From the waves near their idyllic home to the worldwide network they form online, the people behind North Devon’s newest museum are sultans of surfing. More than 200 years of art devoted to boarding fills the opening galleries at the British Museum of Surfing.
“Explorer and early travellers drew surfers,” says founder Pete Robinson. “Surfers decorated their boards, especially in the sixties and seventies.
“Advertisers plundered surfing imagery right the way back to the early 1900s. And today there’s a flourishing British surf art scene.”
Touring exhibitions by the team have been going since 2003, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the decision to relocate to Braunton was made.
A European development grant, the local council and planners from the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have all helped with funding a collection which is undoubtedly one of the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.
It features an archive which recently revealed new pictures of Edward Windsor – who would become King Edward VIII – throwing shapes in Hawaii in 1920 (he apparently “hooked up” with Lord Louis Mountbatten and others for three days of surfing, ordering the royal ship to return so that they could carry on later in the year.)
Symmetrically, a letter “discovered deep in the archives” of Honolulu’s Bishop Museum suggests two Hawaiian Princes took part in the first bout of surfing in the UK, in the North Sea off Bridlington.
“It’s a massive revelation in terms of British surfing heritage,” reckons Robinson, calling it “the most wonderful discovery”.
“The Victorian locals must have been incredulous at the sight of these Hawaiian Princes paddling out, and riding back into short most likely standing on large wooden planks. I only wish I could have been there to see it.”
The twist in the tale has already picked up national newspaper coverage – it turns out that they were cousins of Princess Victoria Ka’iulani, the half-Scottish heir to the Hawaiian throne whose time being educated in Brighton was little-known at the end of the 19th century.
More than 200 visitors discovered her story on the opening day (April 6), also enjoying a thoroughly modern work from Saunton Sands beach, where artists Ged Bryan and Mark Haywood produced a huge “curl” design, carving the museum logo into it.
“We couldn’t have done it without amazing support from surfers,” says Robinson. “Not just from around the UK, but around the world, people have donated items and money.
“I’d especially like to thank my wife, Bianca, and the charity’s Trustees – they’ve been truly amazing.”
- Museum of British Surfing, The Yard, Caen Street, Braunton. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-5pm