Prout Bellyboard – Canvey Island, Essex

One of my absolute favourite boards. I’m an Essex boy, so to find a board made in this flat land (and not great for surf) was pretty cool. From the minute I saw this board I begged its last owner (John Isaac) to sell it to me.

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So whilst you might think Canvey Island is all about The Goldmine and Chris Hill (okay that probably shut in the 80s), or a pint in the Lobster Smack or even its decent 70s music scene including Doctor Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods or even the Kursaal Flyers – you may need think again. It’s also the place where Catamaran boats were first really produced for the commercial market. In 1949 the Prout brothers (Roland and Francis) starting lashing canoes together to make Catamarans. Come the 50s they were making significantly bigger boats and winning just about every race they entered, which saw their business go from boat building to making mainly Catamarans. They built and sold thousands over the years and were a significant company in Canvey, closing in roughly 2002 (after a few name changes).

But building Catamarans is not how the business started. In 1935 G Prout and sons started by making small folding wooden dinghies that could be placed on a yacht. They saw a gap in the market and started producing these small boats (first tested in a duck pond) and sold them all over the world. Of course the war got in the way of that, but once over they got back to production (see advert at bottom of post).

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I’m finding this a common theme among bellyboard makers. It seems to me that many were made by boat makers or racket/bat makers as a side line.

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I am talking to a few historians from Canvey to try and help date this board, but I think it’s from the period when they were making the folding wooden boats. Either pre-war (the second one!) or in the early 50s, just after the war. It has that glorious flat top with a rocker and a gorgeous burnt in logo (see images). It’s 10.5 inches wide (all the way down) and just 42 inches long, which I think (being a bit vertically challenged) makes it perfect. It’s a really lovely board and and looks almost as perfect as a board could. I’d love to find out if they created other versions.

prout

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