Windbreaks for the beach

The beach windbreak or windbreaker was probably first introduced around the time of the deckchair, which dates back to the early 20th Century and the golden age of cruise liners and Victorian beach goers.

Whilst there is no historical evidence to support the fact, it is highly probable that the Isle of Wight had some of the first beach windbreaks made.  Ventnor was very popular with Victorian travellers, especially the upper classes, who would have been first to catch on to the trends and fashions of the time.

There is some evidence to show that Vintage windbreaks were of floral pattern design and I suspect would have been made from canvas, cotton and any other material they had spare at the time.    These would not have lasted long as the cotton and canvas would have rotted reasonably quickly.

Update: August 2014

We were recently contacted by a customer who explained the following story.  We love this story and could this have been the birth of the humble windbreak:

‘… As a child we often visited our relatives in Dorset and Devon. I was born in 1945 and can still remember shivering on chilly, windy beaches, admiring my goosebumps!

My Mum used to prop a deck chair on its side to make a shelter, with the picnic rug pulled up over it to stop draughts. This worked ok as long as we lay down! It also didn’t stop the sand blowing into our food.

Maybe around 1950 Mum had the bright idea of buying a 7-8 ft length of 42 inch striped canvas. She machine stitched 4 wide seams across the fabric – one at each end plus 2 about 18″ in from either end. She asked my Dad to make 4 poles with turned points and inserted these through the seams. He also drilled small holes through the tops and inserted strings attached to butchers skewers to act as stays for when it was really windy. Bingo!

We had a windbreak more or less identical to those seen on every beach today.  We used it from then on (and when I last visited my brother in Norfolk a few years ago, it was still there, rolled up in the garage – a bit faded but still fully serviceable!  For several years we took it on various seaside holidays and I don’t think there was ever a time when at least one person would not come up and ask us where they could buy one!   Then suddenly we saw them for sale (the early ones were identical, with striped canvas, rather than the nasty woven plastic ones so prevalent now) and soon every family had one!

Maybe some designer used the same logic as my Mother, but we reckoned some bright business person probably saw ours and realised how easy they would be to mass produce.  My Mum was delighted that so many people were benefitting from her idea.

Her name was Phillipa Leigh and she lived in Cambridge, Norfolk and then near us in North Devon until she died in 1998.  She was an artist and Gallery owner, whose last exhibition was at the Burton Gallery in Bideford when she was 81. She sailed racing dinghies for most of her life and bought her last sailing boat (a more staid Norfolk Crabber) when she was in her seventies.  Phillipa would have absolutely loved your recycled sail wind breaks! …’

Designer windbreaks such as our 3 panel windbreak came much later and making windbreaks from recycled sailcloth and sails has only been happening (on a larger scale) for a few years.

In the 1970s and 80s fabric design and textile technology improved, but the look of the windbreak became functional and the nasty nylon stripe windbreaks one still sees were popular.  Cheap and supposedly functional these windbreak eras are associated with windbreaks falling down, deckchairs collapsing, kiss me quick hats and saucy postcards.   All very English.

The windbreak has escaped notice in history and deserves more credit we feel.  Indeed, on an English beach or any windy beach for that matter, it is an essential piece of beach furniture.   One can have gorgeous sunshine, but with a stiff South Westerly wind (the prelevant wind on the Isle of Wight) even the hottest day can be uncomfortable without a wind-break and we all know that sand and cucumber sandwiches don’t mix!

Matters can be compounded when the beach is busy and you just want a little bit of privacy.   This works well for campers and caravaners as well.

So which windbreak should one buy for the beach?   Well, we would recommend windbreaks made on the Isle of Wight by wightsails but there are a number of factors to consider.   Namely:

– how often will you use your windbreak on the beach

– budget

– do you want your windbreak to last

– do you want to look cool on the beach

– do you want a unique windbreak

– can you move the windbreak up and down the poles (stops sand and dogs come through the bottom)

– are the windbreak poles strong enough and will they last (can you replace them?)

– do you really want a nasty plastic stripey one

– is your windbreak made from recycled materials

– do you want that little piece of privacy

We have said it before, but there is something really comforting and satisfying when sat behind your recycled sailcloth windbreak, knowing that the sails once sailed the oceans and knowing that you have saved such sails from landfill.   We coined the phrase ‘retirement for old sails’ !