1. Grace, please give us a background about how you have got to where you are today?
Hey! I’m Grace, from Ireland… I am very grateful to be where I am today. I’ve always been a water baby from a young age. I used to live in the city until my family moved closer to the sea. I took up surfing when I got a hand-me-down board from one of my older brothers when I was eleven or twelve.
I grew up as a competitive swimmer from a young age with all my focus being in the pool. For years, I competed at National and International level in both Swimming and Surf Lifesaving. Eventually my passion and love for surfing grew stronger and the ocean soon became my focus. I entered my first Irish Womens Open Tour event about four years ago (2012). I was able to win it and place 2nd overall on the Tour that year.
I love the adrenaline of surfing and even the ups and downs of competing. It was so amazing to have sponsorship from Billabong Womens and Quiver Surfboards, which continue to be huge supports. I have also my older brother Kev, (who rips by the way) to thank for always encouraging me and pushing me in challenging conditions and helping my surfing improve. I often regret not focusing on surfing earlier in my life, but my swimming experiences taught me a lot; to commit to goals and being very motivated.
Being a Surf Instructor at Freedom Surf School, made me realise my love for other people and teaching. I am now a Physical Education and Maths Teacher here in Ireland. It also allows for my surfing lifestyle, as I have plenty of time to travel and surf around Ireland and the world.
I’ve been to some amazing places. I reached my goal of representing Ireland at the European Surfing Championships in Morocco. I was stoked to come in 9th place in the Open Womens.
2. You’re a surfer in Ireland, how do you deal and prepare your self for an ice cold surf? And how cold does it really get?
The water does get super cold in the winter, with temperatures between 7-10degrees. February is the coldest, but with the added chill of almost freezing air temperatures it can often feel colder than that!
Photo by Darren Dohony
“It’s so different to surfing in a warm country, it’s almost like a different sport”
It is revitalising and refreshing to say the least! But also very rewarding. You have to mentally and physically prepare for the cold. The proper equipment is definitely a must! A thick winter suit (5mm or 6mm) with absolutely no holes, booties (5mm or 7mm), gloves(5mm), a hood and maybe an extra thermal for underneath. It makes it harder to be agile, but it is also quite a humbling experience to be in the ocean on a cold winter’s day battling all of the Earth’s elements.
I’ve never driven away from a surf and regretted padding out no matter how bad the waves were. It’s also important to prepare physically by stretching and warming up a little. I think diet is very important too and always make sure that I have eaten some slow release, high energy foods to keep my energy levels up and keep the cold from creeping into my bones..
Photo by Darren Dohony
“Once the feet and hands start to go numb, its pretty much game over, the body starts to stiffen and it’s so much harder to surf, never mind the fact that it’s harder to open the car door with claw hands!”
The hardest part really about surfing in winter in Ireland is getting changed before/after surf in the wind and rain. Some people bring a hot flask to pour on their wetsuit or booties to melt icicles or to help them get into a cold, wet wetsuit.
My advice would be to always have a dry suit so your not cold before you even begin. It does get warmer in the summer months though with an average of 13-16 degrees depending on north or south, with the north being slightly colder all year.
Photos by Darren Dohony
Our best waves are in the winter, with mostly long flat spells durging the summer months!
3. As a part of the Billabong Women’s surf team, how does this influence your surfing and passion?
I’m proud to be a Team Rider and Ambassador for Billabong Womens. It definitely gave me a boost of confidence when I needed it most. It has encouraged, motivated and created determination for me to improve as well as I get to share my passion of surfing with other surfer girls.
Photos by Darren Dohony
The fact that BIllabong provide me with so many great wetsuits means I never have to put on a wet wetsuit again! I am basically kitted out from head to toe with Billabong clothes and accessories so it helps to keep warm while I’m checking the surf, in the water or teaching kids at school. I have not been on any team trips as of yet, as I am the only Billabong female surfer in Ireland, but they have supported and encouraged me on my own adventures around the world.
4. You have been to the Mentawais Islands last year, I am incredibly jealous! Tell us about your trip?
Yeah, it was probably the best trip I’ve ever done. We stayed at Macaronis resort which is amazing! It is on its own little island, with boats that take you out to the surf whenever you ring a bell! It’s seriously every surfers dream. The wave is so amazing and breaks so mechanically perfect all the time. You are literally paddling back out hooting three or four guys that are getting barrels one after the other.
We got lucky with the group of people on the resort when I was there. The vibe was super chilled and I was often hooted into set waves when it wasn’t even my turn! It was impossible not to be stoked after every surf session. The only reason I came in was to eat and reapply suncream, so I could go back out again. Not to mention there are some other epic spots nearby too that the Maca’s (resort) team are happy to bring you to. There were stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and snorkels available for us to go and explore the mangroves with or visit the nearby islands. There is even a table tennis and pool table and a swimming pool! Pure paradise.
It is especially nice to go there as a couple but that said, being single, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there with a bunch of surfer buddies, if I ever have the money to do so again! It was a one off expensive trip but was worth every penny and the million hour long trek it took to get there from Ireland. It took us over two days, including the numerous long haul and short flights from Ireland and a thirteen hour ferry to get from the mainland to the resort.
“You’ll never want to leave though. From back hand barrels to hold downs, reef cuts to beers and banter, the pure stoke was definitely had.”
