Traditional bellyboards are available to borrow for free at 140 beaches across Britain thanks to a Cornish start-up aiming to tackle discarded polystyrene boards
Locally known as ‘snappers’, these are the bargain Styrofoam boards loved by kids on the beach, but which invariably prove to be as short-lived as the great British summer.
On beaches in the South West, their battered remains have become such a depressingly familiar sight that one council has backed a blanket ban on them.
But aware that not every mum or dad has the deep pockets to stock up on a more environmentally friendly wooden alternative to a ‘bellyboard’, one manufacturer is offering free day rentals on UK coasts.
Dick Pierce and Friendsthe start-up, which handcrafts traditional wooden bellyboards in Newquay, Cornwall, trialled the idea under the name ‘Wood for Surf for Good’ last summer and has expanded to more than 30 venues this season.
Around 140 boards were donated to surf shops and National Trust sites in Devon, Cornwall and the East Coast, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“I get it,” said Dick Pierce and Friends owner Jamie Johnston. “People come for a couple of days, kids see these cheap bodyboards covered in crazy pictures and they want them. They often don’t have enough money for a £60 wooden board, so we’re just trying to offer a sustainable alternative.’
Bellyboarders ride the waves in Cornwall. Image: Luke Gartside
Keep Britain Tidy estimates that around 16,000 polystyrene boards are left on UK beaches every year. As they decompose, they release polystyrene fragments into the ocean, which marine life often mistakes for food.
“They’re just not fit for purpose,” said Johnston, whose grandfather introduced him to the joys of wooden bellyboards as a child. “They’re made from the cheapest styrofoam, the stuff your TV is packed in. Anyone who lives here knows how frustrating it is to see them broken and dumped on our beaches.”
Plastic Free North Devon has been campaigning to ban cheap polystyrene plates since 2019. Last year, North Devon County Council voted to back the group’s efforts, saying it could not impose a ban but urged retailers to act voluntarily.
It is estimated that 16,000 polystyrene plates are left behind in the UK every year. Image: Ocean Restoration Project
A wave of public support – including a 6,700-signature parliamentary petition – has led to four north Devon towns declaring self-imposed bans.
Dick Pearce and Friends boards are hand-crafted from sustainable birch plywood, and Johnston said the advantages of wood over cheap Styrofoam aren’t just environmental.
“Bellyboards don’t have the same buoyancy as foam, so you feel very connected to the water,” he explained. “It feels amazingly natural.”
Main image: Evie Johnston
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Surfers offer free wooden bellyboards to cut plastic pollution