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'Surfs Up' show at National Maritime Museum Cornwall.








National Maritime Museum Cornwall

"Surfs Up" surfing history show at National Maritime Museum Cornwall

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 24 June, 2005 : - - When you visit the beach and look at neoprene clad bodies running down to the sea, holding a board under their arms, as they throw themselves into the refreshing waters and paddle out towards the crest of a wave; do you ever wonder ‘why do they do it?’. 

From the 9 July the National Maritime Museum Cornwall can now give you the answers with a brand new major exhibition, supported by Wavelength magazine, called Surf’s Up! celebrating the sport, its history, origins and lifestyle.

To many of us, ‘surfing’ might conjure up soundtracks from the Beach Boys, thoughts of Australia and California, blonde haired blue eyed dare-devils that challenge themselves to drop down the face of some of the largest waves in the world and bikini clad ‘babes’ that act as groupies around the modern day icons of the sport. However, surf’s origins couldn’t be more different.

‘Wave riding’ was first recorded by Captain James Cook in 1778 when he witnessed a number of the indigenous people of Hawaii ‘wavesliding’ on solid wooden boards. Practiced mostly by those of higher status, even the King or Queen took part, this new found sport was threatened by disease and the Christian missionary zeal brought to the Hawaiin islands by settlers from Europe and North America in the C19.

After almost being eradicated, the sport re-appeared in the early 1900’s when Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiin Olympic Gold swimmer and the father of modern day surfing, took part in a surf tour of America, Australia and New Zealand which launched the sport into the media spotlight and captured the public’s imagination. Kings graced the waves again in 1920 when Prince Edward (later to be Edward VIII), under the guidance of Duke, jumped on a board in Oahu, Hawaii and became the first recorded Briton to surf.

However, the sport had reached English shores just before this in 1918, when surfing on bellyboards was born, instantly becoming popular in the Channel Islands and Cornwall. In 1929, Newquay formally announced itself as the surfing centre for the sport and to this day the town is seen to be at the heart of surfing in the UK.

Bellyboarding was generally referred to as surfing until the 1960s when the art of stand-up surfboard-riding reclaimed the definitive meaning of the word. Jimmy Dix and Pip Staffieri became legends in the art of stand-up surfing, introducing the sport on the north Cornish coast and experimenting with various designs and builds, bringing Hawaiin styled surfboards to the UK and propelling the sport of surfing into a whole new cult category.


Jersey Surfboard Club 1959 : photo John D Houiellebecq


Throughout the 1960s the cult grew, greatly influenced by the wave-riding skills and modern surfboards of the South African and Australian lifeguards, hired to reduce the rising number of summer drownings on Jersey and Cornish beaches.

Today 300,000 surfers are estimated to hit the beach each year in the UK alone and this figure doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of individuals and families trying the sport every summer.

The South West today, specifically Newquay, hosts international and national surf competitions with sportsmen and women travelling from around the globe to win big prizes, supported by large sponsors, to win the title of world’s best surfer. The sport has grown from a tribal past time with heavy wooden boards to a global industry mixing traditional skills with modern day technology. Surfing has passed through many evolutionary designs, styles and fashion fazes, creating a surf industry and a fashion style that is adopted by surfers and non-surfers alike resulting in a £200m a year sport, half of which is generated in the South West.

This new exhibition gives land-lovers and surfers a view of the sport. Featuring a number of interactives; offering you the opportunity to judge a competition and match your marks against official judges as well as a wave tank, showing how waves are generated, how they break and what waves surfers are looking for and you can even feel what its like to surf inside the tube!

It wouldn’t be complete without a look at surf board designs through the ages and with 20 different examples of boards; including an early 1930s Hawaiin hollow wooden board built by Tom Blake and, in stark contrast, Russell Winter’s, the UK’s number one surfer, Ripcurl Boardmasters winning board from 2002, it is very clear to see the evolution of board shape and designs over the last 70 plus years.

With a 1930s knitted surfing outfit, samples of wetsuits over the years, the first edition of the world’s first surfing magazine and other titles, archive surfing footage and everything any surfer or non-surfer could associate with this cult sport, this surfing exhibition is a ride not to be missed.

Surf’s Up! launches at the Maritime Museum on 9 July 2005 and runs to 8 January 2006. For a preview of the exhibition visit

Further information, please contact:
Tamsin Loveless, Head of Communications or Rosanne Perry, Communications Assistant on : 01326 214536/558 M: 07855 798536 E:;

Editor's notes:
Surf’s Up! is a touring exhibition developed by National Maritime Museum Cornwall, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, Bristol City Museums and Art Gallery, the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth. It has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council through its Renaissance programme.

