The year was 1949, and it was a quiet day at Soldier Point in Dundalk, Ireland. One lone figure was creeping out to sea on some mysterious watercraft that he had constructed himself. And suddenly, the boy paddled around and was gliding inward, propelled by a wave peeling on the point. This serene ride was the first of its kind in the country, and on that day young Joe Roddy became the first man to surf in Ireland.
This small moment in history was recreated sixty years later on the beach in Tramore, Ireland. On Sunday June 21, as part of the T-Bay Surf Club’s annual “Legends” dinner dance, Joe Roddy returned to the water on a replica of his original board.
“He hadn’t been on a board for 57 years, so the possibility was that he might be a bit rusty. I needn’t have worried,” said Hugh O’Brien-Moran, competitive surfer and one of the founding members of the T-Bay Surf Club. Roddy maneuvered into waves using a paddle, much like he did sixty years ago. “Joe rode the wave with a relaxed stance, knees slightly bent, with the youthful look of a natural athlete. At the same time he had a proud and noble bearing that comes with age,” said O’Brien-Moran.
The crowd cheered in awe, knowing they were witnessing a rare event that would be remembered in Irish surfing. “Even though the waves were small peelers, it was as impressive to me as seeing a modern surfer pull into giant waves,” said Eric Randall, surf club member and Co-Director of the T-Bay Surf & Eco Centre.
Roddy’s ride was celebrated by members of the surf club along with children who belonged to the kids surf league. Some of these young surfers even got the chance to ride tandem with him on the 14-foot monster of a board known as “The Legend.”
The original Irish surfer built the board himself as a replica of the one he used in 1949, which was constructed out of tea chests and dismantled furniture. Roddy also built a model that is displayed in the Surf Centre, along with a paddle fashioned from the original handle.
The 3rd generation of lighthouse keepers in his family, Roddy remains tied to the sea as the owner of a boating business that transports tourists to the Skellig Islands. Those who knew him painted him as a great storyteller who is delighted to be rediscovered for his monumental first ride.
Randall stressed the importance of remembering the struggles early surfers went through to hone their craft without the modern conveniences now available. “There are a lot of other guys here and all over the world that brought surfing to where it is now, but there can only be one guy that can claim to be the first to surf a wave in their native shores. And here in Ireland that man is Joe Roddy,” he said. “In every sense of the word, he was a pioneer, and hands down, for that he is a surfing legend.”