Saltwater Stories - Gym+Coffee

Saltwater Stories

Posted by Alison Sheehy on

On World Ocean Day, we sat down with Finn Ní Fhaoláin, author, surfer, marine mammal observer and biologist!

Finn spends most days surrounded by water, both literally and figuratively. If she’s not surfing in it, she’s spending her days on boats and at docks for work + volunteering with Clean Coasts, or, she’s dreaming of getting back into and onto the ocean!

Her hero is Hawaiian freediver, artist and chef Kimi Werner and she credits her friends and boyfriend for keeping her motivated and now, after growing up in a multitude of places with her wandering parents (whether that was swimming in the South coast of India or supping hot chocolate in a nunnery with her dad!), she settled back in the seaside town of Bundoran where she carved out an incredible work+play niche for herself on Ireland’s wild west coast!

Irish Surfer Finn Ní Fhaoláin

What does 'Community' mean to you, and who is yours?!

What a wonderful question! I feel like we can have layers of community and right now we’re really learning how important they are to us. In Bundoran, there is this amazing community of (a lot of blow-ins) who came here for surf, but I think also stayed for the people. We adventure together, travel together, support each other through tough times, help each other open businesses, everything! Like I mentioned before there’s still that great college community and I’m also part of a women’s business network called ACORNS (for female entrepreneurs living in rural areas) which I just couldn't sing more highly about, I’ve been through two phases of the program and the support and mentorship is just amazing!

Tell us about your education background and what you do for work.

I did a half year of business (and hated it), dropped out, worked in the health food sector and then went back to college to do Earth & Ocean science in Galway and then did an MSc in Marine Biology in Cork. In subsequent years I did a chef course in Sligo and topped up my MSc with a course to become a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO). I’m a big fan of continued learning and diversifying after college, looking forward to doing a yoga instructor course in the next year.

I work freelance for the Irish Whale and Dolphin group as an MMO. I create content around healthy plant-based eating and living more sustainably via my social media and website ( and collaborating with other brands. My cookbook came out a few years ago with Gill Books and I’m working on an exciting (but top secret!) new project at the moment.

Finn Ní Fhaoláin Irish Surfer

What does water represent and mean to you?

It's everything! I’ve been a water baby since I was tiny, always running into the sea whatever time of year. Its work, its sport, its where I spend quality time with my friends and boyfriend. There’s no phones, no screens and little time to worry.

Being close to the sea has always affected where I live and the one year I lived in Cork city centre I really felt how much it was also an important part of stress reduction and a positive mental state.

When my dad moved to Sligo he got me a week of surf lessons at Easter break. I was completely hooked! I spent that entire summer after saving for my first board. During college, the surf club took up most of my sport, social and travel time and to this day the friends I made there are still some of my closest. We’ve since surfed, snowboarded and travelled together all over the world! I feel it's important to be honest too though, for people like me who’ve learned as a late teen or even in their twenties you can have such highs and lows in surfing! It's been some of the most adrenaline-packed days (trying to get to grips with bigger days), some of the most chilled (cruising on a longboard in a bikini on a sunny day) but also some of my most frustrating moments! You can feel like you’re not progressing, wiping out on every wave etc. Good lessons for life though!

What do you do in your work for Clean Coasts + marine mammal observation?

I love working with Clean Coasts as an Ambassador. It can mean many things from covering their events on social media (like at Sea Sessions), to helping organise beach cleans, highlighting marine plastic issues online and creating resources for people to help them reduce plastic consumption in their daily lives.

[Marine Mammal Observation is] a lot of time spent outside in the elements with binoculars. Basically it's my job to make sure whales, dolphins and seals are not negatively affected by anthropogenic noise (sound in the water created by humans). It can be working at sea for mapping surveys or what I’m doing now is observing if seals are affected by harbour construction. It can be really cool working on the same project for a longer time as the animals get used to you!

Stay tuned for more Saltwater Stories from Finn over the coming months!

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