Chris Power discovers how three men helped revolutionise the sport of surfing in Britain.
Surfing is not a sport you would immediately associate with the landlocked Midlands.
You can’t get “tubed” on the River Trent, and the Atlantic beaches of Devon and Cornwall are a three-hour drive away – if the M5 is moving.
However, author Roger Mansfield reveals in a new book about the history of wave-riding in Britain, that it was three surfers from the Midlands whohave made a real impact on the sport.
Jimmy Dix, Ted Deerhurst and Paul Russell were all highly significant figures in their time, according to Mansfield in The Surfing Tribe.
The part Jimmy Dix played in the early history of surfing in Britain cannot be understated. He was certainly one of the earliest pioneers, and he may have even been the first person to ride waves in Britain standing up.
Jimmy was a young, well-heeled private dentist who worked at a practice in Nuneaton in the late 1930s. He made a handsome living from his trade in those pre-NHS days; he owned an Alvis sports car and every summer he took a fortnight’s holiday in Cornwall with his wife.
The couple often visited Newquay and loved the thrill of catching waves on plywood bellyboards when the surf was up. Their ultimate dream was to travel to Hawaii and ride the pristine waves of the Pacific, like the surfers they’d sometimes seen on newsreels at the cinema.
Jimmy gradually became captivated by the idea of surfing, so he wrote to a surf club in Hawaii and a few months later took delivery of a 14-foot hollow wooden surfboard. It was built by the leading American surfer of the era, Tom Blake, and arrived bearing the message: “To the people of Great Britain”.
It was the first board of its type in Britain – effectively the first functional surfboard in the country.
Jimmy Dix took to the waves of Newquay Bay in the summer of 1938. Whether he got to grips with his board and successfully rode some Cornish waves isn’t known. No photos of him actually riding waves have ever come to light, and Jimmy himself died in 1989.
Yet the fact that he acquired a surfboard which was state of the art at the time was undoubtedly significant – not least because the very sight of it lying on the sand at Towan Beach inspired a local Newquay man, Pip Staffieri, to build a copy.
Staffieri, an ice-cream man of Italian descent, did become a proficient surfer who regularly rode the waves of Newquay Bay in the 1940s.
Some 30 years later, another Midlands boy became hooked on surfing. Edward Deerhurst from Croome, near Worcester, was the son of the Earl of Coventry and his American wife Mimi. Ted, as he became known, grew up at Earls Croome Court, a large Tudor stately home.
His parents’ marriage didn’t last, and when Ted was 10 his mother took him with her to live in California, in defiance of the terms of the divorce settlement. A bitter custody battle ensued which lasted five years.
While the lawyers argued over his future, Ted attended high school in Los Angeles and took up surfing after classes. Southern California was a cool place to be in the early ‘70s – long hair, single-fin surfboards, Jimi Hendrix on the radio...it was all a million miles away from the regimented upbringing he had endured in England.
For several years Ted lived the free and easy life of US teenager.
But his stay in the Golden State came to an abrupt end in 1972 when his father won the custody battle and hauled him back to England. Ted was given a haircut and packed off to boarding school.
But as soon as term ended he would grab a lift with friends and head off to North Devon, where breaks like Croyde and Woolacombe awaited.
Ted may have had a privileged background but he didn’t flaunt it – those who knew him describe him as a shy, quiet young man who simply loved surfing and made it the focus of his life. “Ted was a man on a mission,” remembers Devon surfer Paul Webb. “He wanted to be a great surfer, a champion, that’s all he ever talked about.”