Accessible to anyone who had the requisite have-a-go-attitude, the exhilarating new pastime quickly captured the British imagination. By the time standup ‘malibu’ boards arrived in the 1960s, wooden bellyboards were already an intrinsic and much-loved part of British beach culture. No family holiday to Devon or Cornwall was complete without one; no beach without its local devotees. Bellyboarding was never about fashion or elitism… it was just a simple, joyful – and somehow rather British – pleasure. It still is.
The story of “surf-riding” in the UK cannot be told without the Pearce family.
In 1929, Charles Pearce took over a tannery in the small town of South Molton in Devon and set up a manufacturing business. When he first saw ‘surf-riders’ on the local beaches in the 1960's, he began to experiment with making the boards himself in the family’s tannery workshop. He was pretty good at it. In the years after the Second World War, Charles Pearce and Sons’ wooden boards became a fixture on the beaches of the Southwest.
Dick Pearce took over the family business when his father died. Perfecting the design and overseeing the production of thousands of boards, loved by those who rode them, Dick was a true champion of British bellyboarding, For fifty years, he stuck to the family’s time-honoured production methods and materials and he refused to compromise on quality, ever. Even in the face of competition from disposable, imported, polystyrene bodyboards, Dick continued to make boards that people would treasure.
Where we come into it…
Andy was one of the many surf shop owners Dick sold his classic boards to, year in, year out. Dick’s passion for his boards and what they represented was contagious and the two ocean lovers struck up a friendship. When Dick died in 2010 his widow asked Andy if he wanted to take over the production of the boards. There was one catch: the process - the original manufacturing methods used by Dick’s father - was a safely guarded family secret. Andy would have to commit to buying the business before he was allowed to see anything of it. He agreed.
Andy: “As they opened the doors to the old tannery in South Molton I had no idea what I had just bought. So when I saw the beautiful old wood-working equipment, this treasure trove of antique kit, it was a pretty special moment.”
Andy and his business partner, Jamie, keen surfers and beach lovers themselves, want to share the secrets they are so proud to have inherited from Dick Pearce. To embody his passion for this awesome and accessible way to ride waves. To move away from the disposable polystyrene boards and return to the ideals of craftsmanship and sustainability that Dick championed. To follow in his pioneering spirit and resurrect this wonderful piece of British heritage, which is a part of their own stories, too.
Jamie: “I’ve got very happy memories of learning to surf on my grandparents’ bellyboards from the sixties. The boards are still in the shed to this day, with the original (faded) logos on them! Bellyboarding was, for both of us, where our love for the ocean began. We want to bring this amazingly simple, exhilarating sport back into popularity.”
The company’s kit might be antique, but the values are timeless. Dick Pearce and Friends produces handcrafted boards from sustainable materials; boards made to be treasured; boards made to get people in the sea, to get them surfing, to get them smiling.
The World Bellyboarding Championships
We’re not alone in thinking bellyboarding is a pretty awesome way to ride waves – there’s a whole community of people who like to keep it simple when it comes to surfing. Hundreds of us meet up each year (or most years, anyway) on the beautiful beach of Chapel Porth in Cornwall, for the biggest event in any bellyboarder’s calendar: the World Bellyboarding Championships.
Set up in 2003 in memory of bellyboarding devotee Arthur Traveller, it’s a surfing event like no other: no wetsuits, no leashes, no fins, no egos… just wooden boards and the ocean – and a lot of enthusiastic surf-riders! Hundreds of people come along to join in the fun, with as many of them competing as the tide allows. It’s less a contest and more of a beach festival (although some of us do take it pretty seriously!). A chance for bellyboarders from all over the world to come together to celebrate the sport we love, and the good-times culture that goes with it.