The following is our story:-
In the year of 1962 in Cornwall, two Newquay lifeguards were making their entry into the world of wave riding, firstly on wave skis, then hollow wooden paddleboards. They'd heard of 'Malibu’s', a new modern surfboard idea originating from California, with a foam core covered by fiberglass, but never seen one .......that is until McDonald hit town!
The American, Doug McDonald, impressed Bailey with his surfing skill and good advice. He was on his way home to the States and offered his Californian built 10'6'' foam and fiberglass Bragg surfboard for sale. Bill bought the board and his yellow Ford van too! Now he was a surfer with a mobile home in which he could live at the beach. The first, but by no means the last in the following decades!
Within days of this event four young Australian life-savers, one of them Bob Head, turned up on the beach at Great Western with newly built surfboards manufactured by Barry Bennett in Sydney. Once the local lifeguards Bailey and Wilson had seen the Aussies in action in the waves their sole aim was to obtain similar boards. Their only real option was to make them!
Bailey the technical minded craftsman was plotting the next move. After much experimentation he succeeded in producing foam blanks that would enable modern surfboard production to commence. Bill Bailey started producing his custom model boards in a Newquay garage in 1963, and Bob Head quite separately was making his 'Friendly Bear' surfboards in a chicken shack up the coast.
Everything built was bought immediately by a new audience of aspiring British surfers hungry to ride the waves. Surf fever had begun to hit Britain!
Bob Head proved himself to be the finest surfer seen in British waters at that time and he and the three other Aussies gave many exhibitions of surfing at Watergate Bay and Tolcarne beach in Newquay, popularising the sport in the publics eye.
In 1965 Bill Bailey, Bob Head, Doug Wilson and Plymouth businessman Freddy Blight who had experimented building a couple of boards for his sons, decided to join forces as a company dedicated to advancing the development of surfing in Europe. The name Bilbo was born, derived from the Christian names of Bill Bailey and Bob Head.
Production of Bilbo surfboards started in the spring of 1965 in temporary buildings at Pargolla Road
in Newquay. Over the next few years new buildings were erected and by 1970 the factory at Pargolla Road
had grown to become one of the finest surfboard factories in the world. The shaping rooms were custom built, including such refined features as dust extraction, profile lighting and central heating. There were separate finishing rooms for glassing, sanding, glossing and polishing.
Bilbo had diversified to also produce quality skateboard decks fitted with imported U.S. Hobie trucks with clay wheels. This marked the very beginning of skateboarding in Britain! In the spring of 1967 the door was opened to the public at the Bilbo Surf Shop on the Station Forecourt Newquay, marking the first fully stocked dedicated surf shop in the country.
A year later a further Bilbo shop was opened in Mumbles in south Wales managed by top Team Rider Dave Friar. The hunger for information and surfboards from the newly emerging mass of Welsh wave riders had to be fed!
Most of the products sold at the shops were designed by Bilbo and manufactured in the United Kingdom. One good example was the first purpose designed surfing wetsuits produced by the newly formed GUL Wetsuits were originally sold exclusively through the Bilbo outlets.
Under the brand name of Big Gun, Doug Wilson started a company to produce surfwear including shorts, jackets and T-shirts for sale through the Bilbo Shops, marking the start of distinctive clothing for British surfers to wear.
Big Gun eventually became the manufacturer under licence of Hang Ten from Long Beach in California, the most famous American surf clothing company of the time. Many of the best designs produced for Bilbo at the time never reached the surfing market due to the lack of close register silk screen printing facilities. However many of the designs and ideas created by Bilbo still set the standards for present day surfwear.
During these formative years Bilbo was a breeding ground of talent; for many individuals, in the factory, shop or competition team who would grow with surfing to become innovators in the world of surfing in their own right.
The factory always welcomed visiting surfers, such as international stars Rodney Sumpter, Keith Paull and Bob Cooper, plus many lesser-known others who passed on their travelled knowledge and adventures to the local workforce.
Production shaper Chris Jones grew to become one of the most experienced custom shapers in Europe, having earlier contributed enormously to the introduction and development of shortboard designs in the late sixties. Shop-worker Paul Holmes evolved via Tracks 'the surf paper' in Australia to become editor of Surfer magazine in California, where he pioneered the introduction of a surf programme to US network TV. Competition Team member and occasional shaping room cleaner Roger Mansfield progressed to pioneer the development of the surf school concept in Europe in the early Eighties.
Bilbo was very much about open communication and constant innovation. Many of the techniques pioneered at the Bilbo factory were passed on to the general surfing community as it grew, enabling other similar manufacturing ventures to start up in different parts of the country.
It is in this light that Bilbo can claim to be the single most influential force in the development of British surfing and it is through their pioneering efforts that the sport of surfing has become so well established in the UK.
Then as now, Bilbo is an original and authentic force for quality, both in the waves and in the world of surfing.
"Bilbo ... a name from the era of British soul surfing"