Ask the Expert: Stand-up Paddleboarding in Ireland
While Ireland evokes thoughts of rolling green hills and warm, friendly pubs, I had never associated the Emerald Isle with stand-up paddleboarding. But that was before I met David O’Hara of SUP for All, an organization that leads SUP trips in Ireland. I’ve met many SUP enthusiasts, but I guarantee you that no one preaches about the sport more passionately than David. He raves about paddleboarding like us Southerners crow about college football—it’s not a religion; it’s more important than that. And he told me that SUP has had a profound affect on his life.
His organization SUP for ALL hopes to make Ireland a popular destination for SUP, and David shared with us his insights on how the sport is growing in his country, plus tips for travelers who might want to try it while visiting Ireland.
When did you first notice that stand-up paddleboarding had reached Ireland?
I first learned about stand-up paddleboarding in April of 2011. A friend encouraged me to get out and give it a go, and arranged two boards for he and I to use. My life changed that day.
Why did it make such a strong impression on you?
Within five minutes of standing on a paddleboard I had an epiphany. I realized that I had found a pursuit that I could and would do with my wife, Amy, and daughter, Senna. I then realized that if we would do it as a family, everybody would. At that time, life was very difficult in the O’Hara household. I was unemployed for the first time in my life, and I was also very depressed. I had lost my business, and my view of the future was bleak. That first time I went stand-up paddleboarding I never fell off, and I realized that anyone could do this. It’s an activity with a relatively low entry cost, and it offers health benefits, plus I also knew that I could provide for my family while introducing people to SUP.
How popular is stand-up paddleboarding in Ireland?
There are no industry figures available for Ireland, yet it’s safe to say that 2012 will be remembered as the year that introduced SUP to the Irish consciousness. Equally this was the year the international SUP community first became aware of Ireland. In Sligo, where I live, and in neighboring Leitrim, there is no shortage of people wishing to go SUP.
Tell us a bit more about SUP for All
SFA is committed to make SUP accessible to people throughout Ireland and the UK through a ‘club’ format. In these troubled times, SUP has a very significant role to play in Irish society. We believe that SUP can help reunite communities and raise the spirits of people while making a positive impact on our natural environment. In April of this year, I started introducing large groups of people to SUP. I understand that less than 10 percent of people who go to ‘surf school’ here ever go surfing again. But at least 95 percent of people who go SUP with SFA want to go again, often immediately, and our focus is paddleboarding on flat water in beautiful locations.
Why is Ireland such a good place for stand-up paddleboarding?
Our country is full of beautiful waterways and awesome coastline. We are an ancient land, and you feel this sense of history while walking on our waters. Also, those interested in stand-up paddleboarding in the surf will find the best waves in the world on the west coast where I live. Most importantly, it is accessible! We have all the equipment you will need for any discipline of SUP.
What are some of your favorite places to go stand-up paddleboarding in Ireland?
Sligo and Leitrim. These are special counties both in terms of SUP and culture. It’s fair to say that all of Ireland is beautiful, but these two counties are home to characters, musicians and artists that make the “after SUP” special. I live overlooking Lough Gill and Innisfree in the shadow of the Sleeping Warrior. The river Bonet flows from Leitrim into Sligo, passing Dromahair and the Seat of the O’Rourke of Breffni clan. We SUP through history and culture every day!
Describe your perfect day of SUP in Ireland, including the “after SUP” celebration
Our group—usually about 15 people—gathers at 8 a.m. at the car park of the Lake Isle of Innisfree. On certain mornings, Trawne Bay at the Lake Isle of Innisfree is Tolkienesque. One can almost smell the history of this area. The water is shimmering, and there’s a Zen-like quality to the adventure we’re about to have. After paddling with the first group in the morning, we’ll have a second group in the afternoon, followed by a third evening group to catch the sunset. The day is topped off with a ramble into Moran’s in Ballintogher to enjoy the craic, céol and cáint.
If someone wants to try SUP in Ireland, when should they visit, and what should they be sure to pack?
I feel that spring and fall are the best times of the year to visit Ireland, and not just for SUP. We are saying goodbye to the most spectacular fall I can remember. It has been on par with anywhere in the world in terms of color. Also, you can get good values on accommodations in spring and fall. With regards to gear, it’s very simple. You do not need to bring anything at all for the purpose of SUP. The only thing I suggest to people is to arrive with comfortable footwear. I have Neoprene booties like one would use for surfing, however I am most comfortable in Crocs or water boots (wellies) in winter. PFDs and leashes are included with all SUP rentals. Waterproof smartphone covers are popular with our customers, and these are available to rent or buy from SFA.