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Surf History.

Below is some info to give you a taster of the history of surfing, and some of the legends that have made surfing what it is today.


Regarding the south coast UK
"It needed a brave spirit to tote a surf board around the South coast in the late 50s/early 60s. It provoked mirth. After all 'everyone knows there is no surf in the South of England' !!!  It took an even braver soul to try and take a board on a bus.
There was one unexpected source of rare waves in those days: the Atlantic liners. The original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, together with the American equivalents, would just be starting to speed up as they headed out towards the Nab Tower. Their sailing times would be given in a local paper. If their transit coincided with a Spring low tide on Southsea beach there would be several bow waves that were still 1 or 2 feet high by the time they arrived. They were a kind of micro Severn Bore for optimists. I managed to ride them on a couple of occasions (and failed more often) It would be a paddle out until about level with the end of South Parade Pier. and then a long careful ride in. It needed a big board to stay with it.I have a feeling that today's big container ships are subject to more severe speed restrictions. It is forgotten just how fast those liners were. They could be doing 25-30 knots as they headed out of Spithead".    Words from Peter. Sent in by Mark

'This board would have been about 1962. The board was built by Rob Jewell. He was only in his teens when he built it and it was a superb bit of carpentry. I believe it is still in his family, somewhere.'    Words from Peter. Sent in by Mark

My uncle's surf wagon. He moved to Wales in the early 60's and bought this Austin hearse as a surf wagon!

 He left Portsmouth with his new wife and dropped out of society, smoked home grown and surfed and bummed around Wales discovering breaks. In the summer would surf for the crowds on the beach in a purple felt trilby!

"Above"  Pictures of some of his home made boards from when he was a teenager! Sent in by Mark.                                            Surf Wagons from the 60's here


BILBO .... the genesis of a life-style

The story of Bilbo is very much the story of the early history of British Surfing. The genesis of the Bilbo surfboard becoming synonymous with the discovery of a new fun ocean life-style being forged on the beaches of
Britain in the Sixties.

The early development of surfing in Great Britain was crucially influenced by the time spent, money invested and ethos shared by all those involved in the Bilbo clan.
By the late sixties it was like a tribe with its shapers, laminators, shop workers and competition team all innovating, working hard, having fun and surfing at every chance.

"Bilbo ... a name from the era of British soul surfing"


The following is very much their story:-

In the year of 1962 in Cornwall, two Newquay lifeguards were making their entry into the world of wave riding, firstly on wave skis, then hollow wooden paddleboards. They'd heard of 'malibus', a new modern surfboard idea originating from California, with a foam core covered by fibreglass, but never seen one .......that is until McDonald hit town!

The American, Doug McDonald, impressed Bailey with his surfing skill and good advice. He was on his way home to the States and offered his Californian built 10'6'' foam and fibreglass Bragg surfboard for sale.

Bill bought the board and his yellow Ford van too! Now he was a surfer with a mobile home in which he could live at the beach. The first, but by no means the last in the following decades!

Within days of this event four young Australian life-savers, one of them Bob Head, turned up on the beach at Great Western with newly built surfboards manufactured by Barry Bennett in Sydney.

Correction/update Sent in By Bob Head.

The Surfboards were made by 'SCOTT DILLON' who was emerging as the greatest innovator

of surfboard manufacturers of the time.

Once the local lifeguards Bailey and Wilson had seen the Aussies in action in the waves their sole aim was to obtain similar boards. Their only real option was to make them!

Bailey the technical minded craftsman was plotting the next move. After much experimentation he succeeded in producing foam blanks that would enable modern surfboard production to commence.

Bill Bailey started producing his custom model boards in a Newquay garage in 1963, and Bob Head quite separately was making his 'Friendly Bear' surfboards in a chicken shack up the coast.

Everything built was bought immediately by a new audience of aspiring British surfers hungry to ride the waves. Surf fever had begun to hit Britain!

