The 6 Greatest British Surfers Ever
Surfing and Britain — a very special relationship
Surfing and Great Britain go way back. It was Captain James Cook who was the first European to report on the art of Hawaiian surfing back in the 18th Century. In 1920, Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, was pictured ruling the rollers of Waikiki. And in 1930s the legendary Tom Blake sent a 14-foot gun from Hawaii to a Birmingham dentist called Jimmy Dix as a gift to the people of the United Kingdom. In 1970 Lord Ted Deerhurst also gave surfing its best description of Waimea when he described surfing the break as “like jumping off a three-storey house and then having the house chase you down the street." In all that time there have been a lot of Great British surfers. Most have been shithouse, but these six were actually quite good.
Okay Martin Potter is about as English as Shane Warne, but he gets a start courtesy of being born in Cornwall (his English parents moved to Durban when Pottz was just two) and the confusing little Union Jack that flashed up on TV whenever Potter surfed in competition. It was under this flag that Potter claimed his World Title in 1989, though in reality he had spent very little time in the country of his birth, apart from at events such as the Newquay Surf Masters, which he won in 1987. Still, heritage counts for something, and if we are talking about the best surfers born on British soil, no one else comes close to Pottz. The less we talk about his commentary the better.
The ‘Man from Mumbles’ won the European Professional Surfing Association (EPSA) tour in 1985 and 1986, and reached a career-high top 30 WSL ranking in 1989. This was the year that the Welshman also starred in the classic Quiksilver film All Down The Line, his epic year capped with another European Title. Since then Williams has been based in Hossegor, employed in various official and unofficial roles in the surf industry, whilst running a raucous surf hostel where many pros have done their European tour apprenticeships, lost their virginity and much, much more that we can’t divulge for legal reasons.
Easily the UK’s best ever homegrown competitive surfer, Winter remains the only British surfer to compete on the CT. He competed on the tour in 1999, 2001 and 2002, with a career-high third place in Brazil and three victories on the WQS tour, the last of them in Scotland in 2006. It was this trophy, an ornamental sword, that Winter later used to confront three pissed idiots in his hometown, his Braveheart-style escapades eventually leading to a six-month suspended jail sentence in 2014. The Newquay surfer was known for his power-based surfing and fierce competitive drive, and his career might have yielded more success if wasn’t for injuries, most specifically a knee injury and infection suffered in Tahiti that almost cost him a leg in 2000.
Newquay's Spencer Hargraves rose to prominence alongside the likes of Carwyn and Grishka Roberts in the late 80's/early 90's, during a golden age of Brit shredding when campaigns to win European titles and international acclaim were waged -- and won -- from epic road trips in the back of a vans. An uncompromising power surfer, Spenny's animalistic approach in the water was matched by a similar full-on terrestrial persona, in the days when in terms of peer respect, partying hard all night was as important as charging the next dawn. The perma pedal to the metal approach was perhaps accentuated by Spenny's almost perpetually reddened face, a look that seemed to emphasise the effect of straining every sinew, striving to achieve rad, all the time. With scant evidence existing online or even on VHS, it's easy to forget a happier, golden hued time when Brits ruled the Euro comp scene and regularly whupped French/other Johnny Foreigner ass, before getting on the lash and running amuck. Seems like an awfully long time ago now, doesn't it?
Veitch grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1980s, and the things he went on to achieve in surfing are worthy of the highest regard. In his homeland he is considered a hero and an icon, and he was mentor to many of the successful surfers that emerged from this unlikely UK talent hotbed.
After going to the same school as Alan Shearer in leafy Gosforth, many miles from the sea, Veitch got into skateboarding as a teenager, which soon led to surfing. He learnt to surf at Whitley Bay and Tynemouth, and within two years he was travelling to Cornwall and winning national surfing championships. Next came European championships, and then the ultimate goal — competing on the world tour, in places such as Australia, America, Brazil and Hawaii. He changed his name from Nigel Veitch to just Veitch, which somehow only increases his legend, as does the fact that he went left at macking Waimea, and was sponsored by Newcastle Breweries, sporting a Brown Ale bottle logo on the nose of his boards. The numerous photos of Veitch at solid Pipeline are as impressive today as they were back in the late '80s, and confirm his status as one of the true pioneers of British surfing, one of the greats. He committed suicide in 1990 by jumping off the cliff at Eddies beach in Tynemouth, at the age of 26. — Joel Gray
Ash, 28, from Bude on the Cornwall-North Devon border, is one of Europe’s best ever free-surfers, his progressive aerial act welded to a smooth style and tube-riding honed in annual Indonesian winter seasons. A successful junior career garnering 10 British titles led to sponsorship and ultimately to his current free-surfing role. However, it was his section in the 2011 Innersection film (where the public voted him in along with the likes of Albee Layer, Jamie O’Brien and Nat Young) that recognized his international-level talent and secured his place as one of Britain's best, and most progressive, surfers of all time.
And a bonus...
Mad Jack Churchill
John “Jack" Churchill was one of Britain’s bravest, maddest, and most decorated war heroes, as well as one its early surfing pioneers. He served in various posts in the military both during and after World War II, and was famous for going into battle armed with a longbow, bagpipes, and a Scottish broadsword. After being captured by the Germans (whilst playing his bagpipes in a final act of defiance), he twice escaped from concentration camps. Post war he spent some time in Australia where he learned to surf. He returned to England, designed his own surfboards and was the first man to surf the Severn Bore, alone, in 1955.