Female Surfers Riding the Crest of a ‘New Wave’ of Irish National Identity

  • Rachael M.J. Telford
  • P.J. Kitchin
  • David Hassan


With surfing debuting at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics (postponed from summer 2020 due to the COVID 19 global pandemic) it is timely to consider surfing and the national identifications women in Ireland may have with this sport. As Lee Bush states, ‘with so little scholarship on surfing women, descriptive studies are needed as a foundation for launching future interpretive and critical studies.’[1] Twelve women who surf in Ireland spoke about the links their surfing may or may not have with their national identity. Previous academic inquiry on links between national identity and sport on the island of Ireland has almost exclusively focused on men’s experiences of team sports and issues of ‘Irishness’.[2] ‘Irishness’ is globally recognised and stereotypically linked to traditional and indigenous Irish sports such as Gaelic football and a range of other cultural activities. Research into women’s sport participation has largely been restricted to the study of soccer in the Republic of Ireland,[3] and gendered evaluations of various lifestyle and health surveys.[4] Katie Liston, a key researcher in sport and gender relations in Ireland, highlights that ‘there seems to be an increasing diversity in the kinds of activities in which people participate in’,[5] and that there is a shift towards ‘lifestyle’ activities for adults as diversity increases in young people’s participation in sports and leisure activities. Against the backdrop of Liston’s work, this article delves deeper into data collected as part of a wider research project, discussing whether or not women who surf in Ireland do so as part of a process designed to construct and reflect their national identities related to this arguably ‘postmodern’[6] ‘lifestyle sport’,[7] in which Ireland will be represented on the Olympic stage for the first time in 2021.

[1] Lee Bush, ‘Creating Our Own Lineup: Identities and Shared Cultural Norms of Surfing Women in a U.S. East Coast Community’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 45, no. 3 (2016): 290–318., 262.

[2] See the work of Alan Bairner, John Sugden, David Hassan and Mike Cronin for a broad range of work in this area.

[3] See for example Katie Liston, ‘Women's Soccer in the Republic of Ireland: Some Preliminary Sociological Comments’, Soccer & Society 7, no.  2 (2006b): 364 – 384. Also see Ann Bourke, ‘Women’s Soccer in the Republic of Ireland: Past Events and Future Prospects’, in Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation: Kicking Off a New Era ed. Fan Hong and J.A. Mangan (London: Frank Cass, 2004): 162–82.

[4] Katie Liston, ‘A Question of Sport’ in Contemporary Ireland: A Sociological Map ed. Sara O'Sullivan (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2007), 159-180.

[5] Liston, ‘A Question of Sport’, 161.

[6] The idea of lifestyle sport as postmodern sport is discussed in Belinda Wheaton, ed., Understanding Lifestyle Sports: Consumption, Identity and Difference (London: Routledge, 2004).  Also see: Lincoln Allison, Amateurism in Sport: An Analysis and a Defence (London: Frank Cass, 2001); R. Rinehart, ‘Emerging Arriving Sport: Alternatives to Formal Sport’ in Handbook of Sports Studies ed. Jay Coakley and Eric Dunning (London: Sage, 2000), 504-519.

[7] The term is used by two leading researchers in the field. See Wheaton, Understanding Lifestyle; Rinehart, ‘Emerging Arriving’.

Keywords: Gender, Lifestyle sport, Surfing, National identity, Ireland

How to Cite:

Telford, R. M., Kitchin, P. & Hassan, D., (2021) “Female Surfers Riding the Crest of a ‘New Wave’ of Irish National Identity”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 7(1), 190-207. doi:

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Published on
03 Jun 2021
Peer Reviewed