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Circle One – an Original British Surfing Company

Early Surfing Adventures

As one of the few original British surfing companies and boasting a rich heritage, the Circle One story is a tale of a love affair between the company’s founder, Jeff Townsley, and his lifetime passion of surfing. Jeff was born in Exeter, Devon and as a teenager in the 60’s his passion for surfing really took hold. Jeff spent every spare evening heading to his local breaks of North Devon (Croyde, Putsborough, Saunton, Woolacombe) and at weekends going further afield to Cornish breaks such as Newquay (the home of British surfing), Bude and seeking out secret surf spots along the Atlantic coast.

By the late 60’s Jeff had become a skilled and respected self-taught surfer and had saved enough cash to fulfil his ambition of travelling to new foreign surf spots. He purchased the most iconic of surfing transport, a VW split screen campervan, ditched the day job and set off on a European and African surfing adventure with a few close surfing buddies. He spent the next couple of years living the surfing dream, chasing waves in France, Portugal, Spain, Canaries, Morocco and soaking up the local culture wherever he went.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's surfboard

MOROCCO

Jeff Townsley (sitting) and Surfing Buddies, 1960's

VW SPLIT SCREEN

Jeff with his beloved VW split screen, North Devon, late 60's

CONSOLACAO PORTUGAL

Jeff and buddies on some rocks, Consolacao, Portugal, late 60's

PENICHE PORTUGAL

Jeff scores a barrel off Peniche, late 60's

TENERIFE CANARY ISLANDS

Jeff 'in the pocket' off Playa de Las Americas, late 60's

TENERIFE CANARY ISLANDS

Jeff 'gets barreled' off Playa de Las Americas, late 60's

PENICHE PORTUGAL

Jeff often 'caught' tea after surfing in Peniche thanks to a lesson from the locals!

TIFNIT MOROCCO

A sublime 'right-hander' point break in Tifnit village, Morocco which Jeff and buddies often had all to themselves..

Circle One Surf Shop and story behind the name

Money eventually ran tight and in 1967 Jeff found himself back in the UK figuring out how to make a living from surfing? He started out working in Exeter’s first Circle One Surf Shop (owned by local surf enthusiast, Don Wride).  Contrary to popular belief it was Don Wride who originally adopted the ‘Circle One’ name.  During his travels in the USA in the early 60’s, Don had visited a ranch called ‘Circle One’.  The logo the ranch used struck a chord with Don.  It consisted of a large ‘C’ with a ‘1’ inside.  Don realised the logo looked just like a wave (represented by the ‘C’) and the ‘1’ looked just like a surfer inside the wave.  And so, the inspiration for the Circle One brand name was born.  Jeff loved this story and in 1969, when Don decided to move on, he grabbed the opportunity to run the shop himself keeping the Circle One name.  The heritage of the brand name was to serve as inspiration for numerous logo designs – and still does to this day.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CIRCLE ONE SURF SHOP

Jeff (left) with a customer in the Circle One Surf Shop, circa 1970

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CIRCLE ONE SURF SHOP

Jeff arranging shop window, Circle One Surf Shop, circa 1970

CIRCLE ONE SURF SHOP

Jeff in the Circle One Shop, circa 1970

CIRCLE ONE SURF SHOP

Jeff in the Circle One Shop, circa 1970

Early Circle One Shop advert, circa 1970

The Early Shaping Days

Jeff initially sold other surfing brands but it became clear there was a gap in the UK market for quality hand-shaped surfboards and so Jeff thought why not have a go at making boards himself to sell in the shop?  What followed was a classic story of humble corporate beginnings… He rented a workshop in New Bridge St, Exeter and set up what was to become Circle One’s first shaping house. Jeff initially used Polyester resin and Clark foam blanks from the USA to make his boards and took inspiration from US surf magazines – it was a process of trial, error and experimentation until he finally started producing the classic shapes for which Circle One became renowned. Jeff was best known for really pushing the boundaries in surfboard shaping and produced signature shapes such as the stinger wing swallow tail with gorgeous single wood fin and the twin fin egg, a super wide and squat board with multi-channels to motor through messy British surf.

