mass. Put simply, there’s a
mathematical equation in surfing that, when reached, means the
original intention for pursuing the sport/lifestyle, that is, for
pleasure or some sort of soul-satisfying experience through a
communion with the elements, is no longer viable.
Realistically, there are only so many rideable waves to be
had in Ireland in a given period of time. It’s strictly a limited
resource! But demand for this premium recreational commodity is
beginning to exceed its carrying capacity. Sadly, unless something
is done soon, enjoyment of this natural marvel will no longer be
sustainable as ignorance, greed, and acts of aggression become
As we say over here: “Tog go bog agus cuid na tonnta. Sin
Take it easy and share the waves. That’s the way of it!
WP Murphy was born and raised in Western Australia where his Irish parents still
live. A former ASP judge and commentator, Murphy has been surfing for 35 years
and is currently studying for a degree in Irish Heritage in County Mayo where he
surfs and lives with his wife and three children.