These days, when surfing is used to promote everything from inward investment to higher education, no-one would deny that it is part of the contemporary identity of Cornwall. But what about the rest of the British Isles?
When the Beach Boys sang that ‘everybody’s gone surfin’, Surfin’ USA’, they were redefining America in the popular imagination as a surf nation. If your idea of surfing is all blond hair, VW vans and endless summers, you might add Hawaii, Australia, South Africa to the list. But what about Britain as a ‘surf nation’?
From 30th June, a new photographic exhibition at the secretspot-stives gallery will give visitors the opportunity to take a tour around Britain and assess the state of our Surf Nation for themselves.
A chance meeting in Barbados led journalist Alex Wade to ponder the perception of Britain as surf nation. He spent the next eighteen months travelling the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland from Porthcurno to Porthcawl, Orkney to Inverness, and Sligo to Jersey, exploring the state of surfing and surf culture on our Atlantic, Channel and North Sea shores.
The result is his book ‘Surf Nation’, which is having its national launch at secretspot-stives on 29 June, and an exhibition of photographs from the book, which opens to the public on Saturday 30 June.
Secretspot-St Ives is the only exhibition and events venue in the UK dedicated to the bringing the celebration of British surfing heritage and culture to a wider audience. ‘Surf Nation’ is an exhibition of 23 black and white images by various photographers, reflecting the diversity and distinctiveness of surf culture around the UK.
Director Geoff Swallow, who has created the exhibition in conjunction with publisher Simon and Schuster, says: “The exhibition will be a real eye-opener to those whose idea of British surf culture has so far been limited to watching the line up at Porthmeor from the café terrace of the Tate, or the stag party scrums at an overcrowded Fistral in July
As well as heartstopping images of waves – from the reef at Leven going off to a double overhead Hebridean wall, in which the wave and the surfer are dwarfed by the towering mountainside behind him – the exhibition includes images which subvert and challenge the popular iconography of surfing.
North East legend Jesse Davies poses with his big wave ‘gun’ not in front of a palm-fringed Hawaiian beach, but in the doorway of his terraced house in Tynemouth, straight out of ‘Get Carter’; two young surfers cross the beach at Porthcawl, South Wales surfing mecca, against a backdrop of its steelworks; a post-apocalyptic image of a tiny, lone surfer dwarfed by the twisted wreckage of Brighton Pier; and a strangely haunting vision of an East Anglian horizon bristling with wind turbines.
There are portraits here too: a warm portrait of the Bleakeys, Sennen’s own version of Hawaii’s Aikau family; of Welsh legend Pete Jones, ‘PJ’, in his fifties now but still recognisable by his trademark 118-style moustache; and Porthleven’s Robyn Davies, her eyes showing the steel-edged determination behind the Sunshine.
Alex Wade’s book ‘Surf Nation’ will be published by Simon and Schuster on 29 June at £12.99 and will be on sale at secretspot-St Ives gallery throughout the exhibition. The exhibition ‘Surf Nation’ runs from 30 June to the end of August at the secretspot- St Ives gallery, before touring nationally. The exhibition is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but open Wednesdays to Sundays, 10am to 4pm.
Secretspot-stives gallery is at The Old Sunday School, off Bedford Road, St Ives. Please note there is no parking at the venue. Nearest parking is Barnoon or the station car parks.