Article by Jared Monaghan
WITH all the hype surrounding an Irish female excelling on an international level in the form of Ciara Mageean, it is easy to forget that Tyrone has their very own young starlet who is set to mix it with the best in the world this week.
Whilst Mageean plies her trade on the track by training tirelessly in the pursuit of consistency and pace, Fintona native Maia Monaghan thrives quite literally in an ocean of unpredictability where each wave break and swell demands that she improvises and adapts instinctively.
Anyone who has been surfing before will know that quite literally thinking on your feet is the difference between catching a wave and total wipeout. Maia will need to draw upon all her nous and know-how to be successful when she travels to the ISA World Surf Games held in Huntington Beach California, known as “Surf City USA”, from the 16th-24th September.
Monaghan is no stranger to the international stage, having competed as a 17 year old at the Euro Juniors Surfing Championships 2016 in Morocco where she impressed, medalling in one of her two disciplines. However, it is not lost on Maia that competing in a senior international event of this magnitude, where qualification places for the 2024 Olympic Games are on offer, will be a big step up in class again.
“I am really looking forward to taking on a world famous wave and surfing against some of the best in the world,” she said.
“When I competed in international competition before back in 2016, it was somewhat daunting but in California I will be drawn in a heat against one of the pros who surf for their career, competing week in week out on the World Surf League tour circuit.
“They have dedicated coaches and whole teams around them whilst I am trying to balance a degree and a hundred other things around my surfing every year.”
Despite being a clear underdog going into the Championships, the six year hiatus owing to little matters like a pandemic and a medical degree at Queen’s University Belfast, have left Monaghan hungry for another crack on the world stage.
The Tyrone woman, who represents Rossnowlagh Surf Club in County Donegal, admitted that competing at a senior International level was one of the key goals she set herself when in lockdown and she achieved that in a highly competitive national selection event at Tullan Strand on 2nd July.
“It hasn’t really felt like six years with Covid and everything but for sure qualifying for an international senior event was my main aim for a while,” she explained.
“The national selection event in Tullan was a really high-level event and only three women could qualify in a field of sixteen incredible women.
“I managed to win all my heats and the final which was a huge confidence boost to take forward into the Games especially because the standard of female Irish surfing is really good at the moment.
“It has been really good to see more talented girls coming through recently. I grew up in a generation where I would be out on the water with maybe one other girl and 30 guys.”
It is fitting too then that Maia has played a key role in the growing number of female surfers in Ireland and that associated increase in standards as her and clubmate Una Britton have masterminded an all-girls girls development squad called the Rossi Rippers based in Rossnowlagh that is funded by Women in Sport.
“So many times you see girls who are really talented at under 12 and under 14 level and they just leave the sport as they feel there is no clear development pathway and so there is a lot of wasted potential there.” she explained.
“The main objectives of the Rossi Rippers are to get more young girls in those age groups into surfing and have them enjoy the social, fun and outdoors nature of the sport as a first priority so they stay at it for longer.”
Maia was very vocal about the importance of female role models in sport, especially in one that has been dominated by men for decades. Monaghan identified another Tyrone woman and clubmate, Ayesha Garvey as an inspiring presence on and off the surfboard with the Castlederg woman’s previous successes on the international stage and involvement in bridging the gap of inequality in the sport of Surfing.
Garvey’s influence on the matter of inequality was underlined by the announcement last week that she has been selected by the International Surfing Association to travel to the World Surf Games as part of their technical team to participate in the historic ISA Women’s Judging Programme.
Garvey and Monaghan also teamed up last month to coach the 2022 EuroSurf Irish Junior team in Portugal where Team Ireland achieved some excellent results, so it would appear that the future of women’s surfing in Ireland is in very experienced and capable hands.
When asked what she would say to young Irish girls to encourage them to try surfing for the first time Maia was quick to answer: “First of all it is a great opportunity to get outside and into the sea to experience nature,” Monaghan said.
“It is also so much fun as a social sport and you really get to make friends out on the water. Maybe best of all though is the fact that you can enjoy surfing almost everywhere in the world so it is a great excuse to explore new countries and continents!”
There is no doubt that Maia’s participation at surfing’s flagship event in California this weekend embodies all of the above perks and, who knows, a place in the 2024 Olympic Surfing competition held in Tahiti might inspire a tidal wave of young female Irish surfers to follow suit.
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