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Riding Waves in Undiscovered Bays

Surfer kids can be an unstoppable force of nature with the right encouragement. We caught up with Ross and Angus Thomson – founders of Saltrock, and beach natives – about growing up in a surf-soaked community, dawn-drops at the beach, and finding inspiration where you least expect it.

Two sun-kissed South African surfers disembarked the London train in Penzance, with 23 years of sun, surf and adventure already under their belts. Angus and Ross’ new Cornish neighbours had little knowledge of the travellers, but their entrepreneurial spirit and flair for design was loud and clear. True surf soul had hit the UK, and it was exciting.

“Just you and the waves”

Angus and Ross’ #Saltrocksoul started in Durban, the surf capital of the world. The brothers were taught to surf by their older brothers when they were just nine years old, and were constantly at the beach from then on. They rode the waves alongside world champion and international surfers, and bonded with a community who migrated to the coast year-round, drawn to the balmy climate, excellent surf and a welcoming community.

While neither of their parents surfed, they were ambitious and confident – traits that rubbed off on the boys – and were endlessly supportive of their passions. They saw the beach culture for what it was; a friendly place, full of kids, that kept budding adventurers busy and out of trouble. “Our parents would take us down there at first light and collect us in the evening,” said Angus. “We could handle ourselves, whether it was swimming or surfing and we were all about the beach lifestyle as a family. Our parents were keen for us to step out on our own and do something.”

“I have so many memories of surfing with Angus and our friends in Durban, we were really independent,” said Ross. “When we were teenagers, we started to explore and drive around seeking surf adventures. It was exciting, we wanted to find the bays without the crowds. You’d turn up and it’d be just you and the waves.”

A young Ross Thomson surfing in South Africa
The big, wide world

Wherever Angus and Ross went, they were followed by surf. They couldn’t escape the calling, even when the family moved into the mountains. At boarding school they met a surf-obsessed teacher, complete with customised camper van, who waved ‘so long’ to the boys every weekend as he escaped 150 miles coastal-bound for a surf session. At just thirteen years old and feeling rebellious, the boys concocted plans to start an adventure as soon as they left college, and travel the world boards in tow.

As they progressed through education, the adventure of a lifetime was nearly within reach. But ahead of surfing Meccas such as Hawaii and Mexico, the UK was their first stop. Just a stone’s throw from Europe and with easy links to Morocco, they were intrigued by the business opportunities that could fund greater adventures in the future. “Mum and Dad were keen travellers too,” said Angus, referring to their emigration from the UK to Zimbabwe, and then relocation from Johannesburg to Durban. “They were so supportive, they loved that we were getting out there and doing something entrepreneurial, but we didn’t always tell them what we had planned – they’d have a heart attack!

Setting up shop

Angus and Ross planted their flag in the UK in 1983. The early days of Saltrock were surf inspired and true to the guys’ roots. They made everything by hand, weaving their love of the outdoors, coast and the ocean into every t-shirt. But, their big ambitions had a humble beginnings and after renting a garage to start the clothing brand, they soon had to roll up their sleeves and think like engineers.  

Angus working on the first homemade screen

“Neither of us had any printing experience, so we went to the local library and found a book about screen printing and how to build the machinery we needed,” said Ross. “After raiding every skip and tip, we eventually found enough scraps and salvaged pieces to make a perfect two-colour screen printing system. We used an old Salvation Army blanket to block out the light, so we could make a perfect transfer onto the mesh of a printing screen, and to set the designs we built a curing unit from a disused bank safe. I mounted a worn thermostat and timer to the inside, plus a tin foil lining to keep in the heat.” It worked like a charm. Not only had they built a fully functioning printing unit which produced high quality, fully detailed designs (that they’d also sell on at a profit years later), they’d also made something unique - a dual coloured garment in the rainbow-fuelled late 80s.

“We went to every surf shop in the area and sold our designs. The stores were flooded with very bright, multi-coloured graphics. What we had produced was completely the opposite, so we had to rely on the design to catch the eye and it seemed to strike a chord.”

Angus and Ross’s sense of adventure and entrepreneurial spirit kept their handmade machine working, and the garments were a hit. They steadily expanded the operation until their clothing range was snapped up by families exploring the coast.

Angus shows off the brothers' first curing unit made from a disused bank safe
Surfing culture for families

Angus and Ross are still here nurturing British beach culture for families and surfers today and getting kids involved with the coast has become a great passion for the Saltrock founders, now both parents themselves. “Now I have two young daughters – Holly and Georgia  – seeing them enjoy the ocean is like watching myself at that age,” Ross said. “The excitement is infectious”.

Ross now loves to surf with his daughters

“We do everything to recreate that feeling in our clothing,” said Ross. “I’m still the lead designer at Saltrock and I want kids (and adults) to feel adventurous and ready for fun – like we did in Durban – when they wear our gear. We go for it with graphics, illustration, tone and colours to inspire a sense of escapism. It’s a reflection of our upbringing – do something, be confident and be relaxed. Those are our family values, as well as our brand's."

If you’d like some #SaltrockSoul in your family’s life, check out the kids range, or get out there and have a real adventure. Read the rest of our blog to get some family-fun inspired ideas.               

Angus and Ross surfing at home in North Devon
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