Ireland: a country with as many secret surf spots as kilometers of coastline | Photo: Failte Ireland

All surfers are paranoid - that is for sure. Not in a bad way - most of the time - but more in an amusing, funny kind of way.

Constantly worried about missing it, making the wrong calls, about who got what wave, what actually happened in the water, who looked at who a certain way, and who saw who and who said what.

And all the rest.

It is such an emotionally, physically, and spiritually charged realm that paranoia is simply part of the territory - like gold miners or diamond dealers, the value of the commodities means that fear, protectiveness, and anxiety - maybe with a touch of overactive imagination, and maybe with a little too much time to think about it all - creeps in.

As one of the lads said: "It is a selfish pursuit, full of secrecy, misinformation, and with a race to be first built in." Nice.

For me, this leads to two things - localism (we all know about that) and the secret spot.

Now, I have been around the block a few times - and have lived and surfed in many places in the world, most recently Hawaii.

During that time, and on those travels, I understood secret spot lore in many parts of the world.

But in Ireland, where I am from, I am still working it out.

Ireland: should secret surf spots be shared or kept secret? | Photo: Failte Ireland

The Law of the Strongest

In South Africa, for example, where I lived for a couple of years, the system is easy: half the time, you want others to surf with.

At your secret spot, you may well run the risk of broken windows or other car park crime, so there is safety in numbers.

But, if you really want to protect a spot, hey, no worries, that is also easy: you get it a name as a sharky place, and that is pretty much all it takes.

Boom - nobody comes. Sure, there are exceptions.

I know up in Namaqualand, there are places that no one will ever hear of, that are protected, that are secret - but they are also mostly inaccessible - if you want them badly enough, you can have them.

In California, where I also lived for a long time, let's face it, there aren't many such spots.

The place, south of San Francisco at least, is so overpopulated already that the chances of finding a back beach that no one knows about are pretty much zero.

Sure, maybe up north, in the redwoods - there, amidst aromatic smoke, you can probably find places where you are unwelcome: places that you shouldn't know about, and - even if you do - will be ostracized for having visited.

And down in Baja, maybe. In those enclaves where Californian surfers claim Mexico as their own. But, by and large, there is more localism than secrecy.

In Australia, the vibe is different again - no doubt, there are lots of nooks and crannies and lots of out-of-the-way waves.

But there, like everything Australian, it comes down, maybe, to force of personality - no need for localism, or even really secrecy, with the Aussie.

They'll just bite your head off instead!

In Hawaii, no doubt, there are secret spots as well - not many on Oahu, where I live, but doubtless on the other islands.

But they are all small places, mainly with coastal roads.

Again, it isn't so much a matter of keeping the location secret as it is of localism combined with knowledge of the exact, rare conditions on which it works.

Secret surf spots: good for a few surfers, and bad for the local economy | Photo: Failte Ireland

Secrecy or Economy?

But Ireland? Ho, bra. Shoots.

So many secret spots - so many bad roads, or no roads, or kinks in the coastline.

So many spots that need a once-in-a-year swell direction, tide, and wind; so many empty rural areas that no one really goes to.

A little localism, for sure, but more secrecy - more the wink and the nod in the Emerald Isle.

And, for me, Ireland is, as a result, a better environment to surf in - even with the cold.

And it pays off.

You can get epic pointbreaks with just a few mates while others remain ignorant, stay home, or go to the wrong places.

They never get overrun and never will, partially because it is often cold and bleak.

So, the secret spots in Ireland don't need that much protection. If you are a discoverer, you have earned it.

If you paddle out into the lineup and are greeted by frowns or vibes, then you are not the one at fault. Chances are, though, it will be a friendly nod.

So why? Why, why, why?

Amidst the coldness, emptiness, and loneliness that can be rural Ireland, why? Why the secret spot obsession?

Do treasures get magnified, Gollum-style, leading to over-protectiveness? Do we, maybe, lose a little perspective?

Is there some kind of hint of "The Banshees of Inisherin" here - something bizarre, something out of focus in the grand scheme of things?

Or something, maybe, to do with history - the way that Irish independence was won through tactics that relied on the clandestine, on secrecy?

Did some of that seep into the blood of latter surfing generations, maybe?

But wait - wait a minute. Should Ireland keep these spots so secret - as with the Black Wetsuit Brigade in the documentary "Keep It a Secret"?

Is that really what Ireland and Irish surfers should be doing?

Or is it the reverse - should Ireland be boasting about and flaunting its natural surf resources, making the most of what it has?

Should the likes of Kevin Cavey, who wanted to display Ireland's surfing riches to the world for the good of the country - to drag it out of the dark ages of church and state - be ostracized, as he was, for a time?

The Best Surfer Gets the Best Waves

Those with the key to secret spots often claim they are protecting places from exploitation - or keeping them environmentally pure.

There was a laughable case in which, years ago, a local surfer threw his mug of coffee over the windscreen of the visiting Malloy brothers.

Hardly an Irish welcome. Hardly a hundred thousand welcomes. Hardly céad míle fáilte.

The double irony is that the coffee thrower was Welsh, but that is a different story.

Maybe that was the right thing to do - but ask the local villagers; they would take the visitors any day.

Ask any politician or local councilor.

They want what is best for the Irish economy, jobs, and global connections. They are willing to pay the lesser evil for the greater good.

But, at the end of the day, here is the thing; here is a little Hawaiian-Irish knowledge for you.

I love and treasure secret spots. I have been given the key to a few and have solemnly agreed not to share.

But I also hate to see others in distress and don't like feeling selfish.

And - no matter how crowded the spot - the best surfer (or, maybe, to be precise, the best surfer on the best board for both the surfer and the spot and the day), who knows the wave best, and who knows the other surfers best, or some combination of those three things, is going to get the best waves.

And that is it: you can have the most crowded lineup in the world or the emptiest, and you can have the most secret or public spot, but that fact will never change.


Words by Sebastian Kevany | Surfer, Field Epidemiologist, and Author of the book "Between the Moon and the Fire: Life in Surfing Moments"

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