Irish National Championships, Portrush 2006

Howling wind and rain pounding my attic roof startled me awake at 6am. Usually its comforting to know I can snuggle back into the duvet covers safe and cosy letting the storm rage on outside. Not this time. Today was the day of the National Championships! I got up and hit the road at 6.30am. The contest was due to start at 9am in Portrush on the North coast. The weather was typical for an Irish surf contest. Wind howling onshore, blowing north, straight down from the Arctic! It even started to snow, trees and hills became white the further north we went. Pulling into the contest site at East Strand the contest organisers were struggling to but up banners in the wind and the competitors stayed huddled in their cars. The Christian surfers were already setting up the much needed and appreciated tea and coffee tent. The sea looked like a fury of white horses but at least there was surf, the show was on!

 Sometimes in contests I have a real conflict of emotions. I’ve been working hard to find my own groove, the zone that works for me. I put my headphones on and pumped up Daddy Yankee, the reggaeton album that I bought in Puerto Rico. I got into my own space so all my energy stays in me. Last year I won my first Women’s National title at my namesake wave, Easky in Co.Sligo. I had just returned from my round the world tour to defend my crown for a second year but I was still trying to get comfortable in my 5mm wetsuit, hood, boots and gloves! Surfing in Ireland is definitely not like how it’s portrayed in the glossy surf girl mags. Just getting in the water and taking on the elements in the dead of winter takes real courage and commitment.

 My friends and surf rivals Nicole Morgan and Shuana Ward were in the final. They’re also part of the crew of Ireland’s up and coming surf stars, who are taking on the international surf scene, travelling round the world and competing at professional events in the UK and Europe. We’ve all grown up together surfing Donegal’s reefs and we really push each other.

 There’s a real movement happening in women’s surfing, especially in Ireland that’s great to be a part of. There may not be that many of us but the standard has risen so much and people are finally starting to give the recognition it deserves. The women’s final was the first final to hit the water. In the past during the women’s final the guys used to use it as an excuse for a break and no one wanted to judge… But now everyone stays to watch it, photographers want to shoot it and spectators get genuinely excited. Finally I thought, women’s surfing is getting the respect it deserves.

The first few duckdives were a shock to the system, numbing ice-cream headaches.  Well, it wakes you up and sharpen one’s focus! I found my rhythm and got two high scoring waves early on before the ocean went funky and the waves stopped coming until the final minutes and I caught another left to the beach. It’s impossible to tell how the other surfers are doing or what place you are in at a contest in Ireland because we have no computer system yet and the PA was broken!The best thing about an Irish contest is that everyone knows everyone. We’re all friends, all part of, until recently, a small underground community of surfers. The awards ceremony was held in the Retro Bar/Londonderry Arms Hotel, where most of us stayed on and got the party started early.  I had more butterflies in my stomach anticipating the outcome than before the Final! I was so stoked when my name was called out in first place, my peers all cheering for me, probably because they knew the cup would be filled with Ireland’s finest to celebrate, Guinness!