5. What does a day in the life of Grace look like?
It really depends on what time of year. It’s like I have two lives. On one hand my daily life is getting up to go to school to teach kids PE (Physical Education) and Maths, but that would always be followed up with a gym session in the evening and sometimes when the evenings are brighter, a drive west for a surf. I eat healthy and look after myself so that when the swells hit on weekends or when I have a surf trip booked I am ready and fit for endless surfs. I enjoy swimming and yoga too.
On the other hand, In the summer, I am off for three months. I usually spend the three months travelling. This kind of day for me consists of Surf, Eat, Sleep and repeat, with some yoga and good company thrown in the mix. When I am home in summer I like to coach surfing, swim and paddle train in the sea while the temperatures are up. Basically, I work hard and play harder!
6. Share your 5 most unforgettable places where you have been. What is so spectacular about them?
- Mentawai Islands – for all the reasons mentioned above.. The amazing waves, resort, food, friendships, locals, uncrowded line ups, epic barrels, just the whole trip was unforgettable!
- Maldives Boat Trip – Boat Trips are epic, Maldives is amazing, combine the two and it’s literally the most unbelievable ten-twelve days you’ll ever have. Floating on the Indian ocean, with turtles, manta rays, dolphins and all the colourful marine life, literally at your front door! I also find it super relaxing to fall asleep on a boat at night to the sound of the water and the motion of the sea. If you are prone to sea-sick, maybe avoid!
- Costa Rica – It is just an all round amazing place with so many beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery and of course great surf! I have explored a lot of the coastline but would love to go back again to explore the rest.
- El Salvadore – This was such a great adventure and one I’ll never forget. Lots of exploring, great waves, great people and a random adventure that I couldn’t plan again if I tried. Punta Mango was my favourite wave in the middle of nowhere, while having to listen out for music from a fruit and veg truck to get some food.
- Bali – Been here twice and I am in love with the place. I could see myself living there for a while one day and soaking up the Balinese, slow pace lifestyle. The people are the kindest you’ll ever meet, the water is super warm and lots of great waves the around the whole coast. It’s also very cheap and easier to eat healthy over there, or drink a coconut on the beach. What more could you want?
7. What are your ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of traveling?
It’s always exciting leaving, but also I get a little anxious if it is a month long trip. I am also a home bird and do at times come to miss Ireland.
“The worst thing ever has to be packing to come home and the surf is pumping wherever you are! It’s a horrible feeling leaving pumping surf behind to head back to cold, windy, rainy Ireland.”
I actually enjoy the long flights. I usually sleep for most of them which is a good talent to have haha. However, when there are more than two flights, or a lot of change-overs, I start to get agitated and just want to get there already!
I hate saying goodbye to new friends I have made on my travels. I have met some really amazing, interesting and kind people on all of my travels and it’s such a horrible feeling saying goodbye to them. Knowing that you may never cross paths again for whatever reason, really does suck. On the plus side you do stay in touch with them and I am currently looking forward to a trip planned with a friend from Norway this year to Mexico!
8. Have you ever faced people who don’t understand why you are a surfer and love what you do, especially in Ireland ?
Yes, all the time. Some people just don’t get it and think I am crazy. My friends understand at this stage and they know that my commitment to plans can change like the wind if the surf gets good. I try not to let that happen but sometimes you have to just go with the swell or you’ll miss out!
When I go abroad and surf with people from warmer countries, I always get told I am mad for surfing in Ireland and sometimes they don’t even realise that there is good waves in Ireland! I’ve also had people not know where Ireland is or even never heard of it. I always feel proud telling them where I am from and how great our waves really are (but too cold to come of course, haha!).
9. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I have some personal goals; to better my National and International rankings in surfing, and to surf bigger, better waves. I also am thinking of going to live somewhere warm for a year at some point, where I can have a proper surf lifestyle all year round, but nothing is set in stone.
To be honest, I have my goals, but after that I just sort of live in the moment and enjoy each experience as they arise. I’ve lost my dad as a teenager, and it taught me to appreciate everything that’s good, my health, and to just take every day as it comes.
10. How do you prepare to make new friendships and relationships with people you meet on your travels?
Some people, you just click with and share your love of surfing. In Portugal about four years ago, I met some surfer girls from Norway, and since then, I have travelled to El Salvadore with one, a Boat Trip to Maldives with two of the others and I am heading off to Mexico with one of them again this summer. It’s definitely a love-of-surf kind of friendship. We might not speak to each other from one end of the year to the next, but we are super close because our love of travelling and surfing.
Recently I met some other surfer girls in Ireland. We surf together and when the surf is flat we enjoy surf festivals and nights outs together. Being part of this surf community, you end up sharing the same circle of friends, especially in Ireland! My close friends don’t surf you see, which is fine, but it’s always great to hang out with people that also share and understand the passion of surf.
11. You’re obviously ‘following your dreams’ grace, do you have and advice to anyone who’s just starting out a similar journey?
Just do it! Set your goals that will get you towards your dream and don’t let any negative people tell you otherwise because trust me, there will be a few along the way that will try to knock you down. Just surround yourself with people that support you and always have a goal to aim for incase you lose focus, even if it’s something small.
12. What is a dream destination for you?
I am looking forward to Mexico this year, but I also really want to go to Sri Lanka and other parts of Indonesia that I haven’t been to such as Sumbawa. I’d also love to check out Canada and Iceland too!
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Photographers: Allie Caitlyn, GnG Photgraphy & Darren Dohony