Each month, Seasalt celebrates Cornwall’s vibrant artistic community by shining a light on the county’s creative pioneers. Jamie Johnstone from Dick Pearce & Friends makes traditional wooden bellyboards by hand. We caught up with him at his workshop near Fistral Beach.
Dick Pearce has a rich history. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Dick Pearce Bellyboards, was founded by his father Charles in South Molton, Devon in 1928. It used to be a tannery and Charles used to make all sorts of beach goods. They started making bellyboards in the ’40s.
Charles Pearce handed the business on to his son Dick once he passed away. When Dick Pearce died in 2010, we bought the business from his widow, along with the manufacturing equipment and have continued the heritage today.
Throughout the years it’s probably the biggest bellyboard manufacturer in the UK. The craft struggled with the introduction of cheap polystyrene bellyboards that came in the ’80s, people started using cheaper disposable items. We’re trying to revitalise traditional bellyboards and make it fun for everyone again.
What’s the process of making a bellyboard?
We use the original model of the board called the ‘surf rider’, we still use a lot of original techniques. The boards are created from plywood, we cut eight boards from a single sheet using the original template that’s been used for around 70 years.
We use the traditional bending racks that have been used since the beginning and have made around 10,000 boards in their time. They’re rough and ready and all the boards come out with different bends, we like that because it makes them all individual and gives them their own character.
Recently, we’ve tried to bring a bit more colour and fun into them, so our bellyboards are beautiful to hold and look great on the beach.
They’re still the same bit of bent plywood that is fun to ride. It’s all about honing the craft and making it accessible for everybody. Giving people another option of something else to ride on the beach.
“I find being in Cornwall an inspirational place to be, there are loads of makers and creators down here doing great stuff and I think it’s good to keep promoting Cornwall.”
Do you have a favourite board?
I’ve got a few favourites. We get a lot of special board requests, people who want boards made for their weddings. Things like that are always fun to make.
My favourite is my grandparents’ boards that we have at home. They’re the boards that I learnt on. They’re really battered now but you can still use them, they still work well and it’s nice to have that family heritage.
In the heart of surfing country, what got you into bellyboarding?
I started bellyboarding when I was probably about four or five. My parents made us learn to bellyboard before we could start surfing.
As soon as we could ride waves on our bellyboards we could get a foam bodyboard and then we could move onto surf boards. It helps your timing with the waves and the ability to read the wave if you learn on a bellyboard.
What is special about bellyboarding?
What’s good about bellyboarding is how simple it is. It’s just a bent bit of plywood but it is so fun to use, and anyone can do it. Whether it’s a little kid or your grandmother.
You can take flippers out to make it a bit more exhilarating and catch bigger waves and tubes. It’s just really good fun for anyone.
If someone’s never bellyboarded before, what would be your advice?
Just give it a go. The good thing about bellyboarding, if someone’s never tried it before, it’s fun and easy. It’s a really good alternative to bodyboarding.
If you’re new to the water, you can walk out to waist deep water and kick off into waves and it is good fun.
You live and work right near the beach; how often do you get in the sea?
If the surf’s good I try to get in every day but it’s not always easy between work and children. I surf quite a lot and bellyboard a couple of times a week. My Mum bellyboards every day, so I try to go in with her, that’s always fun.
Are you involved in the World Bellyboarding Championships?
The Word Bellyboarding Championships have had a few years off. They came back last year in 2018, run by the RNLI. They’re back this year, it’s a fun event if you get a chance to get down there.
There are 200 places this year for anyone wanting to compete. The age category is 70 and under. I’m not sure how it’s judged but anyone’s got a chance to become world champion, so why not.
Are tiny trunks an essential part of the uniform, is that part of the judging?
I think you are now allowed to wear a wetsuit at the World Bellyboard Champs. We don’t mind if people wear wetsuits or Budgy Smugglers…
We try to not make it too retro for people. If you want to surf in a wetsuit then that’s cool, if you want to surf in a swimsuit with a bobble hat on then that’s also cool, it’s good for anyone.
Tell us what your perfect day looks like?
A perfect day. I would get up, take the dog and the baby to the beach. We live about 200 metres from Fistral Beach, so I’d head down for a surf check … the surf would be good. Later I’d get in for a surf and a bellyboard and then, can I go to the pub and drink 10 pints?
Any day on the beach is a good day and as much time in the water as possible, so that’s why we like bellyboarding because we spend a lot of time in the water. If you’ve finished surfing, you can go on the bellyboard.
What’s is your favourite bit of coastline in Cornwall?
My favourite bit of coastline is around the Newquay area. We’ve got seven beaches in Newquay; Crantock, Fistral and beaches all the way up to Watergate Bay.
A selection of beautiful beaches, which all have good waves and different types of waves, they break in different winds. It is beautiful around here and dog friendly too.