Hugh Sheehy, CTO and Chief Product Officer on Kitesurfing & Goldsmithing

What I love the most about Kitesurfing is that it is simply a blast! You go fast, jump, sail in the waves, and see seals or even dolphins … and that’s just in Dublin. It’s a thrilling sport that you get to do out in nature and where there is always something new to learn.

My name is Hugh Sheehy. I’m currently CTO and Chief Product Officer of an e-mobility start-up. We’re still pre-launch, but getting ready for a UK launch later in the year. We have people in the UK, Italy, the USA, and India. In a broader sense, I’m essentially both a highly commercial CTO and a highly technical business leader. So, I create or implement technology and operational processes to solve a business problem or to chase a business opportunity: a problem solver or “opportunity creator”.

Like many people, my life has had its adventures. But in the end, I am an “engineer” … of some sort or other. I started off as an engineer in the offshore oil business (actually as an “Explosion Protection Engineer”). I then worked on deepwater subsea projects, then in research and got a few patents. Lots of computing and even a bit of machine learning. After several years, I quit and then did an MBA at INSEAD in France and moved into the telecom and internet world in the early 2000s. Since then, I’ve done technology roles, start-ups, and commercial/operations roles in places like Google. In the last several years, I’ve done several roles as an interim CTO or complex project lead. Essentially, whether in commercial roles or technology roles, I’m always trying to change and improve things. My personality is just like that – I’m not patient and not good at letting anything alone!

I have not always lived in Dublin – I grew up in Ireland, then lived in the UK, the Netherlands, France, and Spain. I worked for stretches in the USA, India, Belgium, Thailand, the Philippines, Nigeria, and a few other places too. By this stage I guess I really am some kind of “world citizen” – I’m Irish, my wife is Dutch, and the children are Spanish!

Along the way, I managed to learn Dutch, Spanish, and French, which I speak in varying degrees of rustiness. That’s great for listening in to conversations in and around Dublin these days! What’s nice about living and working in different places is that you really learn different ways of looking at the world. Though it does mean I don’t really act like a “proper Irishman” anymore. That can be interesting because I look and sound like a “proper Irishman” … but I’m really not anymore.

Outside of my job, I love Kitesurfing. I grew up sailing and windsurfing around Kinsale, and have sailed everything from small dinghies to large keelboats. So I’ve been interested in kitesurfing since it first appeared.

While we lived in Spain, we were also really busy racing keelboats. We used to race in the big regattas in Barcelona each year. Those were fun because people like the King of Spain and Antonio Banderas were also sailing and would be at the parties after the day’s racing – those were good parties!

Then, when we came back to Ireland, we felt that keelboats were too much hassle and were a bit too boring. So we got into dinghy sailing, which is much more exciting. That lasted a few years; we then looked at kitesurfing again and thought “if we’re going to do it, we might as well do it now”, so we did. I say “we” because my wife and eldest daughter also kitesurf. My daughter is an instructor these days!

Walking in from Poolbeg – dad and daughter

While kitesurfing is certainly an “equipment sport”, you don’t have to have that much stuff. One board and two kites are enough for most people. There’s a shop in Clontarf called Pure Magic that’ll always do you a good deal too. Once you’re comfortable and able to do the basics, then you can either stick to one board and two kites or – if you have three kiters in the house like us – end up with a load of stuff! We recently bought a foilboard, which is super cool. I can’t do it yet, but I’m working on it. And yes, it’ll all still fit in the car.

Possibly the most important piece of equipment in Ireland is a good wetsuit. Wetsuits now are amazing; they’re flexible and comfortable. Add a hood and boots and you can kite quite comfortably even on the coldest days. And Ireland is rarely really cold. Often, we see people walking their dogs on the beach wearing jeans and short jackets on a winter’s day. You can tell they think we’re crazy going into the water. But we’re warm. They’re cold!

Kiting in Garrylucas, Cork (photo from Kitesportcenter)

Ireland is an amazing place for water sports like kiting. Dublin’s pretty good, but the south and west and north are terrific. There are too many places to list, but Achill and Castlegregory are probably the best known. Achill brings the best kiters in the world to an event every year and they’re always amazed at the conditions. Ireland has lots of wind and waves and – as I said – it’s really not that cold! Other than that, Spain has some great spots. Tenerife and Tarifa are very well known, though they can get VERY crowded. The Bay of Roses in the north of Spain is much mellower.

