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The Boys Of Summer

As MR PORTER launches kidswear, we brave the English summer rain with pro surfer Mr Ben Skinner and his two young sons

Blue skies and beach balls. That was the brief for our latest photoshoot, organised to showcase a new range of summer kidswear on MR PORTER – an exclusive collection of beach clothing, made in collaboration with six designers: Frescobol Carioca, Hartford, Mollusk, Orlebar BrownPolo Ralph Lauren and Vilebrequin. The sun was shining as the Great Western train pulled out of London Paddington and began its long journey to Cornwall, and, for a moment, it seemed as if everything was going to be OK. But this is Britain. Of course it had to rain.

No matter, though. It’s just another day at the beach for Mr Ben Skinner, a man for whom getting wet is something of an occupational hazard. “As a surfer, you go wherever the storms are,” he says. “In England, that means most of the best surfing takes place in winter. It’s pretty hardcore.” He recalls a trip to the North Yorkshire coast last winter: “A friend of mine forgot his gloves,” he says. “He lasted all of 10 minutes. When he got out of the water, his hands were so numb he couldn’t open the car door.” All of a sudden, the rain-soaked Cornish coast doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Mr Skinner has lived here since the age of 10, when his family relocated from Jersey to Truro to found Skinner’s Brewery. They eventually settled in Newquay, the surf capital of the UK, where Mr Skinner met his long-term partner, Michelle. The couple now live in Perranporth, a seaside town just a few miles south of Newquay, with their three children, Lukas, 10, Lila, eight, and Leven, two (nearly three).

At 33 years old, Mr Skinner seems quite young for a father of three, an impression redoubled by his young-at-heart attitude (and his prodigious skill as a surfer). Was he ever intimidated by the idea of fatherhood? “Not really,” he says. “I’ve wanted to be with Michelle ever since I met her. Fatherhood was just part and parcel of that.” He also credits the influence of Lucy, Michelle’s daughter from a previous relationship, who was six years old when the couple first met. “I was barely out of my teens when we started dating, so I’ve been around kids for a long time.”

A champion shortboard surfer at junior level with two British Championships titles under his belt by the age of 13, Mr Skinner made the transition to competitive longboarding at 16 after a galling first-round loss to a younger competitor. “I’d always messed around on longboards, and so I thought that I might as well enter the longboard category while I was there,” he says. He had quite a talent for messing around, as it turns out, and won. Within a couple of years, he’d established himself as one of England’s outstanding longboarders.

Longboarding is a very different discipline from shortboarding. The larger boards are far less manoeuverable, making the dynamic turns and aerial moves that define modern competitive shortboarding all but impossible. Judging criteria are based instead on how well a rider is able to utilise the full length of the board while riding, with particular emphasis given to the nose of the board. “There’s no better feeling than hanging 10,” says Mr Skinner, referring to the longboarding move where all 10 toes are hanging over the end.

A talent for surfing runs in the family. Mr Skinner’s oldest son, Lukas, is already regarded as one to watch. The morning after the photoshoot, he left for Jersey to compete in the Rip Curl GromSearch series, winning the under-12s category and coming second in the under-14s. His father wasn’t there to see him, though. He had his own competition to attend in Biarritz. “I’m torn between wanting to be there to support my kids and wanting to achieve all that I can in order to make them proud of me,” he says.

As if three kids and a professional surfing career weren’t enough to keep him busy, Mr Skinner also runs his own board-shaping business, Skindog Surfboards. He started the company a decade ago and spent the first seven years honing his craft. He finally opened a full-sized workshop three years ago. A skilled shaper who is able to ride his boards to their full potential is a rare thing in the surfing world, and Mr Skinner has found that his longboards are in serious demand. “Yeah, things are good right now,” he says, pausing to take a sip of his father’s ale in his local pub. “Busy, but good.” All things considered, a day on the beach with his family seems something of a luxury.

For the boys

  • Vilebrequin Boys Ages 2 - 8 Jim Printed Swim Shorts

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Boys Ages 2 - 6 Embroidered Striped Cotton Oxford Shirt

  • Orlebar Brown Boys Age 4 - 12 Jimmy Striped Cotton and Linen-Blend T-Shirt

  • Mollusk Boys Appliquéd Baseball Cap

  • Hartford Boys Ages 2 - 12 Mélange Loopback Cotton-Jersey Sweatshirt

  • Frescobol Carioca Boys Ages 2 - 8 Copacabana Printed Swim Shorts