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The Surfing Tribe

The Surfing Tribe, by veteran Newquay surfer Roger Mansfield, is the first book to document the rise of surfing in Britain from the 1930s to the modern day. The 208-page hardback, with over 200 classic and iconic photographs, many of which have never been seen before, is published by Orca Publications on 1 June.

The Surfing Tribe tells the fascinating story of how a sport first practised in Hawaii found its way to the chilly Atlantic shores of Britain thanks, originally, to a Birmingham dentist and a Newquay ice-cream seller. Way back in the late 1930s Midlands dentist Jimmy Dix was leafing through the Encyclopaedia Britannica when he spied a photo of surfing in Hawaii and felt the urge to give it a go. He obtained a 14-foot wooden surfboard from a surf club in Waikiki, Hawaii, and took it down to Newquay in Cornwall on his annual holiday. There he met a young Newquay ice-cream seller, Pip Staffieri, who built his own wooden board and taught himself to surf.

The Surfing Tribe tells how, from these small beginnings, and thanks to dozens of colourful characters, the sport took hold in Jersey, Cornwall and Wales, before spreading along the South Coast and as far as Scotland and the Northeast. Today, according to the British Surfing Association, there are around 500,000 surfers in the UK, and surfing is worth around £70 million to the Cornish economy alone.

Today’s surfers, who rely on high-tech wetsuits and boards, will be awed by stories about the bravery of the early surfers, like the Australian and American lifeguards who paddled out at notorious big-wave spot The Cribbar near Newquay in 1966 without leashes, and just wearing shorts and t-shirts. Foreign travel was also very different in the ’60s; the early surf travellers had no guidebooks or internet surf forecasts, they often journeyed to surf breaks in France, Spain and Ireland on little more than a rumour.

Written by renowned surf historian Roger Mansfield, the Surfing Tribe features all the characters who made the sport what it is today, including former World Junior Champion Rod Sumpter, as well as ‘Tigger’ Newling, Pete Jones, Linda Sharp, Nigel Veitch, Tim Heyland, Nigel Semmens and Carwyn Williams. The book also charts the evolution of British surfboards, and looks back at the films and magazines that have portrayed the British scene over the decades.

The Surfing Tribe represents a lifetime of work for Mansfield. “Riding waves has always been my passion. I began surfing in 1963, when I was 11, and I watched the sport evolve as I grew up. As the decades passed, surfers came and went, new breaks were ridden, and equipment went through enormous changes. I always thought someone would write all this stuff down, but no-one did. The big story seemed to be drifting away as significant members of the tribe started to pass on. I just felt it was time for the full history of surfing in Britain to be put together.

“The Surfing Tribe has been a massive project – a lot of time and and research have gone into it. It’s factual, it’s full of terrific stories and iconic photos. It’s an education. Hopefully, surfers will not only enjoy reading the book, but it’ll leave them much the wiser about the sport we all love.”

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