Harry and the gang - 1929

Alex Dick-Read

From the Museum of British Surfing:

Lewis Rosenberg – standing proud c1929
Added to the surf history archives on Jun 30, 2011

Around 1929 Lewis Rosenberg and a group of friends saw a newsreel showing Australians surfing standing up on their surfboards – it was a moment of inspiration that changed their lives.
This close-knit group of Jewish immigrants, who lived in London, had been riding their four-foot long wooden bodyboards on British beaches for some time. After seeing the film Lewis soon set about building his own 8 foot ‘stand-up’ surfboard, wrapped it in linen sheets, and took it on a steam train from London to Newquay. Not only did the group of friends try to teach themselves how to surf standing on their board, they also filmed their exploits and this rare footage has been brought back to life after lying untouched in a Cambridgeshire loft for many years.
The group of surfing enthusiasts included Lewis Rosenberg, Harry Rochlin, and brothers Fred and Ben Elvey.
“When Maxine Elvey visited one of our exhibitions in Brighton in 2004 and told us the family had film of their surfing exploits on a wooden longboard in the late ’20s and early ’30s we were totally blown away,” said Peter Robinson, founder of the Museum of British Surfing. “We took the reels of fragile 9.5mm stock to the local film archive for them to be preserved and transferred to digital tape – it’s a national treasure.”
It was then that the full beauty of the film became apparent, as this group of friends enjoyed a surfing life on deserted beaches in the Channel Islands and Cornwall – sometimes riding the waves naked, and dancing the Hula wearing costumes made from seaweed. Lewis even made a waterproof housing for his camera, which was revolutionary at the time.
Maxine says her father Fred Elvey thought they surfed in 1928 or 29, although it could have been as late as 1931. “They also saw a film called ‘Idol Dancer’ which showed Hula dancing in Hawaii – they copied this as well and made grass skirts from seaweed and danced & sung the lyrics ‘Good bye Hawaii, my island paradise, we’re bound to meet again someday’ on Cornish beaches.”
A small segment of the film footage appeared in a BBC4 documentary ‘Sea Fever’ in May (2010), and the North Devon based surf museum is releasing the full film and a book in 2012 to coincide with one of its exhibitions ‘British Surf Riders: Surfing before WW2’.
“We interviewed three of the old boys who were part of the surfing gang, and they were totally stoked on what they were doing,” said Peter. “They were in their mid 90s when we filmed them, but as soon as we spoke about surfing and their beach lives, their eyes lit up and their memories came flooding back. It was truly emotional.”
Sadly the group’s surfing fun was cut short by the Second World War, and the surfboard which had been lovingly shaped from a solid piece of wood was stolen from Lewis’s home in London – it’s unlikely the thief would have known it was a treasured surfboard.
It is the earliest film found so far of anyone using a stand-up surfboard in Britain and is a significant milestone in European surfing history.
“I had no idea my father’s surfing would turn out to be so special,” said Sue Clamp. “We knew the films were important but mainly because they showed the build up to World War 2 and the racial and political tension. It’s fantastic the lives of Lewis and his friends is being remembered in this way.”
Prior to this the earliest photographic evidence of stand-up surfing in Britain was Pip Staffieri in the late 1930s and early 40s, who made his own hollow 13 foot longboard, copying the design from photos he saw in an encyclopedia.
There’s written evidence that Archie Mayne also made a ‘longboard’ and surfed standing up in the mid 1920s in Jersey, and Charles ‘Snowy’ McAllister gave stand-up surfing demonstrations in England on his way home from the Olympics in 1928.
www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/

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