John Kirkham

Born -1946 ; Location - Plymouth, England ; Sport - Surfing


In 1966 two things happened for the first time....England won the Football World Cup and John Kirkham bought a latest-technology, fibre-glass surf-board.

We're still waiting for the second occurrence of one of these events, while John Kirkham owns 4 surf-boards.

They are merely the current collection of the many boards he has bought. The first board, as were many of the subsequent ones, was bought from the early surf-board makers in Cornwall, where he grew up. This was during the period when surfing was becoming established in the UK, having arrived here shortly after the Second World War. According to legend the first board builder, making wooden boards, was a local ice-cream seller. John says that  As a boy he would hitchhike to Newquay from the village where he lived to body surf, and he became acquainted with many of the pioneers of British surfing. He would also spend time watching the Americans, Australians and South Africans who were coming to the UK to work as lifeguards on the beaches of the South West and who brought their new fibre glass surf boards with them. The local surfers learnt from them, and began designing and building boards in the new material.


So, "In at the beginning" of surfing in the UK is how he describes it, and still surfing as enthusiastically as ever 50 years later is how it looks to us. <?p> <p.

Much of that 50 years was spent in a teaching career from which he retired seven years ago. Interestingly not a PE teacher or a sports instructor, but a Chemistry and science teacher, and his pupils benefitted from trips to the waves with him if they shared his enthusiasm. One of them phoned him up recently many years after having left school to ask his advice about the best way to reconnect with surfing having returned to Cornwall for work. They met up in a pub and it was with shock that John realised his former pupil was now a 52-year-old middle aged man with a family and a career! And an equal shock to realise his own age.


Spend a few minutes watching him surf, and the idea of him being 65 doesn't' really compute. This isn't how 65-year-olds behave, it's not what they do. But it is what they can do, evidently, if they put their mind to it - and their body, which John does. He has been a regular visitor to the gym for many years, knowing that the sport he loves will not be available to him if he doesn't spend the time and make the effort to keep in shape for it. He knows the sport's demands and he pays his dues. As well as the gym work he does Yoga for the benefits it brings in terms of the flexibility and suppleness. And another result of all this work is that he is still able to get into his 32" jeans.


Still all the effort is worthwhile. To get waves you have to be able to paddle out through the breakers, preferably using a rip - a danger for swimmers, but a boon for surfers - to get beyond them and sit in the 'line-up' waiting for the right wave. Even if he now needs to spend a few moments recovering his energy for the taking the next wave, were he chats with his friends, most of whom are also surfers. He acknowledges that things are different, "sport is different as you get older" he says, but "you surf smart". You stay in shape in order to make the most of the experience that you comes with age.


Although surfing has not been his life, it has played a large part in shaping his life. His choice of where to live, sometimes where to holiday, and what he likes to do with his time - year round, for he surfs the winter, too. Living in the South West he comes across many examples of people continuing to surf into their seventies and even one woman in her eighties who asked him for a contact to make her a custom wet-suit so she could withstand the winter. These people give him the encouragement to continue with his passion, and if he needed any other incentive, well, there are always the size 32's.

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