King Charles III: the British royal surfer

September 14, 2022 | Surfing
Bondi Beach, 1977: Charles, Prince of Wales, leaves the surf surrounded by locals | Photo: Royal Wedding Album

King Charles III of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms is a longtime surfer and windsurfer. Here's how he got into waves and wind.

The United Kingdom may not be the ultimate surfing destination, but the truth is that the British royal family has a long tradition in water sports.

It all started in the early 20th century.

In April 1920, Edward, Prince of Wales, and future King Edward VIII (1936-1936) went on an official trip to the Hawaiian islands.

At Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, he had the chance to try "surfboarding" way before surfing became a worldwide phenomenon and lifestyle.

The monarch, aged 26, was persuaded into riding a wave at the iconic surf spot by Duke Kahanamoku, the multiple-time Olympic gold medalist and father of modern surfing.

Duke's father was born during a visit the Duke of Edinburgh made to Hawaii in 1869.

He had been given the first name Duke to commemorate the event.

So, when his first-born son arrived, the elder Kahanamoku passed the name along.

Honolulu, Hawaii, 1920: Edward, Prince of Wales, and future King Edward VIII rides the waves of Waikiki

Edward: The Pioneer British Surfing Prince

After being taken out to the lineup by an outrigger canoe, the future King Edward VIII was able to surf the famous Hawaiian wave.

"The future King Edward VIII was so stoked that he ordered the royal ship HMS Renown to return for three days in September just to surf!" recalls the Museum of British Surfing.

According to the historical reports, HMS Renown even had to postpone the return because the young Prince was still out the back surfing.

"Mountbatten was taught to surf by Prince David Kalakaua Kawananakoa, the only son of Prince David Kawananakoa who had surfed in Bridlington on England's east coast in 1890."

During his secret surf trip, Edward, Prince of Wales, went surfing every day with his great friend Lord Louis Mountbatten and Duke's brother David Kahanamoku.

David let the Prince use his solid wood surfboard, weighing about 100 pounds (45.3 kilograms).

An authentic replica of the board he rode at Waikiki is on display in the Museum of British Surfing.

The moment the young royal stood up and got gliding across the warm water was captured by a camera.

The photos were signed by Edward and Louis and gifted to their hosts as a thank you. The historical documents stood the test of time.

One of the photos shows the foursome taking a break from surfing and resting on their surfboard.

In a 1950 interview, David Kahanamoku revealed that the two young royals surfed for two hours every morning and three hours every afternoon during their Hawaiian stay.

"The Prince learned quickly to ride the board standing. Louis Mountbatten never mastered the art but was content to lie prone," Kahanamoku said.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, opened one of the world's first wave pools at the Empire Swimming Pool at Wembley Stadium in 1934.

Surf bathing was one of the early names for surfing - usually practiced with a bellyboard - before World War II.

The pool was an incredible feat of engineering - even wave heights could be adjusted.

The Duke of Gloucester was a passionate surfer who rode waves in New Zealand.

London, April 4, 1934: Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester opens the surf bathing pool at Wembley Stadium | Article: The Illustrated London News

Elizabeth's Surf Baptism in South Africa

When King Edward VIII abdicated, his brother, the Duke of York, succeeded to the throne as George VI.

George VI ruled from December 1936 to August 1947.

His eldest daughter would become Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch - 70 years and 214 days.

According to South Africa's The Casual Observer, the then Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret tried surfing during a royal visit to the country in 1947.

Here's an excerpt of the article published at the time, describing a rather awkward occurrence:

"During two nights above King's Beach, the South African cabinet minister Harry Lawrence and his wife Jean introduced the princesses to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean."

"One reporter, on seeing Princess Elizabeth in a bathing costume, noted she had 'curves in all the right places.'"

"This act of lese-majesty so infuriated the king that he insisted that the crowds be kept back and no photographs permitted when Lawrence gave him and his daughters lessons in surfing."

