A LETTER discovered deep in the archives of a Honolulu museum has revealed that Bridlington beach was the first in Britain to host surfing.
The letter describes how two Hawaiian princes – and their English guardian – went surfing off Bridlington north beach in September 1890.
This new research of Victorian surfers has been published as Europe’s only dedicated surfing museum opened for the first time in Braunton, North Devon, and puts British surfing history on a par with the likes of California.
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.
“The fact that not only do we now know that Hawaiian Royalty surfed while being educated in England in the late 1800s, 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.
The letter from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi revealed that he and his brother Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi had been allowed to have a holiday in Bridlington as reward for good work in their studies in schools and colleges around Britain.
The two princes were cousins of expert surfer Princess Victoria Ka’iulani, the half Hawaiian – half Scottish heir to the Hawaiian throne who was educated in Brighton in 1892.
On September 22, 1890 a joyful Kuhio could not restrain his enthusiasm in his letter to Hawaiian Consul Mr. Armstrong, saying “We like it very much for we like the sea to be rough so that we are able to have surf riding. We enjoy surf riding very much and surprise the people to see us riding on the surf.
“Even Wrightson (the princes’ tutor) is learning surf riding and will be able to ride as well as we can in a few days more. He likes this very much for it is a very good sport.”
Museum founder Peter Robinson continued: “This is the earliest proven instance of surfing in Britain so far – previously we had thought it was the 1920s 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. I only wish I could have been there to see it.”
The two Hawaiian royals were no strangers to surfing in chilly waters like the North Sea. In 1885, with a third brother, they surfed in Santa Cruz on 15-foot redwood planks weighing 100 pounds in similar temperature waters, and it seems their love for surfing made them the first to do it in California and now Britain.
It is thought the Hawaiian princes, who were the orphaned nephews and heir to Queen Kapiolani, would have made their surfboards from timber acquired from a Bridlington boat builder, and they would have bought or hired neck-to-knee swimsuits made of cotton or wool.
The Museum of British Surfing’s researchers believe the story will make waves in the global surfing community and add a new ‘ground zero’ to UK surf heritage.
“Bridlington isn’t the most popular surfing destination because the position of the headland can mean the waves in the bay aren’t always the best, but after this announcement I can really see surfers from all over coming to the town to check out the beach where British surfing all started,” continued Peter.
“By coincidence, the tourism advert showing Rupert Grint surfing at Bridlington has already sparked interest in the town amongst lots of surfers.”
And Peter said that he has already contacted Bridlington Town Council to look into the possibility of placing a plaque in the town to mark the location that surfing was introduced to the world.
“We would love to commission a sculpture to honour their achievement and say thank you to Hawaii for giving the world the fantastic gift of surfing,” he said.