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Tributes to 'father of surfing'

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: May 12, 2009

  • Bill Bailey, seen here in 1964 at Newquay, was instrumental in bringing surfing to the UK and was an expert in the art of surfboard building

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A LEGENDARY innovator known as "the father of British surfing" has died.

Bill Bailey was instrumental in bringing surfing to the UK and became an expert in the art of surfboard building.

Mr Bailey, who died aged 75, set up the first surfboard company in Britain, which went on to great success.

The pioneer first tried out prototype surfboards and life-saving equipment while working as a lifeguard in Newquay in the early 1960s.

Doug McDonald from the US was passing through Newquay and impressed Mr Bailey with his modern surfboard made from a foam core and covered in fibre-glass.

He was on his way home to the US and offered his Californian-built 10ft 6ins Bragg surfboard for sale. Mr Bailey bought the board and a yellow Ford van to go with it.

After much experimentation, he went on to succeed in producing foam blanks that would enable the start of modern surfboard production in the UK, and he started producing his custom model boards in a Newquay garage in 1963.

Roger Mansfield, author of a book entitled The Surfing Tribe – A History of Surfing in Britain, was initiated into surfing by Mr Bailey on Great Western beach in Newquay. Mr Mansfield said: "He was one of the first lifeguards and through that he got involved in building life-saving equipment and then surfboards.

"These were the first commercially built fibre-glass surfboards in Newquay, which were among the first in the UK."

Mr Bailey set up the European Surfing Company in 1965 with partner Bob Head, which went on to provide all types of surfing equipment for the majority of surfers in Europe.

Bilbo, the surfboard branch of the company, produced about 12,000 boards over the next eight years for an ever-increasing number of surfers.

Mr Mansfield said: "He enabled the beginning of a sport. That's why he is known among surfers as 'the father of surfing'."

Production of Bilbo surfboards started in temporary buildings at Pargolla Road in Newquay – over the next few years new buildings were erected and in 1970 a factory was built on the site.

Bilbo had grown to become one of the finest surfboard factories in the world with custom-built shaping rooms and separate finishing rooms for glassing, sanding, glossing and polishing.

Mr Bailey was originally from Inglesbatch in Somerset and joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 14, where he trained as an engineer and was posted abroad.

At the beginning of the 1970s, he left his first-hand involvement in surfboard production to follow new passions.

Mr Mansfield said: "He left Britain's beaches with thousands of surfers where once there had been just a handful."

Mr Bailey worked for a time at RAF St Mawgan, near Newquay and then at Wheal Jane tin mine, near Redruth, before moving to France, where he set up a factory producing polyurethane foam.

He and his wife Lil then spent a long period cruising the Mediterranean before returning to live in Cornwall in later years.

Following travels in North America, Mr Bailey was diagnosed with a second manifestation of cancer and died on April 28.

He is survived by Lil, his sons Jason and Nick and his 98-year-old father, George.

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    Tom Trevorrow, St Ives, Cornwall  |  May 13 2009, 11:39AM

    What a legend....and what a way to live your life!!

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    bruce soutar, Durban South Africa  |  May 13 2009, 8:23AM

    A full and well live life,in surf...can there be better Viva Bill Viva !

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    there was no surf business until Bill started it all. He was a gentleman & a scholar. It would be nice to see a commemorative plaque down on Gt.Western for him. R.I.P Bill.