Tour Dates:
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter 26 March – 27 June 2005
National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth 9 July – 8 January 2006
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Jan 2006 – May 2006
Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, May 2006 – June 2006
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth July 2006


Rod Sumter soul turn : photo Doug Wilson





• 1920s coffin lid bellyboard
In the period immediately after the First World War, early surfers lashed two planks of wood together (affectionately known as a ‘coffin lid’) and propelled themselves forward on the broken white water. The technique is thought to have been adopted from the beaches in Durban, South Africa.

• 1930s bathing costume
Bellyboarding grew to have a strong recreational following from the 1930s onwards. The first surfers didn’t have the luxury of a wetsuit to keep out the cold just machine-knitted wool bathing suits.

• 1937 Hawaiian hollow wooden board built by Tom Blake
Stand-up surfing first appeared in the UK during the 1940s and was pioneered by solo surfers, such as Jimmy Dix and Pip Staffieri, who experimented with building and riding stand-up surfboards. Jimmy, a dentist who holidayed in Newquay, wrote a letter to Hawaii enquiring how to build a suitable board for stand-up surfing. He was bowled over when this 13ft Hawaiian hollow wooden board, crafted by the most famous maker of surfboards in the world in the 1930s, arrived in reply. This board marks the beginning of the sport in Britain and Europe and has to be seen to be believed – it’s huge.

• 1961 hollow wooden board built for Newquay Surf Lifesaving Club.
During the 1960s surfing was influenced by the wave-riding skills and modern surfboards of South African and Australian lifeguards in Jersey and Cornwall. This board, built by Bill Bailey for Newquay Surf Lifesaving Club, is typical of the era. The board is very heavy (30lbs+) and has a drain plug to flush out the water after use. Without a fin for guidance it was difficult to manoeuvre but surf lifesavers experimented with stand-up surfing on just this type of board.

• First edition covers of all British produced surf magazines.
Surf culture has spread by word, sound, photo and moving image for over 40 years. Surfers felt the need to tell their own story which has led to the creation of numerous specialist surfing magazines. The magazines have served to create a collective identity and spread vital information, helping to connect the surfing community nationwide. The arrival from California of the world’s first surfing magazine – ‘Surfer’ – inspired the publication of several British magazines dedicated to the sport. The earliest was British Surfer (1967-69) and the most recent, Pit Pilot (2003).

• Russell Winter’s 2002 Ripcurl Boardmasters competition surfboard.
Russell started surfing aged 10 and by the age of 15 he became the 1990 European Junior Champion. Further successes brought him sponsorship deals which enabled him to commit to a serious competition plan and become a professional surfer. Winning a World Contest Tour event at his home beach of Fistral, on this very board, was a real career highpoint.

• Eden Project Eco-board 2004
The modern surfboard industry is constantly looking for new materials to build the next generation of surfboards. Whilst mainstream producers use refined petrochemical by-products others have sought alternatives. This board is made from a balsa wood core and coated with a composite layer of hemp cloth in a matrix of resin derived from an oil producing plant. The ‘eco-board’ demonstrates that plant-derived materials can replace petrochemical derivatives to create a product that will allow surfers to enjoy their sport without detriment to the environment.


John Roughton, John Smith & Ian Davie 1965 : photo John Smith

• Frozen wave – life-size static tubing wave.
To surfers, the extreme feelings experienced when riding a wave can take on a spiritual dimension. To convey this through art, film, music, or words is only touching the surface: there is no real alternative to having a go yourself! This exhibit gives you the opportunity to get as close an experience as possible, without getting wet! Stand on the board and see how it feels to be in the ‘green room’. You’ll be stoked!

• Judge your own surfing competition
Surfing competitions have increasingly become the public face of the sport and this interactive gives you the opportunity to judge your very own surf contest. Use the scorecards and follow the video instructions to score the surfers for their skill in the waves.

• Finding the perfect wave - Wave tank
Learn all about how waves are formed and what conditions make the ‘perfect’ wave. Turn the handle on the wave tank and see how the swell travels along the surface of the water until it encounters a much shallower bottom, and the top of the wave falls forward to break onto the shore.

• The main stages in the manufacture of a surfboard.
The surfboard is central to the experience of wave-riding. Its design and construction have always been at the forefront of the sport’s development. This cut-away board shows the main stages of the manufacture of a modern surfboard from its beginnings as a polyurethane blank through to the final stages of adding the fibreglass skin or ‘glassing’.

• The Surfers 1973
Produced by TSW, this fascinating 30 minute thoroughly old fashioned documentary takes a stoic and serious look at the Cornish surf scene in the 1970s. Kick back, nestle into a seat and enjoy this very ‘British’ film in true retro style.

Updated & Revised European Surforecasts

More European surfing news available here 

Rosanne Perry

History - Surfersvillage


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