Bob Head proved himself to be the finest surfer seen in British waters at that time and he and the three other Aussies gave many exhibitions of surfing at Watergate Bay and Tolcarne beach in Newquay, popularising the
sport in the publics eye.

In 1965 Bill Bailey, Bob Head, Doug Wilson and Plymouth businessman Freddy Blight who had experimented building a couple of boards for his sons, decided to join forces as a company dedicated to advancing the development
of surfing in Europe. The name Bilbo was born, derived from the Christian names of Bill Bailey and Bob Head.

Production of Bilbo surfboards started in the spring of 1965 in temporary buildings at Pargolla Road in Newquay. Over the next few years new buildings were erected and by 1970 the factory at Pargolla Road had grown to become
one of the finest surfboard factories in the world. The shaping rooms were custom built, including such refined features as dust extraction, profile lighting and central heating. There were separate finishing rooms for glassing, sanding, glossing and polishing.

Bilbo had diversified to also produce quality skateboard decks fitted with imported U.S. Hobie trucks with clay wheels. This marked the very beginning of skateboarding in Britain!

In the spring of 1967 the door was opened to the public at the Bilbo Surf Shop on the Station Forecourt Newquay, marking the first fully stocked dedicated surf shop in the country.

A year later a further Bilbo shop was opened in Mumbles in south Wales managed by top Team Rider Dave Friar. The hunger for information andsurfboards from the newly emerging mass of Welsh wave riders had to be fed!

Most of the products sold at the shops were designed by Bilbo and manufactured in the United Kingdom. One good example was the first purpose designed surfing wetsuits produced by the newly formed GUL Wetsuits were
originally sold exclusively through the Bilbo outlets.

Under the brand name of Big Gun, Doug Wilson started a company to produce surfwear including shorts, jackets and T-shirts for sale through the Bilbo Shops, marking the start of distinctive clothing for British surfers to wear.

Big Gun eventually became the manufacturer under licence of Hang Ten from Long Beach in California, the most famous American surf clothing company of the time.
Many of the best designs produced for Bilbo at the time never reached the surfing market due to the lack of close register silk screen printing facilities. However many of the designs and ideas created by Bilbo still set
the standards for present day surfwear.

During these formative years Bilbo was a breeding ground of talent; for many individuals, in the factory, shop or competition team who would grow with surfing to become innovators in the world of surfing in their own right.

The factory always welcomed visiting surfers, such as international stars Rodney Sumpter, Keith Paull and Bob Cooper, plus many lesser-known others who passed on their travelled knowledge and adventures to the local

Production shaper Chris Jones grew to become one of the most experienced custom shapers in Europe, having earlier contributed enormously to the introduction and development of shortboard designs in the late sixties.
Shop-worker Paul Holmes evolved via Tracks 'the surf paper' in Australia to become editor of Surfer magazine in California, where he pioneered the introduction of a surf programme to US network TV. Competition Team member
and occasional shaping room cleaner Roger Mansfield progressed to pioneer the development of the surf school concept in Europe in the early Eighties.

Bilbo was very much about open communication and constant innovation.

Many of the techniques pioneered at the Bilbo factory were passed on to the general surfing community as it grew, enabling other similar manufacturing ventures to start up in different parts of the country.

It is in this light that Bilbo can claim to be the singlemost influential force in the development of British surfing and it is through their  Pioneering efforts that the sport of surfing has become so well established in the UK.

Then as now, Bilbo is an original and authentic force for quality, both in the waves and in the world of surfing.

