1890 Bridlington surfers

Celebrating 125 years of surfing in Britain

added to the website on Apr 14, 2015

The Museum of British Surfing is celebrating the 125th anniversary this year of the earliest recording surfing in the UK with a major exhibition at its base in Braunton, North Devon.

The British surfing pioneers display runs through to the end of 2015, and you can expect to see other unique cultural events throughout the year – including the creation of a sculpture to mark this special story.

It was a letter discovered deep in the archives of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu describing how two Hawaiian princes, and their English guardian, went surfing in Britain in September 1890 and created a new ‘ground zero’ for UK surfing.

This remarkable story didn’t happen in sport’s meccas of Newquay or Croyde, it took place in the east Yorkshire resort of Bridlington – in the chilly, murky North Sea. This research by Hawaiian author Sandy Hall and surfing museum founder Pete Robinson, put British surfing history on a par with the likes of California and Australia.

“This is the earliest proven instance of surfing in Britain so far – previously we had thought it was the 1920s in England and the Channel Islands – but this blows our history right out of the water,” said Pete.

“The Victorian locals must have been incredulous at the sight of these Hawaiian Princes paddling out, and riding back into shore most likely standing on large wooden planks – their dark skin and hair glistening in the North Sea waters”

The letter to the Hawaiian consul Mr. Armstrong from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi was discovered by Hawaiian author and historian Sandra Kimberley Hall. You can see a copy of the letter and images from the era, along with the types of surfboards they would have ridden on display at the Museum of British Surfing now.

The prince wrote that he and his brother Prince David Kahalepouli Kawananakoa Piikoi were allowed by their tutor, believed to be John Wrightson, to have a holiday in Bridlington as reward for good work in their studies in schools and colleges around Britain – they’d been in England urthering their education for almost a year.

On September 22, 1890 a joyful Kuhio could not restrain his enthusiasm in his letter to Consul Armstrong;

“We enjoy the seaside very much and are out swimming every day. The weather has been very windy these few days and we like it very much for we like the sea to be rough so that we are able to have surf riding. We enjoy surf riding very much and surprise the people to see us riding on the surf.”

“Even Wrightson is learning surf riding and will be able to ride as well as we can in a few days more. He likes this very much for it is a very good sport.”

The two Hawaiian royals were no strangers to surfing in chilly waters like the North Sea. In 1885 (with a third brother) they surfed in Santa Cruz on 15-foot redwood planks weighing 100 pounds in similar temperature waters, and it seems their love for surfing made them the first to do it in California and now Britain.

The exhibition ‘British surfing pioneers 1890 – 2015‘ is at the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton until December 31st.

More of the original research is available by clicking here.

The photos in the gallery below show part of the letter describing surfing, the two princes, Bridlington around 1890, images of how Hawaiians were seen to the wider world in the late 19th century, Princess Victoria Ka’iulani and the plaque in Santa Cruz commemorating surfing in 1885. For further information and image use and licensing details please contact us.


Museum of British Surfing » News » Celebrating 125 years of surfing in Britain

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