Colin Williams remembers all of his family holidays spent on the isle of Wight where he learn’t surf during the 60’s and 70’s.
The Isle of Wight was and probably still is my favorite place in the world. I must say that Australia, for me,is the one of the greatest places on earth; however, a great deal of my formative “ocean ” days and fond memories of being at a beach started on the Island. My mother has 100’s of photos of the IOW.
Being born in 1958, I grew up in Leytonstone, London and our family went to the IOW at least three times a year, literally every Christmas, Easter and summer holidays every year until I was 20. It was always the IOW!
We went to the IOW for the whole of my life in England. We stayed in Mrs Hawkins caravan at the top of Taylor’s Whitecliff bay caravan park, now Sandhills. (Later years were spent in the Pemberton caravans on the right, just inside the gate and then a few times in some cabins which originally stood on the cliff path under Culver Cliff).
My father used to take me out every day at Whitecliff Bay on one of the hired floats; a catarmaran that one used to paddle around and I couldnt get enough of it. It was from around 1963, having become a good swimmer, that my parents bought me a LILO surfmat form Sandown Post Office. Each year after that I would get a new one as the continual “beaching” used to wear them out. I was on these LILO’s from 8 am until 5pm each and every day. We made regular trips to Compton Bay. I spent all day every day, rain or shine in the sea.
It was from these early days that I soon realised that the swell, however tiny, would reflect around Culver Cliff and wrap into the bay. My first surfing know how! Big days were few and far between, much to my parents delight! My parents kindly bought me a kayak and I tried canoe surfing. A few times over the years, I joined in with the canoe lifeguards that come over from the Gosport stretch and surfed with them at Whitecliff Bay and often did paddles around parts of the Island.
I suppose it was the very early 1970’s that I began my surfboard riding days. I had my “Raspberry Ripple” 6′ Atlantic, bought from Phil Jay’s surf shop in Wandsworth. I practiced paddling in flat water at Southend and Shoeburyness. At Whitecliff Bay, in the onshore wind driven waves, I began to “pop up” and dreamt of green waves. My parents finally got a car and had an Austin Westminster A95, then an Austin Cambridge. We used to get up and have breakfast and I’d surf and paddle around Whitecliff Bay and ask my parents to take me to Compton Bay. So afternoon trips to Compton became a frequent occurence.
We parked in the little car park at Atherfield and we unpacked the car. Windbreak, towels, picnic basket, extra clothes etc, etc! Hardly a dynamic strategic surf trip. The carpark and surf had no othe surfers usually. On occasions there was a Kombi van there and maybe one or two other surfers in cars with”-DL” number plates which meant they were locals. Their boards were more mals though. A few times shortboarders were there. I think that was because I was there mostly in the afternoons. Predictably, the times when we were there at about 10 am, there were a few more guys; but then again less than a handful. I was the youngest by far. I never got to hang with them as I had my family and my transport relied on them too. I was equipped in a beaver tail diving top wetsuit…the smoothskin black rubber with yellow seam tape. The tail hanging down. I think I was a little too young for me to be considered worthy of “hanging out” with, especially as I had parents in tow and so I knew no other surfers on the Island. I never saw another surfer at Whitecliff Bay over the years.
More often than not, I surfed until it was dusk with my sister and parents eagerly, yet patiently, waiting for me to have had too much water time! We used to bumble home; me exhausted, sunburnt and waiting to hit the water agin the following day. I knew I could’nt ask them to go back to Compton Bay the following day and so I used to be content at Whitecliff Bay and would often paddle around Culver Cliff, leaving my parents distraught. In those early days, for me, the surf scene was very pure; a board, the waves and plenty of time on uncrowded waves.
It was the same each summer, Easter and Christmas; from birth until I went to University in Wales in 1979. From those early days when there were no other surfers around to the latter days when it wasn’t uncommon to see a few guys with surfboards strapped to their racks on cars on the ferry. I never really surfed Niton or too many other spots on the Island as I relied on my parents for transport. I did surf Sandown sometimes ( stung by weaver fish regularly), followed by my parents having tea and the like at Brown’s and I got to paddle the canoes on the lake.
I used to climb the sand cliff down the beach from the now Wonky Cafe and watch the sea, dreaming of unbroken waves and trips I would undertake in the future. A marine science degree later and now living in Sydney trading for a bank; the green wave have arrived. Both often and big, we enjoy the swell year round. I still surf most days. Still shortboards.
My dreams have played out. I thank my parents for letting me surf all day in school holidays on the IOW. They moved to Bembridge in the 80’s and sadly my father passed there. My mother has moved to my sister’s in Buckinghamshire as she needs care.
I had my first beer ever; it was on the Island at the Crab and Lobster; my dad bought it for me and it was our first beer together.
The Island has so many passionate memories.