Surf’s Up!

As you may have noticed in this month’s ‘What’s on’, this Sunday saw the World Belly Board Championships come to Chapel Porth beach in Cornwall.

The World Belly Boarding Championships

The World Belly Boarding Championships

This annual event had some fantastic weather and I really wish I had been able to visit as it seems like a great day out (even for a bellyboarding novice like myself). You can see a promotional video here:

Although the contest has only been taking place for the last 12 years, it builds on a long heritage of Cornish (and national) surfing. According to the British Surfing Museum  (who knew Britain had a Surfing Museum?!), Surf riding – or bellyboarding as people have come to describe it – dates back at least a century in Britain.

Surfers using coffin lids

Surfers using coffin lids – Perranporth 1919 Copyright Museum of British Surfing

There is evidence of surfing in the UK in the very early 1900s, but it became a popular beach activity in Cornwall and Devon at the end of World War I. A mixture of wealthy Brits travelling to Hawaii & learning to surf, and soldiers chatting to Commonwealth surfers in the trenches combined to create something quintessentially British. Apparently, even Edward VIII (while still the Prince of Wales) had a try at surfing when visiting Hawaii.

 

American Surf Meet

American Surf Meet

While more low key than the comparative American surf culture, British surf riding in the rolling Atlantic breakers became a must do activity for hundreds of men and women.

Vintage surfer photo offered on Ebay

Vintage surfer photo offered on Ebay

 

After the Second World War, bellyboarding resumed as Brits returned to the beaches in their droves, and many thousands of bellyboards were made in the 1950s and 60s to service the growing demand.

Belly boards on display

Belly boards on display

The standing up British surf scene has advanced in line with the global surf industry and Britain has produced notable surfers, but bellyboarding remains the same simple pleasure; and many of the early belly boarders have remained active surfers into their 80s – often with their original boards.

Vintage Surfer with 'Coffin Board'

Vintage Surfer with ‘Coffin Board’

Many of these original boards appear at the Champs and are still ridden all across the country in the same exhilarating way.

Vintage Surfer

Vintage Surfer

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