Sally Parkin is on the crest of a wave with her new Devon business Original Surfboards

PUBLISHED: 13:07 12 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:07 12 February 2015

Sally Parkin enjoying the surf: 'Catching a wave on one of these boards is so much easier than stand-up surfing'

Sally Parkin enjoying the surf: 'Catching a wave on one of these boards is so much easier than stand-up surfing'

Archant

CHRISSY HARRIS meets a woman whose love for surfing has seen her overcome the sneers to run a highly successful company

Talking to Sally Parkin is much like surfing a wave. You’re never quite sure which direction you’re heading in, or where it will take you, but it’s pretty exciting being carried along.

I’m sat in Sally’s study in her home in Silverton, near Exeter, surrounded by books, papers, photographs, surf boards, vintage swimming costumes, postcards and boxes upon boxes, full of surfing memorabilia.

A Jack Russell called Abby scurries in and out, twitchy because she thinks the bin men are on their way and they always give her a treat. The phone’s ringing, cups of tea and coffee are being made and biscuits dished out.

It’s hard to catch a breath but exhilarating at the same time – you don’t want to miss anything.

By her own admission, Sally “is not a very structured person”, but one thing is clear: once she gets an idea in her head, there’s absolutely no stopping her.

She set up The Original Surf Board Company in 2008 and is leading a one-woman campaign to make surf riding - surfing prone on a short, wooden bodyboard - respectable again. Her mission has taken her on a voyage of discovery and turned up some fascinating information about the history of this very British sport, also known as bellyboarding or bodyboarding.

The Orginal Surfboard Company's unique, retro design is proving popular with all kinds of surfersThe Orginal Surfboard Company's unique, retro design is proving popular with all kinds of surfers

Sally has also made some very cool and significant friends in the surfing world - not bad for a 54-year-old mum of two who doesn’t do ‘stand-up-surfing’.

“I’ve made such a great connection with people I hardly know,” she says. “I think that’s the thing when you’re all doing something you love.”

Sally admits she’s had some “good banter” with stand-up surfers who look down (sometimes literally) on bellyboarders because it’s not ‘proper’ surfing.

But she’s fought her corner and argues that people were lying down long before they were standing up.

It seems word is spreading and many respected surfers are now paying homage to the heritage of their sport.

“Alan Stokes (UK professional surfer) had one of my boards for a couple of years and we have gone in the water together,” she says. “He really likes it. Things like that help massively.”

The Orginal Surfboard Company's unique, retro design is proving popular with all kinds of surfersThe Orginal Surfboard Company's unique, retro design is proving popular with all kinds of surfers

Sally casually name drops other world-renowned surfers, including Rob Machado, who arrived with a film crew and senior execs from the surf brand Hurley at her family’s holiday home in Porthcothan, Cornwall, where Sally divides her time.

“That was a defining moment for me,” says Sally, who used to work in graphic design and specialist TV production. “We’d been at this event in Cornwall and I’d had surfers being quite rude about ‘bellyboarding’ and then you’ve got someone like Rob, asking to come in the water with me – and I beat him on a few waves! He has posted the film of the visit on his website.”

Having some of the coolest people in the world think you’re cool has got to be a good thing.

It’s helping Sally’s mission to shake off the ‘bellyboarding’ image, with all its connotations of elderly and slightly less athletically-shaped followers.

It’s a difficult fight. Events such as the World Bellyboard Championships, held every year at Chapel Porth, Cornwall, have helped to put the sport on the map, but not always for the right reasons.

Sally is involved with the competition but is frequently dismayed by the tongue-in-cheek coverage it attracts in the media.

Sally Parkin's passion for surfing has led her on an extradordinary journeySally Parkin's passion for surfing has led her on an extradordinary journey

“Six years ago, bellyboarding did not have a cool image and that really was the trigger for me starting the business,” says Sally, who has been riding wooden bodyboards on the North Cornwall coast since the age of five. “The thing is, it was so cool. My research shows these beautiful London showgirls coming down in the 1950s and surf riding on these wooden boards.

“I don’t want to call them bellyboards – they never used to be called that, we just called them surfboards.”

It helps that Sally’s boards, which are hand-built in Devon and Dorset, look completely beautiful. You can’t help but want to stroke them, all shiny and smooth and personalised with vinyl designs, if you want.

They couldn’t be more retro-chic, which is all the rage these days.

“People do love that,” says Sally. “When I first started the company, we struggled to find anything vintage, like swimming costumes for when we were doing photoshoots. Now, of course, it’s a lot easier.

“For a lot of customers, there’s a very strong sense of nostalgia and memory attached to these boards. People have told me it takes them back to their childhoods. That is really touching.”

Sally’s client base seems to be a heady mix of new and old. People of a certain vintage wanting to recreate the thrills of their youth and people who just want vintage.

“And what about you?” Sally asks me. “Do you surf at all?”

It’s a slightly embarrassing conversation to be having after spending the past few hours talking of little else but I confess that I don’t, due to being rubbish at swimming and not wanting to get my hair wet.

“Oh it’s so brilliant and you can pick it up so quickly,” says Sally. “Catching a wave on one of these boards is so much easier than stand-up surfing.” It’s tempting. Sally is so committed and passionate - plus these boards just look amazing. I could always hang one on the wall and pretend I use it.

originalsurfboards.co.uk

Next month: Sally’s research has uncovered some fascinating insights into the history of surf riding.

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