I have so many great experiences with kitesurfing. Isn’t it true that everyone remembers their first time? Because it’s such a multi-sided sport, there are a lot of first times. There’s the first time you get going really fast. The first time you get a decent jump. The first time you properly catch a wave. And then you can find yourself some day on a blue ocean, able to see the seabed way below, kiting past mountains in the west of Ireland. And you’ve gotten good enough that – for the first time – you can just look around and be there.

My future goal with kiting is to get better at jumping, then learn to kite on a surfboard, then learn to foil – that should keep me going.

Going fast in Mayo

Looking at my other passion, I also love Jewellery and Goldsmithing. I really paid no attention to jewellery until I met my wife; she always had an eye for style that I just didn’t have. Colours and shapes work in her brain in a way that’s mysterious to me. It was a whole new world. From her, I learned about different jewellery styles and to appreciate jewellery as an art form and as a technical craft. It’s not just horrid hard bits old ladies wear. There’s really a depth of craft and technology that people have been working on for thousands of years. And, on top of all that history, you have to invent something new.

When we landed in Dublin from Barcelona, Nicole (who’s Dutch) realised that changing country wasn’t enough excitement. So she decided to add a career change into the mix. She started by studying gemmology in London and then qualified as a goldsmith in Dublin. Then, after loads more practice, she set up Nicole van der Wolf Jewellery in 2015, selling online ( and through a gallery in Dublin.

I also do goldsmithing for the business. As an engineer, I was always drawn to the technical aspects of goldsmithing, and my inner fiddler always has me looking for ways to make it faster and easier … but Nicole kicks me out of the workshop and gets me back to fix the website.

The tag-line we finally settled on for Nicole van der Wolf Jewellery was “Jewellery that sparks a conversation”. Nothing she makes is boring or ordinary, and there’s always a story behind the design and behind the way it’s made. Some of the stuff is just amazing and uses stones and settings unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. Some of it is simple and inspired by classical Roman styles. But in either case, anyone who holds a piece in their hand will feel what’s different. Apart from her own inspirations, she also does commissions for people who have an idea in mind. She loves that part, but I get more of a kick from seeing the ideas that she comes up with.

One of my favourite experiences with this jewellery making is seeing Nicole come up with some crazy idea and then turn in into metal and mineral. That’s just amazing. I’ve also been lucky enough to sometimes see people buying a piece – seeing them hold it and turn it and squeeze it and realize what they’ve got in their hands. Realizing that it’s an heirloom already, even if it’s one of the simple pieces. Sounds corny, but it’s true.

Our future goal is to work to get Nicole’s designs onto mainland Europe. Ireland is a small market – there’s a big world out there.

My advice to anyone interested in kitesurfing is that you simply got to do it. It’s not as hard as it looks and it’s physically pretty easy. Be sure to learn somewhere with shallow water. Warm water would be nice, but being able to stand up after you fall makes a huge difference. If you have to swim all the time, it’s just a mess.

Then, since kitesurfing involves a lot of coordination, it helps to break it down into smaller chunks. Get a small power kite and learn to fly a kite first, just standing on the beach. And go someplace like WakeDock and do a session or two there on a board. Handling the kite and the board at the same time is much easier if you’ve learned them separately.

As for goldsmithing – the biggest thing would be to go watch a goldsmith at work. There’s a lot of flame and melting and rasping and banging involved. It’s hard work to create something beautiful.

I think it’s hugely important to share the passions of technologists. The split people sometimes create between “business people” or “arty people” and “technology people” or “science people” drives me crazy. Richard Feynmann was right – the more you know about more things, the more you can appreciate both art and technology. Recently, art historians figured out that Vermeer was using technology to craft his paintings, and those paintings are astonishing things.

There is always more than tech. It’s called life. Tech can help us live it better, but you still have to go live it.

Tenerife Kiting

Feature Photo is credited to Kitesportcenter.

If you want to see more of Nicole Van der Wolf’s exceptional jewellery, be sure to check the following links:

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