Fermanagh's Wake Up Call

Thrill-seeking wakeboarders have found a home on Lough Erne, writes Declan Bogue

On the peaceful shores of Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, a renaissance of watersports is taking place. It's happening so rapidly that for the last two years, world championships in different competitive fields have been held there.

The two sports are water-skiing and wakeboarding. Wakeboarding, the more popular of the two, works with the competitor balancing on a single board, using the speedboats’ wake to perform tricks on, and above, the water.

Wakeboarding on Lough ErneFrom humble beginnings as a group of a few local enthusiasts trying a new sport in the mid-90s, wakeboarding has flourished.

The National Wakeboarding championships in Enniskillen is considered one of the finest venues in the world for this type of event. What started as an American experiment by jaded skateboarders has found its way onto the genteel banks of Lough Erne.

Garvan Duffy was one of the pioneering forces of wakeboarding in Fermanagh, and an evident adrenalin junkie.

Posted on the walls of his busy barber's shop in Enniskillen is a picture of Duffy and Bertie Fisher in a World Rally Car, alongside the remnants of Lars Ulrich’s drum skins and sticks. It is wakeboarding that exerts its grip on him now.

‘When you land your first aerial trick – ‘Invert’, it is called – from taking off on the wake to landing on your feet at the other end – that’s class. I did my first one at night, and it's just unbelievable.’

In the early days Duffy was part of a loose collective that practiced the sport, and they travelled all over to take part in events that were, in the main, only attended by those competing. He jokingly mentioned to his friends that they should host one of these competitions in Enniskillen.

The baton was picked up, and they sprinted with it. After approaching Waterways Ireland and the Fermanagh District Council, they learned that they had to form an official club.They went to the water-skiing federation AGM in November 2004 and duly formed the Erne Wakeboarding Club.

Thus, August 2005 saw the National Wakeboarding Championships held in a spectacular venue in the centre of Enniskillen.

On one side of Lough Erne sits the Erne Canoeing Centre, and on the other, the imposing structure of Enniskillen Castle melds away to a generous bank, affording views of the boarders as they progress from the bottom jetty all the way to the top of the course.

With the benefit of this natural amphitheatre, they have the potential to become the premiere club in Ireland.

Wakeboarding on Lough ErneWhile Duffy describes hosting the 2005 event as ‘six months of hell’, the 2006 event benefitted from help. Waterways Ireland and the council aided the organisers, and Mastercraft sponsored much of the equipment used in the events.

The groundwork has begun to pay off, as evidenced in the expanding numbers of kids that can be seen on the lakes, all summer long. One of Duffy's long-term goals is to establish a facility whereby club members can teach boarding to children and instruct coaching clinics.

‘I’m trying to get a clubhouse or a club boat where we can teach without the fear or somebody trying to sue us because they fell. It’s not a soft sport, and getting hurt is part and parcel of it.

‘I’m pushing the sport as much as I can now for the next generation, so they can have the opportunities that the local council should have provided years ago for us anyway. The only things they ever offered were all football orientated, which I resent.

All this water and there was never anything organised through youth clubs and schools. It's the fifteen-year-olds who are going to be brilliant in ten years time.'