‘The First Wave’: New Project to Record Oral History of British Surfing

Posted on 30/10/2012 by


An exciting new project recording stories about the history of surfing in Britain is underway. ‘The First Wave’ will be interviewing people with memories about the early days of the sport and how it has changed over the decades. The project is supported by a grant of £44,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Longboarder Ben Skinner launched the project during the last week of the school term by encouraging a group of students from his old secondary school, Richard Lander in Truro, to embrace surfing and surfing’s heritage:

Ben Skinner, 16 times British Champion and ranked 2nd in the World Surfing Games, said:

“The history of surfing in Britain is so interesting – with just a handful of pioneering people, some of them from Jersey where I was born, inspiring the thousands of people who surf today. So much has changed, even in the 20 years that I’ve been surfing. I think this is a great project and I can’t wait to hear the stories that emerge.”

Up to 100 interviews will be collected over the next few months and will be available at museums from the middle of next year, including the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and the Museum of British Surfing in Devon. The highlights from each of the interviews will be made into a short film and will be part of a website ‘thefirstwave.co.uk’ from the autumn.

Roger Mansfield, from Newquay, is author of one of the few books about British surfing history – ‘The Surfing Tribe’. He sees this project as a celebration of 50 years of surfing in Britain:

“2012 marks 50 years since surfing in Britain really took off and so it’s a perfect time for ‘The First Wave’ to be collecting these stories and turning them into an exciting permanent resource – both online and in museums. Surfing in different forms has been around in Britain for some time – Pip Staffieri, for example, built and surfed a wooden board in Newquay in 1940 – but it was in 1962 that things began to really take off. I see this year as surfing’s 50th Anniversary!”

The Museum of British Surfing, which opened its doors to the public in April, is a partner in the project. The museum, based in Braunton, North Devon, has the largest collection of surfboards and memorabilia in Europe. Its continuing research has uncovered surfing in Britain as early as 1890. Peter Robinson, Founder and Director of the Museum of British Surfing, is keen to see the results of this new initiative:

“This is a fantastic research project which will document the birth of modern surfing culture in Britain. ‘The First Wave’ will be collecting peoples’ earliest memories about a sport which has captured the imagination of many thousands of people in Britain and we are really excited to be working on the project.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund is funding the majority of the project. Richard Bellamy, Acting Head of the Heritage Lottery South West, sees ‘The First Wave’ as a good chance to engage young people and local communities in an exciting part of Britain’s heritage:

“This is an great opportunity for surfing communities across Britain to conserve and celebrate an important part of Britain’s heritage. This project also provides an excellent way for young people to embrace and explore our culture and heritage, the students at Richard Lander school have already shown just how exciting it can be to get involved in the recording of our history.”

‘The First Wave’ was initiated by Porthtowan Surf Life Saving Club, one of the first surf clubs in Britain and home to some of Britain’s earliest surfers. Chairman Adam Richards is looking forward to hearing more about the history of surfing in Cornwall, where the club is based, but also wants stories from surf spots elsewhere in England as well as Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands:

“‘The First Wave’ is about ensuring that the history of surfing is told by as many people as possible. We want the stories from the early days to be told by those who were there. We would like people to come forward if they have any stories to tell about surfing in all parts of Britain – particularly from the 1970s and before.”

‘The First Wave’ is delivered by Porthtowan Surf Life Saving Club with support from the Museum of British Surfing, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and the Cornwall Audio Visual Archive.  If you need more information, images or interviews about ‘The First Wave’ project please contact Project Manager, Helen Munro Berry: Helen@thefirstwave.co.uk  or 07980 817970. http://thefirstwave.co.uk/

Posted in: Project News