SurfSista Meets: Grace Doyle, Billabong Team Rider

SurfSista Meets: Grace Doyle, Billabong Team Rider

It takes a certain sort of person to become an Irish pro-surfer. An interview with Billabong team rider, Grace Doyle.

It takes a certain sort of person to become an Irish pro-surfer.

It’s arguably more inviting to spend days waiting for sets in languidly warm water, kissed by warm sunshine. In sharp juxtaposition, you’ve got to have an iron will to plunge into Irish waters, in the driving rain, in water so cold it delivers a hefty ice-cream headache each time you duckdive. Plus, we’ve not even touched upon that dreaded car-park changing, accompanied by sleeting rain and gusting winds.

Put simply, one needs nerves of steel to grow up surfing in icy Ireland. Grace Doyle has showcased her skills not only in Ireland, but across the globe in a variety of conditions.

Doyle is one of Ireland’s surfer stars. A Billabong team rider, with a plethora of sponsors and awards, she’s keeping up with her fine form; winning the Celtic Cup just three days ago.

We caught up with Grace to quiz her on all things surfing: from how to survive in the cold water to the very best bikinis to keep your dignity intact whilst taking on solid sets in warmer climes.

Grace Doyle. The lady herself. Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself? How old are you, where are you from and what’s your local surf spot?

GD: I’m 28, I’m from Tramore in the Southeast of Ireland (also known as Tbay). My local spot is a beach break but we also have some other nearby spots along the coast that can get really good too. However, I work as a school teacher in the Midlands so I only get to surf at the weekends.

SS: Where and when did you learn to surf?

GD: I was always a water baby and loved being in the sea, catching waves on a bodyboard and taking part in surf lifesaving events. Then I started to learn to surf in Tbay around the age of 12, after two of my three older brothers had already gotten hooked.

However, as a serious competitive swimmer at the time, swimming came first for many years. Although I always loved it when I got the chance to go surfing, it wasn’t until my late teens/early 20s that I gave up swimming and began to focus more on surfing.

I was a beach lifeguard throughout the summers too so I was spending more time at the beach. I haven’t looked back since, but I do regret not focusing on it earlier. I entered my first senior competition at 22 and won. This encouraged me to also keep up the competitive side of things and compete on the Irish Tour – and I’ve enjoyed competing ever since.

SS: How and when did you become sponsored by Billabong as a team rider?

GD: I became sponsored by Billabong in 2013. They were looking for someone in Ireland, and a few people from home put my name forward who thought I would be a good ambassador. So, I emailed some photos and competition results along with my goals and ambitions.

I was thrilled when they decided to support me and have me on the team. It was a much needed confidence booster for me and my surfing at the time – I went on to get a sponsorship from Quiver Surfboards, then made the Irish team and came 9th at the European Surfing Championships in 2015.

Grace Doyle. Icy Ireland.  Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: What’s your favourite place to surf in the world?

GD: My favourite place to surf in the world.. people probably expect me to say the Mentawai Islands or somewhere exotic. Although these are among my favourite places, there is something about surfing epic winter swells at home in Ireland with your friends and family that just always comes out on top.

Outside of Ireland my favourite would be the many waves in the Mentawai Islands playgrounds area, or the Nayarit area of Mexico.

SS: And what’s your favourite spot in Ireland?

GD: It’s hard to pick one but probably a nearby local spot when it works. It breaks off a sand bar and is a super fun peeling left-hander that often barrels! I also love the Peak in Bundoran, Lahinch in Clare and Easkey in Sligo!

Grace Doyle. Shredding in Ireland.  Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: Those spots sound amazing, but it can be so hard to motivate oneself to get in when the conditions are freezing – do you have any tips for cold-water surfers out there?

GD: I find being well fed and energised with healthy food helps. If I go surfing on an empty stomach, I get colder quicker.

I listen to music and sometimes watch some surfing to get me pumped to go out. I think a good pair of booties and a warm hood is important. Most heat is lost through the head, and personally find that if my feet start going numb it’s game over and I can’t surf too good anymore.

Having some hot drink before or after a surf definitely helps too. The worst part is probably getting ready before and after a surf on the side of the road if it is windy and cold.

If you can have a dry wetsuit, instead of trying to put in a wet one in the freezing cold, that definitely helps, and having layers of warm clothes on hand to warm up quicker after a surf.

SS: Sounds chilly! Talking of warmer climates, tell us about your recent trip to Indo and the Mentawais as featured in your latest edit – how did the trip come about and how long were you there for?

GD: Yeah, my summer was crazy good this year! Kandui Resort advertised for a teacher for the Kandui groms. I have my brother to thank for tagging me in the Facebook post, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it and applied! I was so shocked and stoked when I got it! I think I read the email ten times. It was a dream job!

