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A community of highflyers

Ireland is famed for its beautiful beaches and big waves. Izzy Rowley discovers some of the people making the most of it

On Rush’s South Beach in north county Dublin, a collection of kite and windsurfers gather. It’s a way of blowing off the cobwebs, finding a community, and getting in touch with nature. Here are some of the incredible sights I saw and people I spoke to.

“I taught myself how to kite surf. I didn’t know anyone who did it, so I taught myself”
“I’ve spent my entire life learning about the water and the winds,” says Oisin van Gelderen, an Irish windsurfing champion who has set the Irish speed sailing record. He started at age six in “Killary adventure centre when I was on holidays”. He says that windsurfers live for the water and the wind – “in the depths of January it’s a bit bleak, but it’s blowing 40 knots of wind and it’s a great wavey day – we’re out doing jumps and loops and all kinds of things. We couldn’t be happier. I feel incredibly lucky that we can do this. I’ve barely missed a windy day since I started”
“Their power is 20 feet above their heads”
“Ours is right in front of us”
“Rush is one of the better wave beaches in Dublin”
“I can still see us doing this in our 60s and 70s”
“Even when you’re a beginner in windsurfing and you’re drifting along at five kilometres per hour, it feels like 50, because your body is part of the whole rig”
Steven, pictured left, started windsurfing at the age of 12. One day, after his summer job of cutting grass at a water sports centre, he made use of the free gear available “and I just never stopped after that.” Garret, pictured right, started windsurfing when he was just nine years old on a campsite in West Cork. He saw a father and son learning to kite surf. The father invited him to join in, taught him to surf, and “now, that man’s son is one of my best friends.” The two travel all over Ireland with the sport and have raced in the Irish slalom series for years
“We’re a very open group. If someone rocks up to the beach and they’re new, we’ll tell them where to go, where to get information, and welcome them in”
“Kitesurfers are the Evangelical Christians of water sports – always trying to convert people”
“I look at the clouds and see what way they’re going; I pay attention to the currents… I’m also glued to the weather app on my phone”
Sailing into the sunrise
Matthew is the founder of Fly High Windsurfing Ireland, an online group for windsurfers to connect. He’s also using the group to encourage surfers to clean up after themselves and leave no trace. “I’m obsessed with water sports,” he told me
“You have to know the currents and you have to know the wind. If you don’t you’re gonna be in big trouble”
“With the lockdowns you see all these sea swimmers now. For the first time ever, they’re considering swimming in the water. And people always ask, ‘is the water not freezing? Is it not mad wet?’ We’re wearing five mil wetsuits – I couldn’t be warmer. It’s like wearing a hot water bottle”

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