A Surf Club is born

During the early 1960’s a group of friends had started to hang out on the cliff tops between Ventnor beach and Steephill Cove. These bored teenagers soon began to focus their attention on the ocean. The Island at that time still had many unexplored pockets of coastline or so it felt to this group of friends. The ocean soon became their playground.

Roger Backhouse, Sue Ellis, John Ainsworth, Kevin Digweed, Geoff ‘Ned’ Garner, Colin Burgess, Colin Hicks, and Russell Long would spend their time diving, fishing, swimming and belly boarding on home made wooden boards. When Russell Long had passed his driving test and bought a car they started to explore other parts of the Islands coastline.

All year round they would be found playing in or around the ocean. If they weren’t belly boarding at Steephill Cove, they would be skimboarding at Sandown or Skateboarding down Cascades at Ventnor on homemade skateboards.

The friends soon found out that by mail order they could buy wetsuits from Lillywhites, Piccadilly Circus in London. This enabled them to spend more time in the ocean all year round with their new half inch thick wetsuits.

While on their travels around the Island they came across Pat Morrell and Mike ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson a woodwork teacher riding wooden belly boards at Niton. On one trip to Compton Bay they saw Paul Coleman, Archie Trickett, ‘Old Joe’, and a guy called John (thought to be MD at Plessey at that time) experimenting with homemade 12ft wooden surfboards.

At the same time they had come a cross a picture of Joel de Rosnay surfing in Biarritz, France in a magazine. The quest to get proper surfboards was on.

Colin Burgess, John Ainsworth and Roger Backhouse

Roger and Sue were soon driving to Newquay and to visit the famous Bilbo surf shop. They met with Bob Head to discuss board requirements. Spending all their savings that were originally for a new gas oven they were soon to come away with a lovely 10ft Bilbo single fin longboard. At the same time Roger met Rod Sumpter in the Bilbo shop. This would have been just before Rod went down to the European Championships in Biarritz.

Roger and Sue’s return to the Island with the new Bilbo Surfboard prompted the others to travel to Newquay almost immediately. It was the end of the season and the ‘Paint Spot’ in Newquay (which was where Somerfield is now) was selling off all of its hire boards in the sale. Deals were done and soon all the friends had surfboards and were travelling down to Newquay as often as they could.

Geoff 'Ned' Gardner

On the Island Colin Burgess and Colin Hicks had started to surf the inside Bay at Niton. The Bay was full of kelp and was quite sheltered so the waves always seemed to be really glassy. But with their heavy surfboards and no leashes at that time the rocks of Niton were not very kind. Unknowing to the bunch of friends but Pat Morrell and Hutch had gone to Biarritz.

The group of friends soon discovered a lovely wave at Little Stairs beach, Sandown.. Little Stairs beach was just along from where ‘Wight Water’ is today (this is long before the sea wall was built). This was a popular spot for the group of friends.

Rusty Long and John Ainsworth

In March 1967 Rod Sumpter made a trip to the Island. Rod was on a UK tour promoting surfing. Rod had just come back from placing in the top 6 at the San Diego Surf Championships in 1966. ‘Ned’ Gardner and John Ainsworth bumped into Rod near Freshwater Bay. The Bay was pumping and Rod was very excited to know if anyone had surfed there before. It wasn’t long before Rod was out in the waves at the Bay. It was a very cold day in March 1967, but it didn’t deter Rod to get out there in just a pair of boardies. Rod is thought to be the very first person to have surfed at Freshwater Bay. Rod said after his surf that he thought Freshwater Bay to be the best point break on the South of England.

The friends decided to start a Isle of Wight Surf Club and held their first meeting in a tent on the cliff tops near Ventnor. An advert was put in the Isle of Wight County Press Newspaper in 1967 advertising the club. The advert asked that anyone with an interest in surfing come along to 29 Spring Hill, Ventnor where they began to hold their club meetings and the Isle of Wight Surf Club was born.

3 Responses to “A Surf Club is born”

  1. Pat Morrell says:

    Here’s a bit more background to the start of surfing on the Island.

    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 uses 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 63 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 ?? Trevor ?? 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 only a handful of surfers out there. When I was there this summer (2010) there were about 60 guys out. I have one or two 35 mm colour slides of that trip including one of the IW contingent sitting on the sea wall outside the surf club at Cotes des Basques watching the then world champion (Corky Carroll). Unfortunately I don’t have the facility to turn the slides into photos and then scan them on. In 1972 we went back to Biarritz where there was quite a gang from the Island. Tony Macpherson may remember it as the year he spent a night in a French gaol! He was camping in his van on the beach at Bidart and I asked him to try to sell a board for me. Despite my suggestion that he didn’t advertise it, he put an “A Vendre” notice on the board. The police hauled him off for not paying import tax or something. The options were to pay a fine or forfeit the board, he chose the latter and I lost my board! Tony didn’t offer to recompense me, but I still have the police receipt somewhere!

  2. Ian Hutchinson says:

    Patrick, hi, long time no speak! Just come back from surfing the West Coast of France (paddling around and yours and Dad’s old boards as a child has rubbed off!), was wondering about this weekend at Compton if surf was up, stuck it in google and stumbled on this site and your memories! Will show this to Dad and get him to contribute something. He’ll be stoked.

  3. Pat Morrell says:

    I made a couple of blunders with my dates in the comment above. After Hutch made his first board it was late summer 1964 (not 63) that we went down to Newquay. Also 1973 (not 1972) that Tony McP spent a night at the pleasure of French police and customs. Apologies for the errors – it was a long time ago!!