A Tramore mother-of-three who became Ireland’s top female surfer in her teens, then went on to create waves with Greenpeace during the 1980s, will pursue both her passions at the town’s first ever annual Surf and SeaFestival this weekend. Grace O’Sullivan grew up at the local Pier and it was there she learned to surf. She entered the male-dominated sport competitively in the late ’70s and went on to win the national championships in 1981 at Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, becoming the first female on record to do so.
Having been a member of Tramore Sea and Cliff Rescue since she was 16. Grace was Coxswain with the Tramore RNLI inshore lifeboat at 18. Shortly afterwards she left Tramore to join the conservation group Greenpeace and sailed to Norway in 1981 to protest against the killing of young baby seals.
For the next 12 years she sailed with Greenpeace from the Arctic to the Antarctic, campaigning on environmental issues. In July 1985 Grace was a crew member of the ill-fated Greenpeace flagship, the ‘Rainbow Warrior’, which was bombed by the French secret service in Auckland harbour, New Zealand.
On the night in question she was away from the vessel (a former North Sea trawler which they’d converted in Florida the previous year) but remembers the sadness and shock of flying over the sunken ship the next morning, knowing that one of her 11 colleagues, photographer Fernando Pereira, had been killed. “It destroyed our world, we were devastated… We all had to go through enormous trauma,” she said years later.
Following the attack Grace and three other Greenpeace crew were captured and held prisoner for a week on board a French military ship for continuing to protest against the testing of nuclear bombs. She was deported from Tahiti back to Ireland, yet, despite her family’s fears, she continued to work for Greenpeace until 2001, when, “very, very homesick”, she eventually moved back to Ireland after spending three years on dry land in Holland.
One of a family of 10, Grace still surfs, though her passion is ecology. On coming home she followed her ambitions in this area by studying the subject at UCC. She is now listed with the Irish Heritage Council for school workshops on Environmental Education and Ecology, and also works for ENFO and Oceanic Manoeuvres surf school.
So as well as chatting to those participating in the inaugural ladies surf weekend, Grace will be leading an ‘Eco Walk’ she has expanded since it was developed by well-known botanist and entomologist Eanna Ni Lamhna, who was responsible for mapping many ecological routes carried out by An Foras Forbartha in the early “70s.
Commenting on her involvement in the upcoming festival. Grace, who has three daughters herself, said: “Surfing is a wonderful sport and it is so heartening to see so many young and older women getting involved in it.
Surfing brings us in contact with nature in a very pure way. It’s been a critically important part of my life.