DISCOVER THE HISTORY OF THE CORNISH ART OF SURF RIDING
Sally Parkin has made a business from her 50 year passion for surf-riding which began in Cornwall as a child
Sally Parkin has made a business from her 50 year passion for surf-riding which began in Cornwall as a child. CHRISSY HARRIS reveals how Sally has unearthed a fascinating history of the sport
It started with an old book. Sally Parkin’s family home was full of them but one in particular intrigued her: The Art of Surf Riding (1953 edition) by author Ronald S. Funnel.
He wrote of a new and exhilarating sport’ that was rapidly gaining many fans in England’.
I loved the art deco style of the cover,’ says Sally who was just five years old when she started riding the waves on wooden surfboards with her father and sister at Porthcothan, North Cornwall. This summer she will be celebrating her 50th year of surf-riding.
I was intrigued to find that there was an instructional guidebook to this sport and that in the 1950s it was considered to be a cool and stylish activity,’ she continues. It was also very special that the author rated Porthcothan as one of the best beaches for surf riding and that he had personally taken a photograph of surf riders there.’
Over the years, the book got lost but Sally was desperate to track it down. She eventually found it through an expert based in California.
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I soon realised how rare it was,’ says Sally. But in losing and then finding it, well, it made me more interested in the history of surf riding.’
It was to be one of those life-changing moments. Shortly after tracking down the book, Sally set up The Original Surfboard Company in 2008.
The firm sells hand made vintage-style wooden surfboards, which Sally says allow the user a closer and more exciting wave experience’ than a thicker, polystyrene equivalent.
The trend is catching on and the Original Surfboard Company, based at Sally’s home near Silverton, Devon, has customers all over the world, from Australia to Hawaii.
But as the success of her business has grown, so too has Sally’s thirst for surf riding knowledge.
She spends hours at a time, delving into the past of this once extremely popular British pastime.
Through her research, Sally has found references to the original British surf sport in a cartoon for Punch magazine, printed in 1914.
That was a real “wow” moment for me,’ says Sally. Up until that point, all the research appeared to say that the wooden boards came into Britain after the war when the men came back from the trenches.
The cartoon seems to redefine when people were using these boards.
The fact that it [surf riding] was happening in England before 1914 is very significant.’
Sally’s voyage of discovery has seen her collect countless books, articles, posters and other memorabilia, which she wants to share with fans of her wooden boards.
Some copies of publications and postcards she has tracked down are for sale on her website to help showcase the heritage of a pastime that was once considered the height of cool.
Collecting the memorabilia feels like a significant part of my company’s branding and the promotion of these boards,’ says Sally, who is keen to shake off the belief that surf riding, or bellyboarding, as it is sometimes called, is only for the over-sixties.
Back in 2008 bellyboarding had such a poor image but I believed it could become stylish again.’
Sally says a lot of her research has come from railway company posters and publicity guide books, with their beautiful artwork depicting beach scenes in the 1920s and 1930s.
They wanted to promote people coming down to Devon and Cornwall to enjoy the sea. I just love the colours and the style of these images,’ she adds.
Sally has also discovered more about surf riding away from the seaside towns of the Westcountry.
She met internationally renowned surfboard shaper Tom Wegener in 2009 and since then, the pair have uncovered stories and images of wooden boards being used all over the world, including Japan.
Tom, who lives in Australia, says Sally has been the main engine driving the resurgence of the wooden bodyboard. He reveals: The surfing world is much bigger than I ever imagined a few years before. If you have never tried one of these boards, please do yourself a favour and give one a try.’ n
Republishing a surfing classic
Sally has republished a book, thought to have been around in the 1950s, called Surf-riding Made Easy.
She has recently managed to track down an original copy of the book but sells the republished versions on her website.
Inside, readers are told: You will find yourself…impatient to get at the next wave. Then it is that you know you have succumbed to surf fever and for you there will be no cure.’