"As Lawrence was emboldened to take the king and later Princess Margaret firmly by the hips and give them and their wooden boards a shove onto promising waves, the queen and her ladies-in-waiting paddled in the shallows."

Charles Rides Cornwall

Queen Elizabeth II's son Charles, Prince of Wales, would later revive his family's passion for water sports.

The first known pictures of the Prince of Wales giving surfing a go date back to 1970-1973.

They were taken at Constantine Bay Beach in Cornwall, England.

The pictures were donated to the Museum of British Surfing by surfer Phil Turner from Plymouth, who was out surfing with the prince at the time - his wife Marguerite took the photos.

"His bodyguard was on the beach, so my wife wasn't sure if it would be OK taking pictures, but she decided to give it a go as Charles left the surf," said Phil.

"Cornish surfers Mick Wingfield and Nick McBrean were in the water that day."

According to the Museum of British Surfing, Charles parked his beloved Aston Martin on a dune and went surfing with a single-fin surfboard.

However, locals still remember His Royal Highness's lack of surf etiquette.

Apparently, the monarch would drop in on their waves and, in return, the more experienced Cornish surfers would swear at the Prince.

There is an apocryphal tale that, seeking advice from the locals, Charles enquired what he should do with the wax.

"Rub it on the bottom. It's just like waxing your skis - you'll go much faster," the locals told His Majesty.

Cornwall, 1970-1973: Charles, Prince of Wales, explores the waves of Constantine Bay | Photo: Museum of British Surfing

A Cold Water Surfing Experience at Bondi Beach

Five years later, in November 1977, Prince Wales visited Australia as Patron of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust for Young Australians.

Surfing was already planted in his mind, and he wanted to try Sydney's famous surfing beaches.

On November 5, His Majesty was keen to check the surf at Coogee, but local lifesavers assured him the surf was better at Bondi.

After refusing offers from locals to paddle out wearing a wetsuit, moments later, he wished he had accepted them.

"Gee - it's bloody cold. It reminds me of home," Prince Charles said.

During his Australian surfing baptism, the monarch chatted with a then 15-year-old Peter Koutouzis, who advised the young Prince how to surf better.

"He can stand beautifully on a board, and he can ride it, but he's very slow," the young grom told the journalists later.

Koutouzis shared a few tips on the royal surfboard, and the monarch was grateful for the advice.

Later, the young local was invited to appear in a commercial for the detergent brand Surf, but he declined.

The best part, though, arrived four years later - Peter Koutouzis was one of the few commoners to appear in Charles and Diana's official wedding book.

In August 1978, the Prince of Wales was also photographed sailing in Australia on a windsurfing kit.

Charles, Prince of Wales, 1997: the monarch hits the cold water waves of Bondi Beach | Photo: Royal Archives

Surfers at Buckingham Palace

Also, in 1978, Charles invited the British surfing team to meet him at Buckingham Palace before flying to South Africa to compete in the World Amateur Championships.

The monarch had already become the patron of the former British Surfing Association.

And so Bob Male, Colin Wilson, Nigel Semmens, Pete Jones, Steve Daniels, and Lord Ted Deerhurst became the first surfers to get inside the administrative headquarters of the royal family.

The British surfing team finished third in the international competition, and Deerhurst became Europe's first professional surfer.

The Viscount later joined the International Professional Surfing (IPS) world circuit and beat stars like Cheyne Horan on his way to the semifinals of a Sunset Beach contest, held in 10-to-12-foot surf.

The future King Charles III's love of water sports was passed on to his older son, William, who learned to surf in 2004 in St. Andrews, Scotland.

At his 2011 bachelor party, the Duke of Cambridge went surfing with two friends in North Devon.

Earlier in 1993, William and his brother Harry had already tried bodyboarding with their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, during a holiday on the small Caribbean island of Nevis.

British Surfing Association team, 1978: Bob Male, Colin Wilson, Nigel Semmens, Pete Jones, Steve Daniels, and Lord Ted Deerhurst visit Buckingham Palace | Photo: Museum of British Surfing

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