Four years ago Jordan Collins was a Surf Kayak rookie having only just got into the niche sport as a development of his general canoeing interests.
Fast forward to 2019 and the young Strathfoyle man is preparing to compete in his second Surf Kayaking World Championship in South America.
Jordan will shortly represent Ireland at the competition in the coastal town of Huanchaco, about 400 miles north of the Peruvian capital, Lima, from July 19 to July 26.
Two years ago Jordan competed for Ireland in the 2017 World Championship in Portrush where the team finished fourth overall.
But this year, with more waves under his belt, and 10 talented teammates travelling along with him, Jordan is confident that a podium finish is within reach.
“We are currently fourth in the world as a team. Our individual competitors hold several world titles and European titles between them. We have both junior and senior athletes in our team.
“So we intend to gain a podium finish as a team this year, and our individual competitors are serious contenders for individual world titles, both at senior and junior level,” he said.
So how did a young man from a peripheral suburban area next to an industrial estate on the outskirts of Derry get into what he describes himself as a “minority sport within a minority sport”?
Jordan says he first became interested in kayaking through a youth diversion programme run by the Enagh Youth Forum several years ago. This eventually progressed to the more specialised Surf Kayaking discipline in which he is now a World Championship level competitor.
He says his involvement in the sport has taught him important values about respect for nature that he now tries to pass on to other young people through his volunteering with the Extern charity.
“We would have walked across Enagh Lough on the ice when we were younger and swam in it during the summer and wouldn’t have thought about the dangers.
“Then I went down to do the kayaking course through the Enagh Youth Forum. The first time I was there I threw down some litter and the guy asked me not to. We would have given lip back, would have been smoking and all that, but the course and the kayaking taught us a lot of good values.
“We stopped throwing away litter, began to respect the environment and respect ourselves. Now I take a lot of young people from Strathfoyle - from all over Derry - kayaking and do big days around the time of August 15 (the night of the Feast of the Assumption bonfires).
“I’ve gained employment through the sport and it’s taught me respect for nature. It’s good to give something back.”
Jordan is currently taking a year out from the Galway-Mayo Institute for Technology in Castlebar, where he is completing a degree in Outdoor Education, in order to properly prepare for Peru.
And preparations are going well. Studying on the west coast and living in Derry have provided an ideal training camp. Paddle surfing, he explains, is one of the only disciplines in which Ireland can offer truly world class conditions.
“There’s good surf. I think I’ve spent too much time surfing. When I go back (to Castlebar) I need to focus a bit more,” he jokes.
Jordan says the North West coast has a global reputation as a surfing mecca, particularly Donegal, Sligo and Mayo, where he’s put in plenty of practice hours since Portrush.
“It’s renowned. People think you go down to Bundoran and there’s Tullan and The Peak (two famous waves/breaks) which you can see, but there are loads of secret spots.
“There are more than 12 waves on any given day along that stretch of coast,” he says.
He accepts conditions will be much different to what he is used to when he arrives at the championship site outside Trujillo in North Western Peru next month.
But surf is surf and a week or two familiarising himself with the local environment before the competition begins should put him and the rest of the Irish team in good stead for the main event and a podium finish.
“We placed fourth the last time. There’s no reason why we can’t go on to place third or second this time,” he adds.
Jordan is grateful to the local green energy firm, Evermore Energy, which runs a biomass combined heat and power in Lisahally and which, having heard of the local involvement at the championship, agreed to sponsor the Irish team’s participation.