"Bilbo ... a name from the era of British soul surfing"

Text written by RogerMansfield/

A few words from Matt 'buffalo' Hammersley
My family own the porth sands holiday flats and the blue doored garages there, they were the site of the first ever surfboard factory in the uk
It was Bill and Bob who founded bilbo, they had a factory there. the defunked wavelength magazine FSO ( for surfers only) has a photo and write up in issue one, they then went onto to Pargola road to start the full time factory properly as mentioned above.
The first two garages have just been demolished for the new building of the porth sands holiday flats, but the last two, finishing and glossing, are being kept intact with a view for a 'blue' plaque to be erected to tell of their heritage and use.
I still own a board we believe was made there. The board i have mentioned is a 10 foot bilbo/bickers pre 63' with a hatchet fin on the tail similar to the boards ridden by phil edwards, velzy, jacobs, vanartstalen etc in the early 60's. no logos but roger cooper recons he knew when the board was made as it has a slight twist in it due to early lighting in the garages being not quite level when the blank was shaped, and hence the slight still surfs great though!
The Seven Bore words by Matt 'buffalo' Hammersley
'Severn Bore' and the surfing there, its a huge part of the uk surf scene and uk surfing heritage. I have been surfing it for over 12 years myself and 26 years surfing in the uk.
Rod Sumpter had the original record for world distance surfing there, it featured in the surf film ''the pure outer-most limits of fun'' in the 70's and has seen countless surfers world wide having a go to beat the record, namely Steve king, Dave Lawson, Guts Griffiths, James Jones, the gill, Pj, the Malloy brothers and most recently several very famous Hawaiians, South Africans and Aussies!!!......our own Steve king still holds the record at 7 miles! my personal record is 4 and 3/4 miles.
It was first surfed by 'mad' Jack Churchill, brother of Winston Churchill, who had just returned from Australia after the second world war! one of the first surfers in the uk!!! he rode it for 1/2 mile at 'stonebench'...the worlds first unofficial surfing distance record, and it even has a roman temple (now in ruins) to the river godess sabrina - the local surf crews name for the river still - as the wave drowned a legion of roman soldiers trying to cross the river, as the river goddess rode her chariot up the river on the face of the wave screaming at them - we think it must have been a local fisherwoman in her corrical out of control being bounced along the face of a big wave.
Denny Waller

Recently I have been talking to Denny "The River Rat" Waller, he surfed in the "Dave Sweet" surf team up against big names like Dewey Weber, Corky Carroll and Mark Martinson etc; He also managed the Dave Sweet surf shop for a number of years.

In his words,...... 'I am intending to go down as the last dinosaur in the sport. Not only have I only ridden boards with single fins and at least 9' in length, I also have a virgin ankle (never been leashed), ride only on paraffin wax, shun the use of rubber, and wear my surf trunks at mid thigh only. It worked in the 50's and 60' works now!'

For more information on Denny Waller, a master of riding a surfboard backwards check out his website


Nat Young 2000

This is a pic of me (looking a bit rough after spending the night on the beach) with Nat Young (The Animal) taken June 2000 he was in the uk to sell a book on surf rage. Nat has done more for surfing than I have space for on this site! enough said..


Jeff Clark & Mavericks 2002.


Me with Jeff Clark 2002

Meeting Jeff Clark was cool, he had all the time in the world to tell me surf stories and show me photos he had taken, I met a gold minor in Australia who was the only other person I have met with the same spark in the eye....

Mavericks is said to be the most dangerous big wave spots in the world partly to do with the jagged rock bottom and treacherous currents, not to mention it's pretty much in the middle of Great White Shark breeding ground. Jeff Clark pictured (left with me 2002) was the first person to ever surf Mavericks the year was 1975 and it was 15 years before anyone joined him in the cold merkey waters.
Mavericks named by Jeff Clark, is today considered one of the most challenging waves in the world. The wave can be found at Pillar Point, Half Moon Bay, California. To read more about the Ledgend Jeff Clark Click on link.


Mavericks at Low tide and with little swell!!

If you have anything to add to this page just email it to us.

The Tiki patch above comes from the 1960s and was from one of the first surf shops in the uk. Tiki Surf Shop, Braunton, North Devon and is still there today! Click on logo to see other jacket patches