TotalSUP sat down to talk to Hugh Bonner, the MD for Mara Media who are hosting the first Ireland On the Water Expo in Northern Ireland on March 4 and 5.
Hugh Bonner and Fintan McCarthy from the Ireland on the water Expo team
Hi Hugh, nice to talk to you today about the Ireland On the Water Expo. Your event page looks great, you have found an excellent location for your first watersports expo. Can we start by finding out a bit more about you and the company behind the show. Do you have a background in watersport or are you new to our watery world?
I think it is safe to say that my love of the water is at the core of my existence here in North West Donegal. I wake up to the view of the Atlantic Ocean each morning and have spent my entire life involved in water based activities. I began my career as a fisherman at the young age of 15, working on a number of boats fishing everything from mackerel to whiting and salmon throughout the coast of Ireland and Europe.
My passion for the marine industry then evolved into taking over the leading fishing newspaper, The Skipper back in 2005 and since then, we have developed numerous successful exhibitions including The Skipper Expos, Irish Angling Show and Irish Cycling Show.
Aside from business though, my love of the ocean is at the very core of my personal life. Carrickfinn beach is located on my doorstep and I can proudly say that having travelled across the globe, it is the most beautiful beach in the world.
My wife and I enjoy sea swimming and together with a group of our friends, we swim throughout the year in a little cove in Carrickfinn, known locally as the Boat Strand. Despite the ice cold temperatures of the water in Ireland, the sense of calmness and tranquility we get from swimming is second to none.
I am also an avid kayaker and I have taken part in adventure races throughout Ireland which involve, running, cycling and kayaking. This has now evolved into a new venture, and I am now involved in setting up the area’s first triathlon club.
Enjoying the clear waters of Carrickfinn Cove
This is your first show that covers the broader world of ‘watersport’ after several years of successful angling shows, what prompted you to take the step away from your base audience?
Simply, the growth and participation in all water sports, during Covid the interest in Surfing, SUP, Sea Swimming, Rowing and more had been amazing and people now love and react the water and it’s seen as a place to chill, relax and enjoy.
There has never been a show in Ireland that brings every aspect of the marine leisure sector together under one roof and we are delighted to be able to launch this now.
I have a vision of having a show where the entire family can come along and find something they are interested in. Take my own family as an example, my wife and I love sea swimming and kayaking, my son is a keen surfer and my daughter is interested in taking up stand up paddle boarding – we will all find what we are looking for at Ireland on the Water Expo and that will be the same for every family who visit the event.
In the event information you mention a wide range of exhibitors and activities for all, can you give us an idea of who will be there and what visitors can expect from the SUP side of things?
We have a great range of exhibitors for the inaugural exhibition, from pleasure boat companies showcasing their current range and repair services, to some of the country’s leading watersports stores including CH Marine, Flood Marine, Munster Marine and bogbay.com. With our roots in the angling sector, many of our former angling exhibitors will also be exhibiting including Duohook, Pontoons Ireland, Carrigaholt Sea Angling, Ardaire Springs and many more.
Even if you are simply thinking about taking up a watersport, we will have a whole host of exhibitors to give you the information you need to get you started, including Irish Wakeboard and Water Skiing Federation, Angling Ireland, Carlingford Lough, Wave Rides and PMG Training.
For those thinking about heading on a cruise or taking their love of the water even further and buying a home on the water, we will have Travel Counsellors, Water Lodge and Bluefield Houseboats there to help you to make the right choice.
In terms of SUP, we have a whole range of exhibitors providing everything that every enthusiast needs – Paddle Outlet, Flood Marine, Aqua Marina, Atlantic Kayaks and OS Marine as will be showcasing top quality boards, while our exhibitors Cosimac, CH Marine and Munster Marine will have all the accessories needed to prepare for the season ahead.
At TotalSUP our focus is everything that involves standing on the water, how can you tempt stand up paddlers to come to the show and maybe to spend some time exploring Northern Ireland?
As mentioned above, we have a whole host of exhibitors who will be showcasing the latest products from the leading SUP brands around the world including, Bote, Aqua Marina, Waveline, Saltrock, Sola.
Each of the exhibitors will not only have expert knowledge on the best products to buy for each visitor’s specific needs, they will also have lots of exclusive offers on their stands and SUP enthusiasts could bag themselves a real bargain if they visit the show.
The exhibition will be an immersive experience for visitors and provide them with an opportunity to talk about their passions with experts and like-minded SUP enthusiasts – we will also have a range of guest speakers at the event including Big wave Surfer and Paddle boarder, Al Meenie and Olympic rowing champion, Fintan McCarthy.
And have you ever been tempted to try SUP?
Yes, it is actually in my plan for this year – although I am running the show, it will also be an opportunity for me to discuss the possibility of setting up SUP lessons and activities at our local beach, ‘The Boat strand’ Carrickfinn – my sons have already mastered it but I would like to arrange something that will get lots of the locals involved – again, we have the perfect location for it on our doorstep.
Back to the show, from your event page it looks like a great location with some fantastic images illustrating just how beautiful NI is, can you tell us anything about the area and why paddlers should make the trip there?
We chose the Eikon, Lisburn as its a fantastic venue, easily reached from Dublin, Belfast on the Motorway with free parking and loads of exhibition space , so exhibitors can display their full range products. The Eikon centre has huge experience in holding shows such as Balmoral Show and the team are fantastic to work with.
Aside from the venue itself, the coastline along Northern Ireland and prime SUP settings in Stangford Lough and Moira lakes will mean that visitors can try out their new products after visiting the show.
For international visitors, the show will be the perfect starting point to enhance their SUP experiences and they will gain inside knowledge from exhibitors and visitors as to where they should try stand up paddleboarding in Ireland. It is the perfect excuse to experience the amazing SUP settings Ireland has to offer.
And following on from that, how is the fishing? Do you ever see yourself casting from a SUP into the calm waters of an Irish loch?
I would actually love to try this out – my own background is in commercial fishing but personally, I find the concept of SUP angling extremely therapeutic. Our exhibitors Paddle Outlet appear to be experts in this field and will be showcasing fantastic products so I will definitely be speaking to them – you never know SUP angling, might be the next activity my friends and I will undertake together.
Hugh and the team ready to welcome you to the first Ireland on the water expo
Thank you Hugh for taking the time to talk to us at TotalSUP about the Expo, it certainly looks like a fantastic area to explore by SUP and hopefully we will see you standing up soon.
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