 

“Jeff was a prolific and creative shaper in the 70’s and produced some really beautiful and sometimes unusual looking boards”

 

Alasdair Lindsay, Blogger/Contributor, vintagesurfboardcollector.uk (2015)
Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Jeff shaping a board in the original workshop, New Bridge Street, Exeter. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Jeff planing a blank. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

GLASSING ROOM

Jeff laminating a board. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Jeff in the shaping room, dusty work! Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Original Circle One board templates. Circa 1975

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Jeff cuts a blank. Circa 1973

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CLASSIC SHAPES

Selection of Circle One 70's shapes and designs. Photo taken next to Exeter Maritime Museum, Exeter Quay, Devon

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CLASSIC SHAPES

Jeff showing off some of his 70's shapes near St Merryn, Cornwall. These boards show the very first Circle One logo.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

GLASSING ROOM

Jeff laminating one of his gorgeous signature wood fins. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

GLASSING ROOM

Jeff laminating some of those classic shapes. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SHAPING ROOM

Jeff preparing a board for spraying. Circa 1972

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

VINTAGE CIRCLE ONE SURFBOARDS

Jeff's early and distinctive shapes from the 70's. Squat twin fin egg (left) and stinger wing swallows (right) (Source: vintagesurfboardcollector.uk)

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

VINTAGE CIRCLE ONE SURFBOARDS

Jeff's early and distinctive shapes from the 70's. Same boards showing bottom designs. (Source: vintagesurfboardcollector.uk)

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

SIGNATURE WOOD FIN

Example of Circle One's classic glassed-in signature wood fin (Source: vintagesurfboardcollector.uk)

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CIRCLE ONE 70's BOARD LOGO

The original iconic board logo as featured on the early Circle One boards..

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

CIRCLE ONE RETRO BOARD LOGO

Tail section of one of the early Circle One boards with Jeff Townsley logo

Surfboard Shaping Collaborations

Shapers from across the globe started to make contact with Jeff to share ideas and they often travelled to the UK to spend time collaborating with him at the Devon shaping house. Most notable was a collaboration with Australian surfing legend, personality and pioneer of the ‘man on man’ competition system, Peter Drouyn, who brought his own inspiration to the Circle One brand, producing some exciting experimental shapes alongside Jeff during the summer of ’79.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

PETER DROUYN GUEST SHAPER

Magazine Article announcing Peter Drouyn's collaboration with Circle One, 1979

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

PETER DROUYN SHAPE

Credit to Peter Drouyn guest shaper for Circle One, 1979

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

PETER DROUYN SHAPE

Wide flowing single fin shaped by Peter Drouyn for Circle One, 1979

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

Early Circle One Shop advert featuring Peter Drouyn, 1979

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

PETER DROUYN SHAPE

Wide flowing single fin shaped by Peter Drouyn for Circle One (bottom), 1979

Relocation and Beginning of Wetsuit Manufacture

As Circle One’s reputation grew, Jeff started employing a team to help meet production demands. In 1979, demand was so high that the business relocated to bigger premises in Crediton (just north of Exeter). The decision was made to close the Exeter shop and focus 100% on supplying surf shops and schools throughout the UK and Europe. Soon after the move to Crediton, Jeff also turned his hand to wetsuit manufacture, again experimenting with patterns and panel layouts (and testing them himself) to make the wetsuits comfortable and functional. His aptitude for design and workmanship spoke for itself and soon the Circle One brand was synonymous with both quality surfboards and wetsuits.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WETSUIT CUTTING ROOM

Jeff cutting the early wetsuit panels, circa 1981

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WETSUIT CUTTING ROOM

Jeff often slept on the cutting room floor to keep up with demand! circa 1981

Windsurfing Era

The turn of the 80’s saw another milestone – the move into custom Windsurf board manufacture. Windsurfing was massive in the 80’s and Circle One was the first manufacturer to produce hand shaped windsurf boards selling 1000’s across the UK and Europe for many years. Once again, Jeff’s flair for design and exciting board spray-jobs gained Circle One an enviable reputation and, inevitably, other manufacturers taking inspiration from Circle One’s lead.

