I had my first swim lesson when I was around 4. My Mam told me the story of how I was latched on to the side of the pool, terrified for my life, bawling my eyes out, looking at her with “why would you do this to me?” in my eyes. All my Mam wanted to do was take me home, but if she brought me out of the pool she knew that I’d never get back in the water.
16 years later, I’ve done kayaking, surfing, scuba, snorkelling, coasteering, and kept up the swimming. Over the next few months I hope to keep up the trend, becoming a beach lifeguard, surf instructor, D** scuba diver, small boat coxswain, do a triathlon and join the Irish Navy reserve.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in and around the sea. I’ve always been around the sea air, and I even get headaches when I go inland for too long. I could never get the hang of field sports; hurling, football, soccer and rugby, I just couldn’t get the knack for it. But once I got in the water it didn’t matter anymore, when I got into the water I never wanted to get out, I was comfortable, I was home.
I started kayaking when I was 11, it became a Sunday ritual to go down to Aghada pier and drag this kayak twice the size of me into the freezing October water (cold water is a re-occurring theme in Ireland). I did this every sunday for 3 years and became comfortable with the currents, waves, tides and being out of my depth. I then got my own kayak and took it out on my own when I was old enough that my parents wouldn’t have a heart attack when I went out. The most memorable moment I’ve had is being a few 100 metres offshore during a hollywood sunset, and spending ages staring down into the dark blue water underneath. I was completely transfixed, and hooked for life.
Kayaking was is great to relax but it didn’t feel immersive enough to just sit in a boat and scoot around the place. To experience and harmonise with the Sea fully, I started surfing. Surfing is one of Ireland’s fastest growing sports, and easy to see why; the thrill of catching a wave and being shot forward towards the shore is addictive to say the least, and the surfing bug infects everyone that tries it. I can remember the first time I stood up on a board back in 2013 was for a wobbly 2 seconds, but that was all it took. That summer I spent a total of €700 on surf gear(!) but it was €700 well spent and paid off over the past few years. While my board is not a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, the bright blue deck makes the usually dull water in Ireland look that little bit better. It makes me feel a bit better.
For that bit of extra thrill, Coasteering is hard to beat. This encompasses my love for both the sea and the cliffs I always end up climbing or exploring. It involves traversing a stretch of rocky coastline both in and out of water… Yep, cliff jumping. It’s the best way to see the coast not normally accessible any other way, never mind the fact it’s mental and hilarious! There’s no need for clunky boats or equipment, just a life-vest and helmet. Simples!
This year when I got back to college I had a little spare money from working all summer, I also live in the city too which meant I had all the time in the world to go with that spare cash! UCC has a massive range of clubs, but one that caught my eye as a fresher was UCC Sub-Aqua club. The club consists of scuba divers, free-divers and snorkelers and offer CFT (Irish underwater council) qualifications to its members for much cheaper than it would be to start through private instructors. Through the club I’ve managed to go snorkelling in Lough Hyne, Ireland’s oldest marine reserve filled to the brim with life, and done scuba training in the NMCI ahead of D* qualifying dives after christmas. Apart from that, I’ve met some fantastic people. The club is like a family, where everyone participates, is welcoming, helpful, and friendly.
This is something I’ve never had on this level with any of the other watersports I’ve tried; In surfing people will always watch your back and give tips and a helping hand, but because as divers we place our lives in each others hands every time we dive, and need that level of trust. But mostly I’ve found that people who share a love of the sea are all just genuinely nice, down to earth people? It’s the only walk of life where I haven’t come across someone I’d cross the street to avoid, whether it’s surfing, scuba or otherwise!
My obsession with the ocean has defined who I am for the past number of years and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to balance my study while swimming like Michael Phelps to train for a beach lifeguard qualification starting in January. Surprisingly for someone so aquatic, I’ve the lane swimming skills of your average rock, so this is an intense challenge but means next year I’ll be a qualified lifeguard which I’ll follow-up with a surf instructor course. All going swimmingly *pun alert* I’ll be a professional lifeguard and surf instructor come next summer.
While all this is going on, at the same time I’m training to build my fitness levels to a standard high enough to enlist in the Naval Service Reserves in the next few weeks. I’ve always had an interest in volunteering with the RNLI or Coast Guard, but restrictions mean I’m too far from any station to join. The idea of the Naval reserves came to mind at the end of summer during the maritime festival in Ringaskiddy, where I got the chance to go on board the LE Samuel Beckett and speak to the personnel. It’s a new opportunity to push myself even further both physically and mentally, and to train to a level high enough to go out into the North Atlantic. Along side weapons training, it will also include sea survival, fire fighting, damage control as well as foot drill, and further opportunities in small boat handling qualifications (RIB and sail yacht).
The next few years of my life will undoubtably revolve around the sea, and the more time I spend there then the deeper my obsession will become. Thanks to my Mam for not pulling me out of the pool on my first swim lesson.
- I’ve started my beach lifeguard qualification with Ardmore Adventures every Friday night, and training for it 3-4 times a week.
- Navy reserve selection has been announced and due to receive a date for fitness tests in the next few weeks.
- One dive away from qualifying with CMAS D* diving cert, hopefully done in next month or so.