>Sat 8 Jul 2006
>The Tartan wave
>SCOTLAND isn't renowned for its rich surfing history. When some of
>the best wave riders on Earth travelled to Thurso earlier this year
>to compete in the inaugural O'Neill Highland Open, the rest of the
>surfing world seemed to think it was hilarious. In its coverage of
>the contest, the Australian newspaper the Gold Coast Bulletin joked
>about the "icy waters" of the Pentland Firth and described Scotland
>as "a country best known for kilts, bagpipes and stuffed sheep's guts".
>But perhaps the Aussies shouldn't have been so quick to have a laugh
>at our expense. As a new exhibition at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum
>shows, Scottish men and women were surfing years before their
>Antipodean cousins even knew what a surfboard looked like.
>Peter Robinson is curator of the British Surfing Museum, a
>not-for-profit organisation based in Brighton, East Sussex, and the
>man behind a new touring exhibition entitled The History of British
>Surfing. He firmly believes that Scots may have been surfing in the
>Hawaiian islands at the beginning of the 19th century, if not before.
>"Quite a few Scottish people settled in Hawaii not long after
>Captain Cook had first made contact with the islands in 1778," he
>says. "There is a story of a chap - a Scotsman - arriving there on a
>boat in the early 1800s and expecting to be the first white man to
>settle, but he saw this white face in one of the outrigger canoes,
>paddling out with the natives to greet him, and when he spoke this
>fellow had a broad Scottish accent, so he'd been beaten by quite a
>"If this guy was in one of the outriggers with the locals, he would
>certainly have ridden waves in on the canoe, so you have to
>speculate that a Scotsman could have been one of the first
>non-Hawaiian people to surf."
>We will probably never know whether or not this anonymous Scottish
>settler had been introduced to the sport of surfing as well as the
>art of paddling an outrigger canoe. However, we can be absolutely
>certain that a Scot was surfing at Waikiki in the 1890s - more than
>two decades before the great Hawaiian surfer and swimmer, Duke
>Kahanamoku, first introduced surfing to Australia in 1915.
>Princess Victoria Ka'iulani Cleghorn - the first known Scottish
>surfer - was born in Honolulu in 1875 to Princess Miriam Likelike,
>sister to the reigning monarch of Hawaii, King David Kalakaua, and a
>Scotsman called Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a prosperous businessman,
>horticulturist and eventual governor of Oahu.
>Because she was second in line to the throne after her elderly and
>childless aunt, Princess Lili'uokalani, it was predicted that the
>young girl would eventually become queen of her country, and so in
>1889, at the age of 13, Victoria was sent to England to receive a
>private education which would, it was hoped, prepare her for her
>future role as the head of a modern Hawaiian state.
>Ka'iulani attended Great Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire, and
>during her school years she also visited Brighton and Dreghorn
>Castle just outside Edinburgh, then the home of a Scots-Hawaiian
>plantation owner called Robert MacFie.
>However, in 1891 the Hawaiian monarchy was seriously weakened by the
>sudden death of Kalakaua. Lili'uokalani took the throne and named
>the young Ka'iulani as her heir, but she was forced to abdicate by a
>group of American investors, backed up by marines.
>In desperation, Ka'iulani toured Europe and the United States,
>campaigning to have the Hawaiian Royal Family reinstated, but her
>efforts were in vain, and by the time she returned to Hawaii in 1897
>the monarchy had been abolished and the islands had become a
>republic. The following year, while out horse-riding, she was caught
>in a storm and came down with a fever. Her health never recovered,
>and she died on 6 March, 1899 at the age of 23.
>These days, Ka'iulani is mainly of interest to historians because of
>her role as a figurehead for the Hawaiian independence movement, but
>she was also a talented surfer.
>The centrepiece of the exhibition at Aberdeen Maritime Museum is a
>replica of one of Ka'iulani's surfboards, lovingly handcrafted out
>of solid koa wood by a Hawaiian shaper called Tom Pohaku Stone.
>Nicknamed Alihilani, or "the heavenly horizon", it is a beautiful
>thing - a little over seven feet long and extremely thin, even by
>the standards of today's slender competition boards.
>"The princess actually had two surfboards," says Robinson. "One was
>a big olo board - they could be anything up to 20 feet long. She
>would have ridden that in the big rolling combers. The other was a
>shorter board. Those were for more expert surfers, and were ridden
>in more critical waves, the kind of waves that a modern-day surfer
>would ride a short board on. So she was a really expert surfer - one
>of the old school of surfers at Waikiki and one of a dying breed at
>Is it possible that Ka'iulani could have surfed in Britain? "We
>don't know yet, is the honest answer," says Robinson. "There's a
>quote about her from when she was living in Brighton about how she
>loved being 'on the water again', and at the time Brighton was the
>sea-bathing capital of Britain, so there is a chance, but we haven't
>found anything yet that proves it one way or the other. I like to
>think she did."
