A thrill that never fades: meet Godfather of Irish surfing
The sight of carloads of surfers driving into Lahinch is a commonplace one. Nobody bats an eyelid when yet another vehicle with surfboards strapped to the roof pulls into town.
But it was all so different in 1966 when Kevin Cavey, from Bray, Co Wicklow, along with a bunch of his friends, drove through Co Clare with surfboards on the roof.
“People probably thought we were mad,” he says, with a chuckle, recalling the first time they hit the Atlantic waves at Lahinch.
“In the early days, they weren’t sure what surfing was. Some used to call it water-skiing.”
Cavey, now 76, is regarded by many as the Godfather of Irish surfing. He was there right at the start when it was neither fashionable nor profitable. “I always loved the sea,” he says. “We used to do something called skim-boarding in the 1950s, but surfing is a very different thing. I remember reading about surfing in California in Reader’s Digest in 1963 and it sort of made me mad. I thought, ‘Why can’t there be surfing in Ireland, on the Atlantic?’”
He set about making his own surfboard and it was on this crude but effective device that he was able to master the rudiments of the sport. That was on the gentle waves of the Irish Sea, but as soon as he was able to purchase a fibreglass board, he was hightailing it across the country, to the Atlantic, and to Co Clare.
“Lahinch has been number one for me,” he says. “It’s such a lovely place to go to surf, and to learn. I’ve fond memories of Kenny’s pub back in the 1960s and how we got to know people because we were down so often. They stopped thinking of us as odd!”
And, in 1972, thanks to Cavey’s prowess on the board and his organisational skills, Lahinch got to host the European Surfing Championships. The enterprise lost him money, but he has fond memories of how the town got behind the event that year.
“It was the time of the Troubles in the North and a lot of international sporting events were cancelled down here. But the surfing went ahead.”
Cavey has three children, but none of them took up the sport in a serious way. “We were on the east coast and there were so many other things for them to do. I was the odd one out, heading off to the Atlantic to surf whenever I could.”
He still loves to surf and was in Lahinch a couple of weeks ago with his wife, Ann. The couple will return in August and he looks forward to catch waves at a favourite spot straight in front of O’Looney’s bar and restaurant.
“I feel very fortunate to have had surfing in my life,” he says.
“There’s a very special feeling when you’re out on the ocean and you’re waiting for a wave, and you catch it. It’s a thrill that never fades.”