Yeo`s Bellyboard Factory

After WW2 , 2-week seaside holidays became incredibly popular, with hundreds of people arriving by train every summer weekend in Woolacombe. Bert Yeo owned the local garages and also had a coach business, which took the visitors out of the village on day trips all round North Devon. When the drivers weren’t on the road, Bert kept them busy making belly boards in a building attached to his coach parking yard in Mortehoe.

In the 1960`s Bert`s young nephew Malcolm Yeo started working there in his school holidays :

“One of my jobs was to order the 8`x 4` sheets of 3/8” marine ply. We took delivery of 500 sheets 2 or 3 times a year, so with 8 boards coming out of each sheet ( see cutting plan ) about 10,000 a year were produced !”

“After cutting them out with a saw, the boards` noses were placed in drums of boiling water for an hour : Getting the nose kick was pretty crude, really. Bert had some step ladders where we would jam the hot and wet nose down under one step, and pull down and tie the rest of the board against the ladder with rope. One long ladder could take a dozen or so boards tied down in a row. A day or two later they were bent for good, and dry, and could be untied and finished off.”

Before painting or varnishing, rasps and sandpaper were used to round off the corners, then an art teacher at the Comprehensive School, Tim Smith, did the logos using the old silk-screen method. Pictures of surfers, fish, seahorses…. or if a client wanted to hire the boards out, just the stencilled name of a hotel or business, like the huge Parkin Estates who managed the Woolacombe beaches .

`Bert had a booking office for the coaches in Woolacombe, where he also sold the boards. If you wanted to hire one it was 10 bob deposit, plus a shilling a day ( 50p, and 5p). The boards each cost Bert 10 bob to make, so if one didn`t get returned, the deposit covered the full cost .`

By the 1980`s Bert had built a block of flats on the old coach premises, and the business moved down the hill to Woolacombe, on the site which is now Gulf Steam Surfboards – wonder if they know that ?
The factory`s demise in the mid 80`s was brought on by the arrival of cheap imported polystyrene belly boards and plastic foam boogie boards .

Tony Cope, Nov. 2011.

Many thanks to the Yeo family – Malcolm, Avis, Jean and Graham – for all this information.


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