Documentary on Newstalk: Surfing at the Crossroads

Producer Brendan Daly charts the extraordinary story of Ireland’s first surfer

In ‘Surfing at the Crossroads’, producer Brendan Daly charts the extraordinary story of Ireland’s first surfer

The birth of surfing in Ireland is associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, but the history of the sport goes all the back to the cultural stagnation of the 1940s when an inventive 14-year-old refashioned de Valera’s “frugal comforts” to become the first person to surf a wave in Ireland.

For the first time on radio, 80-year-old Joe Roddy explains how, in 1949, he cobbled Ireland’s first surfboard together from old wardrobes, floorboards, and tea chests as he recalls the shocked reaction of onlookers – “I could see the whites of their eyes” – as he sailed past them and into the history books.

While Roddy defied the conformity of the era and anticipated Ireland’s eventual opening to the world, it was just one chapter in a pioneering life of drawing on his imagination to defy scarcity and realise his ambitions.

When he was 10-years-old, Roddy was building canoes from sally rods. When he was 12 and wanted snorkelling gear, he adapted an old pair of shoes into a pair of flippers, a World War II gasmask into a snorkel, a pair of long johns into a wetsuit. Later, he concocted a wooden dowel and rubber bands into a homemade spear-gun.

In Cuba in 1967, Roddy represented Ireland at the World Spear-fishing Championships where he recorded a dive of 32 metres (105 feet): the depth of an 11 storey building – and back again.

Unearthing a buried chapter of cultural history and chronicling an extraordinary life, ‘Surfing at the Crossroads’ takes Roddy back to Valentia Island, where he grew up barefoot in the 1940s, and travels with him to Skellig Michael, where he has landed over 20,000 times, ferrying 100,000 pilgrims to the medieval monastic settlement – a tradition he continues to this day.  

Surfing at the Crossroads’ accompanies Roddy to the Irish Surfing Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2009, for the presentation of a perpetual surfing trophy named in his honour, as Roddy speculates on his inspiration for emulating ancient Hawaiian kings, recounts how his achievement was almost lost to history, and reveals how he’s not only the first surfer in Ireland – he might be the first surfer in Europe.

Surfing at the Crossroads will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm on Saturday 23rd January at 7am and is repeated at 10pm that evening.

QUOTES:

“[To make the surfboard I used] Two big long floorboards…and more wardrobes and chests of drawers to get the crosspieces to make the skeleton, and then laminated top and bottom with ply and plenty of heavy paint on it to waterproof it.” Joe Roddy

“When I came in from two miles at sea, people lined the beach – they didn’t know what was coming in because I had a paddle and I was standing on something they couldn’t see. It was only about four inches thick and with me standing on it. I could see the whites of their eyes before they realised that this thing had length to it. They could only see the front width of it – about two feet broad. It was a big novelty because it was different to a canoe. It couldn’t sink. The fishermen were very annoyed with me because I’d be out when it was rough and they used to say ‘you’ll get drowned one of these days and we won’t come out for you!’” Joe Roddy

“This guy came out of nowhere. How did he even dream up this board? He paddled it out to sea. He was like an apparition. If you can imagine 1949…you’re standing on the beach and you see this guy standing on a board with a paddle. In the history of surfing, it’s a big event.” Martin Cullinane, Irish Surfing Hall of Fame

“My generation must have been the last of the children going to school barefoot…We didn’t have footballs at that age. We used to get a pig’s bladder and blow it up…There was a convent in Clifden and that’s where I started school. Never liked it – broke a window in the shed one day and I was surrounded by penguins. God, I was petrified. My father had to replace the pane of glass, but I was left standing in the corner for the rest of the day.” Joe Roddy

“I’m coming here (to Skellig Michael) over 50 years. I’ve landed on the place about 20,000 times. If they were all in the one boat, she’d have to be a cruise liner to carry them because there’d be a 100,000 in it!” Joe Roddy

BROADCAST DETAILS: ‘Surfing at the Crossroads’ is part of the Winter Season of Documentary on Newstalk.

BROADCAST TIMES: Surfing at the Crossroads will be broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm on Saturday 23rd January at 7am and is repeated at 10pm that evening.

Surfing at the Crossroads’ can also be listened to online at: www.newstalk.com. Podcast available after the broadcast at: www.newstalk.com/documentaryonnewstalk

CREDITS: ‘Surfing at the Crossroads’ was written, edited, and produced by Brendan Daly. The executive producer was Daithi McMahon.

‘Surfing at the Crossroads’ was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the television licence fee.