I spent two months there being a teacher to 8 year old, Dylan and his younger bother and sister, while surfing my brains out before and after school – and often during school too when the waves were pumping. Dylan is a proper stoked grom and a little ripper, sponsored by Hurley and a future star of the surfing world!

The waves were insane and I’ve never got to surf so much, for so many weeks straight. It was amazing and the location is paradise! I really enjoyed being a part of the Kandui Team and am stoked to be heading back there again next summer.

SS: In the edit (see video above), I love it when a guy says: “It’s a girl!” (at 2.38) – what’s the reaction you get when people see you as a female surfer dropping into decent sized waves?

GD: Haha. Yeah, I was often the only girl in the line up out there, especially on the bigger days.

When I first arrived, the bigger waves were scary looking and so many people were getting injured from hitting the reef at some of the nearby spots. However, after about a week or so I found myself paddling out into 5-6 foot Bankvaults – with my heart pounding! But you’d be surprised what a bit of support does. I remember paddling for a big one, I was tempted to stop and heard the boys shouting at me to go, so I just went and I came out smiling from ear to ear.

I had many bad wipeouts/hold downs and felt stupid at times, but I got better at reading the waves as the time went on. It was all worth it when you get those bombs!

Sometimes the boys think that you aren’t going to go, so I have had some bad drop ins. Or, they would keep sitting way deeper than me which was very difficult at times as the standard of surfing was so high, but I got some of the best waves of my life so I can’t complain.

Grace Doyle Barrel  Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: What’s been the most tricky thing to master on a surfboard?

GD: I think when I first started surfing, a decent pop up and landing in the right spot took some time. Even still, I sometimes get it wrong and I need to concentrate on it.

Especially in steeper take offs. I think it’s one of the most important things because it sets you up for a good or bad wave.

SS: What’s been your most scary time in the ocean?

GD: Probably this summer – I was just sitting out back at one spot and this huge wall of a wave popped up out of nowhere. I was literally in the impact zone. I stupidly tried to duck-dive but it was like a 7ft foot foam wall and I ended pinned to the reef at the bottom.

It just felt like I wasn’t coming up, for real…when I eventually did come up spluttering, one of the guys said I was down for ages and he was getting worried. I remember feeling shaken up after that!

Grace Doyle A-FRAME Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: Worst wipeout?

GD: I went over the falls on a big one and the board bounced off the bottom and came back up and got me right in my back. I couldn’t walk properly or move very well for almost a week.

SS: Ouch! What’s your favourite board to ride?

GD: At the moment, my 5’9 Epoxy Poppa board from Quiver. It surfs like a dream and I just won a contest on it so it’s now my magic board!

SS: Any tips for an excellent bikini that actually stays on in the water?

GD: Billabong have some nice ones with a crossover back that don’t budge! Also, a good sports bra is always a winner, as they definitely don’t budge either.

I have one or two bottoms that are just a size smaller but they are tighter so they also don’t move – most of the time! I like to wear the Billabong Surf Capsule 1mm wetsuit one pieces or tops. They also keep the sun off my pale Irish skin!

Grace Doyle Carving Billabong Team Rider. Female Pro Surfer.

SS: Who are your most inspirational female surfers?

GD: I have always followed and liked Carissa Moore’s surfing. She is so powerful and one of the first to push women’s surfing to the next level.

Stephanie Gilmore is also a legend and I love her style. Nowadays, I love watching all the women on tour because they are all ripping!

SS: What do you get up to when not surfing?

GD: I only get to surf at weekends! I work as a school teacher teaching Physical Education and Maths. I put my head down and then when I have time off I go travelling.

In my spare time I go to the gym to workout and swim several times a week. If there is no surf at weekends, which happens a bit too, I’ll catch up with friends and family and usually find something active to do instead!

Grace Doyle surfing

SS: Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring lady surfers who’d like to improve their surf skills?

GD: Keep surfing and don’t let a male-dominated line up put you off if that is your case!

Ask friends in the water to watch you and tell you how you can improve. Or even better still, get some video footage and watch yourself surfing… you never look as good as you think you look when you see yourself surfing on camera. It really helps you fix some bad habits!

The main thing though is to just enjoy being out in the water surfing. Just being in the ocean is a medicine in itself and helps relieve any stresses -I often solve my problems while out surfing.

Thanks to my sponsors for their support: Billabong Womens Europe, Quiver Surfboards, BeyondSurf, Surfersskin, Aura Leisure Ireland, Etnies Shoes

August 18 Bank Vault (604)

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