 

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WINDSURF BOARDS

Selection of Windsurf boards in front of Circle One van, Circa 1985

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WINDSURF BOARDS

Action shot of Circle One windsurf board, Circa 1985

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WINDSURF BOARDS

Circle One windsurf board design, typical of the 80's

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WINDSURF BOARDS

Another of the 80's windsurf board designs..

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

WINDSURF BOARDS

An early Circle One 80's Windsurf magazine ad. This one divided opinion but was typical of the style of adverts back then..

Transition to Epoxy Technology

A key development in Circle One’s history was the switch from Polyester to Epoxy resin in surfboard manufacture. Always looking for ways to innovate and improve the quality and strength of boards, Jeff started making boards using Epoxy resin alongside the Polyester resin boards in the late 1990’s. The use of epoxy resin in surfboard manufacture was a new concept then but it had started to get a reputation for being lighter and stronger than the traditional polyester construction. Jeff and his team tested these Epoxy ‘prototype’ boards and found them to deliver a springier and livelier ride than polyester boards. By 1999 all Circle One surfboards were constructed using top quality Epoxy resin. Stronger boards meant stronger sales and so other manufacturers began to follow suit. As the saying goes ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’!

Advent of Far East Production

By the early 2000’s, an increase in competition and UK manufacturing costs saw Circle One move production of both surfboards and wetsuits to the far east and China. Circle One was the last of the major surfboard brands to make the leap to far east manufacture having resisted such a move for some years. Any reservations about producing quality goods in China turned out to be completely unfounded and Jeff spent two years there setting up a manufacturing base and securing investment from Chinese partners. He also partnered up with iconic surfer/shapers such as Larry Bertlemann (Hawaii) and Tak Kawahara (California) who had also switched their production to China, and this presented another chance to share shaping ideas and improve production techniques.

Jeff oversaw all the shaping, laminating and finishing processes and held countless workshops within the production facility to ensure the original ethos of Circle One’s manufacturing craftsmanship continued as in those early days.. All the hard work paid off because the quality of the boards and wetsuits produced in China are of premium quality and worthy of the Circle One badge of excellence.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

FAR EAST PRODUCTION

Jeff Townsley supervises 'Winnie' in the shaping room to ensure our exacting standards of manufacture, Circa 2016

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

FAR EAST PRODUCTION

Jeff checks the line of a board in the shape finishing room, Circa 2016

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

EARLY EPOXY SHAPES

One of the first 'Heritage' range epoxy Circle One surfboards off the far east production. Pictured is a stunning 6' 10" Diamond Tail in red graphic.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

EARLY EPOXY SHAPES

Early epoxy Circle One surfboard, 7' 2" Funboard Round Tail with distinctive 'cross' graphic in flame colouring.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

EARLY EPOXY SHAPES

Early epoxy Circle One surfboard, 6' 11" Wing Swallow with cool blue graphic.

Jeff Townsley, Circle One founder and Surfing Buddies 1960's

EARLY EPOXY SHAPES

Early epoxy Circle One surfboard, 8' 6" Longboard Round Tail with stripe graphic.

Present Day

Now in his late 60’s Jeff still pursues an active lifestyle getting in the water whenever he can (although he prefers warmer climates these days!). A lot of his time is still spent in the far east over-seeing production with the help of the committed Circle One team.
In the last 20 years, Circle One has turned its expertise to other product areas such as Bodyboards, Skimboards, Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boards and a whole range of Accessories – all manufactured with a no compromise commitment to quality and function – just as the original Surfboards and Wetsuits.

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