Ever wondered how surfing made its way to Britain? Then look no further.
After unearthing a letter from deep within the archives of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, it can now be revealed that two Hawaiian princes and their English guardian went surfing in the chilly English waves in September 1890.
But this earliest record of UK surfing didn’t happen in iconic boarding hotspots such as Newquay or Croyde, but instead took place in our very own Yorkshire resort of Bridlington, in the murky North Sea.
While the north east coast of England is home to some world class surfing waves, Bridlington has never been a popular beach for the sport.
This new insight into Victorian surfers has been published at the same time as Europe’s only dedicated surfing museum opened its doors on April 6 in Braunton, North Devon.
The founder of the Museum of British Surfing, Peter Robinson said; “This is the most wonderful discovery and a massive revelation in terms of British surfing heritage…Not only do we now know that Hawaiian royalty surfed while being educated in England in the late 1800’s, but also that they chose a relatively obscure surfing destination like Bridlington on the east coast to paddle out and catch a few slides is just fantastic.
‘This is the earliest proven instance of surfing in Britain so far- previously we had thought it was the 1920’s in England and the Channel Islands- but this blows our history right out of the water.
‘The Victorian locals must have been incredulous at the sight of these Hawaiian Princes paddling out, and riding back into shore most likely standing on large wooden planks – their dark skin and hair glistening in the North Sea waters.’
Stunned locals have now learned that the letter, addressed to Hawaiian consul Mr Armstrong from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi, was discovered by Hawaiian author and historian Sandra Kimberley Hall.
The prince wrote that he and his brother, Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, were allowed by their tutor to holiday in Bridlington as a reward for good work in their studies.
The two royals were cousins of expert surfer Princess Victoria Ka’iulani, who was educated in the south coast resort of Brighton in 1892.
Sandra Kimberly Hall said: ‘Her time in England was deliberately below the radar of the newspapers of the day.
‘She may have been the first female surfer in Britain, but the only tangible evidence- so far- is a letter in which she wrote that she enjoyed ‘being on the water again’ at Brighton.’
Like his cousin, a joyful Kuhio could not hide his excitement in his letter, writing: ‘We enjoy the seaside very much and are out swimming every day.
‘We enjoy surf riding very much and surprise the people to see us riding on the surf.’
But the two Hawaiian princes were no strangers to surfing in cold waters. In 1885, they surfed in Santa Cruz on 15 foot redwood planks- making them the first to do it in California. Perhaps it was their love of surfing in rough waters that brought them to the chilly Yorkshire coast.
It has been speculated that the princes would have made their Yorkshire boards using timber from a Bridlington boat builder. And instead of the traditional wetsuits we see surfers wearing today, the royals would have bought or hired neck-to-knee swimsuits made of cotton or wool.
Next to California, Bridlington now has a surfing claim to fame of immense global significance. By coincidence the latest Government-backed TV advert encouraging Britons to holiday at home features Rupert Grint surfing at Bridlington.
Mr Robinson has now requested that a statue of the princes be put up to thank them for bringing surfing to Britain, saying; ‘We would love to commission a sculpture to honour their achievement and to say thank you to Hawaii for giving the world the fantastic gift of surfing.’
If you would like to know more about British surfing history, visit the museum’s website here.