After missing the very first Arthur Traveller Memorial Contest my Dad and I gathered with a like-minded crowd of 30 or 40 for the first World Bellyboard Championships. The crisp Autumn air and early start made the prospect of a ten-minute, wetsuit-free session in the sea a little daunting. Unlike the many hardy older folk of this little island of ours I most certainly favour a good 4mm of neoprene between me and the sea. The event, despite the sea temperature, was so enjoyable that we wanted to get more involved. It was 2004 and over the next eight years we would man the t-shirt stall together in the ever-growing event.
Organised and hosted by National Trust, the World Bellyboard Championship is attended by enthusiasts and curious onlookers in their hundreds, as well as brave wave riders of all ages and abilities. The initial gathering was organised by Martyn Ward and Chris Ryan as a memorial contest to the late Arthur Traveller, a Londoner who was a regular visitor with his wooden board at Chapel Porth. From humble beginnings with only a handful of competitors it has now grown into the World Championships we see today with over 300 surfers.
As well as looking after the ever-popular t-shirt stall I took on the task of designing the poster and t-shirt. This never felt like a chore, more like an honour. Invariably August would descend upon me and the honour was hastily finalised and sent off to be screen-printed prior to the September championships. For many years the t-shirts included a couple of bellyboarders – this wasn't intentional, it just happened. They became known as Frank and Barbara and, after many years surfing on the tees, 2013 saw Frank and Barbs watching proceedings from their trusty Traveller. The following year, 2014, was the first year they didn't feature on the print. A poignant retirement of the two bellyboarders, following a tough year in 2013. My father had died of a genetic illness in the July and as September approached I faced the prospect of both attending the event and manning the stall without him. It was something we'd always done together – the previous year, 2012, was the first time he had not participated in the water. There was only one thing to do: get my head down and design a t-shirt and get behind the stall - an approach that was made all the more possible with the superb support from the team behind the championships. In recognition of my Dad's contribution to the event his name was put to the 'Spirit of Bellyboarding' award, given out each year to an individual or couple who have really embraced the unique spirit of this eccentric event.
T-shirts and stickers aside, the other reason for being involved was to get in the water on the narrow piece of plywood that is the traditional bellyboard. This basic form of surfing, which is highly popular in Cornwall, always brings a smile. Linking the stand-up version of surfing with the boardless bodysurfing, the bellyboard puts you back in touch with the very surface of the wave. Having secured a couple of notable results in the early days of the champs – when entrants numbered around 30 to 40 - I was super-keen to get back in the top three now that the champs regularly attracts 300 participants. 2015 proved to be the year – in sloppy 1ft wind-swell on a bright September Sunday I managed to secure the Junior (under 60's) title, making me third in the world overall. My Dad would have been proud.
The future will see a change; after ten years of tees, it seemed time to invite a guest designer to put their slant on the 2016 event. You'll find me behind the stall come September, but it'll be the handy work of someone else on the back of the next offering. As for defending my title, time will tell...