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a man riding a wave on a surfboard in the ocean

My Mum always says that when she was pregnant with me during the summer of 1976, it was the hottest summer in years. She swam every day down at Sandybay beach without fail. She still maintains that that is why I love the water so much. She may well be right, but spending all of my summers out on the Maherees, playing in the water and sand dunes, set me up for a life at the beach too.

You know when you’ve been told a story about yourself so many times that you feel like you remember it, even when you don’t? Well, one of my key experiences from childhood is a bit like that. I was very young, maybe 2. I went out in a boat with my father and elder sister when all of a sudden, a giant basking shark came and circled our boat. This wasn’t long after the first Jaws movie came out. Not knowing exactly what species of shark it was, my father rowed like hell for the shore, as quick as he could. Needless to say, we all lived to tell the tale of the “killer shark” out in Tralee Bay. Due to experiences like that, my family always held a deep respect for the ocean with a healthy dose of fear.

As a child, during our summers on the Maharees, I was told never to swim on the back beach, where the waves could get quite big. Some days I could hear the waves crash from the other side of the dunes. It was a consistent thump every few seconds, almost like the beating of a drum. I was extremely intrigued, but I would not venture over the hill until I was a bit older.

a young boy holding a fish

I was a pretty quiet kid and never took to football or soccer. I did like basketball, mainly because it was the coolest thing around town at the time. If you had a Chicago Bulls jacket and some Nike Air Jordans, you were made. My Dad was big into cycling and I got into it for a time, but I never developed a passion for it, the way he did.

Where my dad and two brothers could meet, was in a shared love of the water. Dad loved river fishing, eager to tag along, I spent plenty of time there too. I would mess around in the river, build dams, throw rocks, scaring away the fish away, and then try my hand at a bit of fishing too. My brothers, Tim and Gene, were windsurfing back in the mid 80s, so I tried windsurfing too. I always felt that rigging up and down sails, carrying all that heavy equipment, was too much of a hassle. None of my family’s water sports ever felt quite right for me.

a young boy getting a christmas present of a surfboardAnd then everything changed. I can vividly remember seeing an Old Spice advert on TV in the late 80s, featuring guys on huge Hawaiian waves in the sunshine getting barreled. I was like “wow, that is amazing. I gotta do that.” That summer, I got a bodyboard. I must have been about 10 at the time. I got my first surfboard when I was 12. It was 40 Irish pounds. I was hooked and the rest is history. I had found my calling.

I met the guys who would become my lifetime mates when I was 14 or 15, I got them all hooked on surfing too. It was the early 90s, Point Break was just out and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers had just released “Blood Sugar Sex and Magic”. Grunge was in. We plugged right into that rebellious, I don’t give a fuck attitude, like we were made for it. It got pretty wild at times. In Ireland, at that point, surfing was not well known and was still a pretty edgy activity. It wouldn’t hit the mainstream for another 10 years or so. I still miss those days of discovery and the novelty of being one of a few surfers in the county.

a group of people posing in front of a red van

two men in a car with a surfboard looking at the ocean with mountains in the background

a young man in front of a body of water with sunglasses onWell, you can only party and surf all of the time until it becomes time to move on. I decided to go get some higher education. I gave up my job in the family painting and decorating business and moved to Cork city. I studied science for a year and then moved to Sligo to study Environmental Science for a further three years. Added bonus, the Sligo coastline just happens to have some of the best waves in Europe. I truly loved my time there, the mixture of waves and education suited me down to the ground. College was difficult for me, but I persevered and achieved my goal.

Going in, I had a romantic vision that Environmental Science was all about saving the planet, rain forests and whales. I expected it to be very hands on. I was not made to be sat behind a desk, weaving through Irish and European Legislation, filling in endless excel spread sheets but that is what my course seemed to be preparing me for.

After I graduated, I became obsessed with the idea of becoming successful at any cost. I set out to make some cold hard cash. I worked in various industries, from renewable energy to water testing and environmental education. I even set up a small business doing ecological walks. Nothing panned out quite the way I had hoped.

Finally the penny dropped, why don’t I do something I enjoy doing? Money without joy meant nothing too me. I had to define success in a different way, a way that suited me. The water is what I have always loved. It was time I turn that into a career.

I have lots of experience with surf instructing. It was high time I set up my own business. I have always enjoyed being around people and I always really liked the education side of the work that I have done over the years. The idea for Wild SUP Tours was born. Oona agreed and we went about making it a reality. Four seasons in and I have never looked back. I finally realized it’s not about the number in your bank account, it’s about being happy and fulfilled in what you do.

a man on a stand up paddle board on Tralee Bay