‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell

‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell

Hutch and I started body boarding at Compton in 1955. My parents rented one of the huts that were out there then. The boards were just flat plywood sheets – the “posh” people had boards with curved up noses but ours were home made.

We spent most of our time at Niton which was our local beach and where we had a small sailing dinghy, and on days that were too rough for the boat we would use fins to allow us to body board in front of the green. Hutch would stay in the water for hours, but I always found it too cold.

By the early 60’s we had become more aware of stand up surfing and in the winter of 63/64 Hutch made a “big” board. It had a polystyrene core with a ply skin top and bottom but at about 5’6” was far too short, so in late summer 1964 we went to Newquay to find out more about board design. The following year Hutch had made a bigger board, still using the same basic construction technique and that is when we started surfing properly – at that time always at Compton as we didn’t have the skill to make Niton work.

It was about this time that Roger and the rest started coming out to Compton. Hutch and I were surprised (a) to find that there were other surfers on the Island and (b) that it had taken them so long to find Compton, but the Island was a very parochial place in the early 60’s!

On days when there was no surf (most of the time in the summer) we would sometimes take the boards to Freshwater and paddle across the bay to Compton. This became an annual race, usually won by Sid Pitman who was light but had a great power/weight ratio. He was also a pretty decent surfer!

In about 1967 Bob Ward and Len Howarth showed up on the Island. They had been living in Guethary and making surfboards for a living (the boards were “Surfboards Basques by Len Howarth et Bob Ward”) and their stories of the French surf meant that in 1968 Hutch and I went down to Biarritz.

We were followed by a small group of IW surfers – I can’t remember their names -Rory Angus, Trevor Woodley and his girlfriend (lived in Ryde) and one or two others – and all stayed in the Guethary region. It was that year that I first surfed the reef at Guethary – in those days there were only a handful of surfers out there. When I was there this summer (2010) there were about 60 guys out.

I can remember that we all fitted into the back of a VW camper one evening to go into Spain via some illegal route in the mountains that Bob Ward knew.  Quite why we couldn’t go through the border in a regular fashion I can’t remember.

In 1968 a small number of IW surfers went to Biarritz area and camped in a field at Guethary.  Hutch and I were wimps (or civilized according to your point of view) and stayed in a proper campsite across the road from the beach.  (The site is still there, but when I called in there this year (2010) I couldn’t spot a blue plaque recording our stay!!).

One evening we got back to our campsite to find the French all busy digging trenches around their tents. We didn’t know why, but found out a few hours later when a big electrical storm came in off the Pyrenees and flooded the place.  The picture above is the next day at the IW field site although the picture is hammed up a little for the camera.  The guy under the tent is Trevor Woodley and his girlfriend.  Rory might remember his name, all I remember is that he lived at the top end of Ryde and had a hot, blue mini.  He would tie his board on (big boards remember) with a single elastic clippy at each end (no webbing straps then) and hurtle down the military road at 90+ mph.  I think his board only came off once!

Above is a picture of Hutch at our more civilized campsite

2 Responses to “‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell”

  1. anne macpherson says:

    The Trevor in your photo is Trevor Woodley.

    Nice article. I remember spending the summer in the Guethary field with Bob Ward etc but I think it was the following summer, 1969 (and for many years thereafter).

  2. paul-wsh says:

    Thanks Anne. I will amend the article.

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