Tapping The Source

The intrepid Vicky Neill gets swept away with surfing at Whiterocks beach 

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a daredevil, and having conquered feats like The Big Dipper roller coaster in Blackpool, it was time to take stock and consider a new challenge. When the opportunity to try surfing presented itself, I jumped at the chance (and then cringed at the thought of donning a wetsuit.)

Exploring what the north west has to offer in the way of lessons and surf, I found that the Portrush area has a well-established surf community. After much deliberation I enlisted the help of seasoned surfer Jonny. We paid a visit to Troggs were I picked up the essentials – wetsuit, boots, rash vest. Here, advice can be sought on lessons and equipment is well stocked with the latest surf fashion labels.Vicky Neill

Jonny advised that the best waves of the day were to be found at Whiterocks. The beach was positively hiving with people of all ages - surfers, body boarders, families and even a few photographers. It seemed as good a place as any for my initiation into the high-adrenaline world of surfing.

Surfing in Ireland has gone through an unparalleled explosion of popularity and growth in recent years, transformed from what was once an exclusive pastime for a tiny community of hardcore surfers into a more accessible mainstream sport.

At present the Irish Surfing Association (ISA) represents surfers in 44 countries throughout the world. Through the ISA surfing finally achieved Olympic recognition in the winter of 1996. The association now boasts 12 clubs, runs courses for coaches, beginners and disadvantaged children and supervises the standards of outdoor pursuit centres all over Ireland.

Mature longboarder Ian Hill - father of six times Irish champion Andy Hill - played a central role in bringing the sport to the masses as arguably the first Irish surfer. Hill discovered surfing for the first time on holiday in Bude, Cornwall, in September 1963. He bought his first board in 1964 and surfed Tullan and Bundoran all that summer.

More than 40 later, NI's surf community is steadily gaining worldwide recognition, attracting surfers from all corners of the globe - as well as novices such as myself.

Surfing at PortrushWhile becoming a popular draw for tourists, the surf community in the north has remained closely-knit. Old hand Jonny was easily able to pick out the hardcore surfers from the visitors. But everybody has to start somewhere, and Jonny recalled that the first time he took to the waves, over 13 years ago, the only equipment he had was a borrowed board, thin wetsuit and a pair of old Reebok trainers for grip.

Shivering on the beach at Whiterocks I was glad I had bought the thickest winter wet suit available at Troggs. After a brief run-down on which rocks to stay away from and how to stand on the board, I gritted my teeth and braved the Atlantic.

Swimming out to the line-up was challenging and after swallowing what seemed like gallons of salt water I fell victim to the famous ‘ice cream headache’ from the freezing cold waves.

Nevertheless, when I heard Jonny shout ‘turn and go!’ I must admit to never having experienced such a rush of adrenaline in all my life. I caught the wave (clinging to the board on my knees does count) and at that moment I well and truly got swept up in surfing.

Never again will I spectate or even think twice about the cold. I am now converted - and when the waves come, I will be the first there with my wax and board at the ready.