>Ka'iulani might have surfed in Brighton or she might not, but
>Robinson is adamant that she never surfed on her visits north of the
>Border. According to an information panel in the exhibition, the
>first person ever to ride a wave in Scotland was Tris Cokes, in the
>summer of 1968.
>Now 56, Cokes runs a company called Homeblown in Redruth, Cornwall,
>which makes the foam blanks that surfboard shapers sculpt into
>surfboards. In the true spirit of a Sixties survivor he claims not
>to remember much about the summer of 1968, but when pushed he admits
>that it was the promise of romance - not surfing - that caused him
>to travel to Aberdeen.
>"I'd met a girl down here in Cornwall during the summer," he says,
>"and she enticed us up there - myself and an Australian buddy called
>Graham Sorensen, who was living with me at the time. We'd come via
>Yorkshire, where we knew for sure there were waves, and then carried
>on up to her place and found a few around there as well."
>There is a photograph of Cokes surfing at Aberdeen in the British
>Surfing Museum's archives, but it's difficult to deduce much from
>it. What were the conditions like that day?
>"Hey - I'm 56 years old," he says, "I'm supposed to remember what
>the day was like 40 years ago? It was bloody cold in the water, I
>Thanks to the wonders of modern wetsuit technology, it's now
>possible to surf Aberdeen's waves all year round in relative
>comfort. By contrast, Cokes and Sorensen wore old-style "beavertail"
>wetsuits, which only covered the upper body, leaving their arms and
>legs exposed to the chilly North Sea.
>The board they used was a 7'6" single-fin shaped by a New Zealander
>called Mooney, since deceased. Cokes isn't exactly sure which bit of
>beach they surfed in Aberdeen, but he remembers "a jetty to the side
>of us". According to Gordon Forbes, who runs Granite Reef surf shop
>in Aberdeen, this means it was probably a spot now known to local
>surfers as Footdee (pronounced "Fittie"), which lies just to the
>south of the Harbour Wall.
>However, it now looks as though someone might have surfed in
>Aberdeen before Cokes and Sorensen. A note in the visitors' book at
>the Maritime Museum reads: "Brings back memories. Surfed pre-68 in
>Aberdeen." It is signed "Sandy Mathers".
>A quick phone around all the Alexander Mathers in the Aberdeen area
>reveals an Alexander I Mathers of Bridge of Don, now 58, who says he
>surfed in Aberdeen in the summer of 1966, along with his friends
>Graham Carnegie, Brian Morgan and Dave Killoh.
>"Graham and Brian had boards made in Aberdeen," he says, "wooden
>boards made to a plan that they had got somewhere. The first time we
>went out we only had one board - eight-foot-plus it would have been
>- and we took turns. I can't remember who got the first shot, but I
>presume it would have been either Brian or Graham. The waves weren't
>that big, but sufficient to give it a go. Maybe a couple of feet."
>Sadly, surfboard technology in the 1960s wasn't as advanced as it is
>today, and the historic board they rode in the summer of '66 fell to
>pieces years ago.
>Where did they surf? "Just outside where the cafés are - we were
>always posers," he laughs. Did they often get an audience? "Oh yes,
>if you ever spoke to anyone up in Aberdeen, they all knew about the
>guys surfing and skateboarding on the prom. 'Is it cold?' That was
>always the first question."
>The surfing craze soon spread to the rest of Scotland. In 1968, the
>same year that Cokes and Sorensen made their pilgrimage to Aberdeen,
>a student at Edinburgh University called Andy Bennetts saw people
>surfing while on holiday in Newquay and decided to give it a go at
>Pease Bay on his return. Not long after that, another pioneer,
>Willie Tait, took to the waves off Fraserburgh after bringing a
>surfboard home from a visit to California.
>A Kiwi called Bob Treeby discovered the wealth of world-class waves
>breaking on Scotland's fabled north shore in 1973, but it wasn't
>until 1976 that Angus Lamond Macnie unlocked the almost unlimited
>surf potential of the Hebrides, using a single-handed sailing vessel
>called the Sgian Ban, especially adapted for surf exploration.
>"One of the great virtues of Sgian Ban," he remembers, "was that she
>could be sailed round a headland to find a great wave breaking, be
>anchored outside the break, the surfboard unhitched and off I'd go
>to enjoy the waves before returning to the craft and sailing or
>Today, surfing in Scotland is fast becoming a mainstream sport.
>Exact figures are hard to come by, but according to one recent
>estimate there are more than 2,000 regular surfers in the Central
>Prince William boosted the sport's profile when he learned to surf
>in St Andrews while at university there, and, following its initial
>success, it now looks as if the O'Neill Highland Open is going to
>become a regular fixture. Princess Victoria Ka'iulani Cleghorn -
>patron saint of Scottish surfers - would have approved.
> The History of British Surfing is at Aberdeen Maritime Museum
>until 17 September.
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