Sumpter, Rod


Nation-hopping surfer and surf entrepreneur from Cornwall, England; 1960s title-winner in Australia, America, Great Britain, and Ireland, and the sport's only quad-national champion. Sumpter was born (1947) in Watford, England, the son of an insurance salesman, moved with his family at age five to Sydney, Australia, and began surfing in 1961 at 14. Two years later the gangly regularfooter won the juniors division of the Australian Invitational Surfing Championships.

Sumpter (long known as "Gopher" for his oversized front teeth) began dividing his time between Sydney and Southern California; in 1964 he won the juniors in the United States Surfing Championships, and in 1965 he competed with the American team at the World Surfing Championships in Peru. He also traveled to Jersey in the British Channel Islands, winning the inaugural Great Britain National Championships.

Sumpter moved back to England in 1966, and with his aggressive Aussie-style turns and a gift for noseriding—complemented by a smooth-talking raconteur charm—he made a profound impression on the budding English surfing scene. Sumpter was hired by Bilbo Surfboards in Cornwall and began shaping his own Union Jack signature model, which became a huge success following his fifth-place finish (while representing Great Britain) in the 1966 World Championships in California.

Two years later, in a complicated set of circumstances, Sumpter won the Irish National Championships and rode for Ireland in the 1968 World Championships in Puerto Rico. For the 1970 World Championships in Australia, he once again represented Great Britain. He dropped out of competitive surfing not long after finishing third in the 1971 Makaha International.

Sumpter gained further notice in 1967, when he rode a tidal bore wave up the Severn River, west of Bristol, for more than two miles. Two years later, he tried, without much success, to ride a bore up the icy-cold Bay of Fundy. Also in 1969, Sumpter produced British Surfer, the first domestic surf magazine; it lasted just six issues. Sumpter also  filmed and produced surf movies, releasing seven titles between 1967 and 1979, including Come Surf With Me (1967), Freeform (1970), and Oceans (1972). Critics weren't impressed. "Rodney Sumpter," one surf magazine reviewer noted in a review for Freeform, "proves he's more polished in the waves than behind the camera." (David Sumpter, his brother, fared much the same with his 1974 surf movie On Any Morning.)

Not counting his own films, Sumpter appeared in several surf movies, including Surfing the Southern Cross (1963), The Endless Summer (1966), and The Hot Generation (1968). International Surfing magazine named him as Britain's top surfer in its 1966 Hall of Fame Awards, and he's featured prominently in You Should Have Been Here Yesterday: The Roots of British Surfing, published in 1994. Sumpter is married, has one child, and lives in Cornwall.

Sumpter made a brief return to competition with the British Amateur Team at the 1990 World Contest in Japan, but was eliminated in the early rounds. He kept his hand in surf media: Surf Art! Graphics and Memborabilia, Sumpter's coffee table book, was published in 2006, and a remastered DVD version of Come Surf With me came out in 2006.