Britain’s first competitive female surfer is still riding waves… aged 68

Gwyn Haslock, 68, riding the waves in Cornwall
Gwyn Haslock, 68, riding the waves in Cornwall

Britain’s first competitive female surfer is still catching waves aged 68 – SIX DECADES after taking to the sea.

Gwyn Haslock first headed into the swell in 1950s as a seven-year-old girl, using a solid wooden ‘bellyboard’ and a woolly jumper for a wetsuit.

In the 1960s Gwyn was the first British woman to use a proper fibre-glass board to surf standing up – and the ONLY female to enter the country’s earliest surfing competitions.

She went on to win a string of titles in the sixties and seventies as the ladies finally got their own contests.

The spinster has carried on surfing ever since and has even more time to hit the waves in her native Cornwall after retiring four years ago from her job as a council clerk.

She said: “I’ll continue with my surfing until I am physically no longer able to do so. I just love going in the sea and the feeling of the sea water.

“I just feel absolutely free, completely inhibited and at one with nature. There’s no better feeling.”

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Brits were first seen taking to the waves on bellyboards as far as back as 1919 when returning travellers tried to replicate the “surf riding” they had seen in Hawaii, South Africa and Australia.

Lewis Rosenberg became the first person in the UK to be filmed catching a wave standing up in 1929 but conventional surfing didn’t become the norm until the the 1960s.


Gwyn surfing at the Tolcarne beach, Newquay, Cornwall, in 1965
Gwyn surfing at the Tolcarne beach, Newquay, Cornwall, in 1965
Gwyn was Britain's first competitive female surfer
Gwyn was Britain’s first competitive female surfer

Gwyn, of Truro, fell in love with the craze after watching her older brother Bob try it out in Newquay, where the family had a beach hut.

She bought her first fibre glass board in 1965 and was one of the first women photographed riding a wave standing up.

In 1966 she entered the GB National Surfboard Championships but failed to progress past the early heats because she was competing entirely against men.

But it was a different story by 1969 when Gwyn took first place in the same contest after it introduced a women’s section.

She said: “I started out wearing a thick woolly jumper before progressing on to a heavy diving suit which zipped up at the front.

“We didn’t have wetsuits at the at time. You just had to use what was available.

“I was taught the basic skills and began stand up surfing on a 10ft board – I loved it.

“There were no other ladies in the first competition I entered. I don’t know what the men made of me but I wasn’t too bothered – I was just there to surf.

“I just thought of my self as a surfer, whether you were male or female, it didn’t matter.

“After that competition the surfing organisation said they’d have a ladies section in the future.

“Surfing has come on so much since then. It’s become a sport for all ages and all abilities and disabilities.”

Silver-haired Gwyn goes surfing at least three times a week and says her passion for the water helps keep her fit and active.

She now wears a wetsuit, gloves, booties, ear plugs and a helmet as she rides waves on a modern 8ft board.

Gwyn said: “My perfect conditions are two foot offshore but I’m not too picky – I just love being in the sea.

“Catching a wave is just such a thrill – you feel the force of nature. It’s an escape which enables you to have no worries.

“As you get older you become less agile but I still catch waves and that’s the main thing.

“Although it’s rare to see female as old as me out in the surf but people are always very friendly. We’re all in the water to do the same thing, after all.

“I’ve been surfing for almost my entire life and I will never stop – I would miss it far too much.”


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