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Princes make waves in the surfing world

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 11, 2012

  • The beach at Bridlington, East Yorkshire, taken in 1890

  • The two Hawaiian princes and the letter sent to consul Henry Armstrong

  • Princess Victoria Ka'iulani

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Britain's first surfers ignored today's traditional hotspots such as Cornwall and Devon and hit the waves in chilly Yorkshire, it has emerged.

A long-lost letter, published for the first time, reveals that two Hawaiian princes and their English guardian went surfing at the resort of Bridlington in September 1890.

The document, believed to be the earliest report of the sport in Britain, was uncovered by a Hawaiian historian and author. Pictures of the trio and details of their escapade are on display at the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton, North Devon.

Founder Peter Robinson has now called for a statue of the princes to thank them for bringing surfing to Britain.

He 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.

"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 letter, to consul Henry Armstrong from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi, was discovered by Sandra Kimberley Hall.

The prince wrote that he and his brother, Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, were allowed by their tutor – believed to be John Wrightson – to holiday in Bridlington.

The pair were given the reward for good work in their studies in schools at colleges around Britain. They had been in England furthering their education for almost a year.

On September 22, 1890, a joyful Kuhio could not restrain his enthusiasm in his letter to Armstrong.

He said: "We enjoy the seaside very much and are out swimming every day. The weather has been very windy these few days and 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 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."

It is thought the Hawaiian princes, the orphaned nephews and heir to Queen Kapiolani, would have made their surfboards from timber acquired from a Bridlington boatbuilder.

The 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.

Ms Kimberley Hall said: "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.

Mr Robinson said: "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."

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  • GRIBBLE666  |  April 11 2012, 9:27AM

    I Think you will find that in 1790 the remains of a man riding a surf board was discovered in the mud between Teignmouth and Shaldon so Yorkshires claim is laughable.

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