Just after the club was formed. It seems like the Stone Age now. The thinking was it would be relatively warmer by then and it would be a chance to surf some proper waves. It was the only available time off work so ferries were booked. Sleeping bags were bought from the army surplus store and old tents dug out as no one could afford a hotel then or even a guest house, that’s if they would let us in!!!!!!!! The first Isle of Wight Surf Club trip was on!
The chance to use the newly acquired ‘MALIBU’ boards in Cornwall was too good to miss. Rudimentary wetsuits were acquired over the winter, being diving based or just sleeveless tops. Beaver tails were all the rage, being early examples of neoprene up to ½” thick, ideal for being slammed into a sandbar.
Of course there were some who had surfed all winter without one and didn’t think much of these new fangled things, ‘what’s wrong with a thick woollen jumper!’, Ned (Geoff Gardner) was a great exponent of this philosophy especially after a few pints.
The boards were bought in the autumn of the previous year, at the end of the season sale at ‘The Paint Spot’ which was located in the Diggey, an old area of Newquay which is now the Co-Op behind Towan beach. They were ex-hire boards and ranged in size from 9’6” – 10’6”, single fin jobs, slightly heavier than today’s slithers, almost resembling aircraft carriers, but when going would really fly.
These boards were a huge advance on the heavy wooden boards in use at that time, plywood traditional belly boards used with swim fins were soon obsolete and Malibu long boards were the thing with one downside, no leashes then, probably a good idea as one of these boards tied to your leg would have caused quite a bit of damage.
The enthusiasm for going to Cornwall was all wound up with the emerging surf culture, Bilbo’s surf shop and factory where a board would be made there and then to your spec and meeting Rod Sumpter who had just come back from California coming 5th in the world championship!!!!!.
So the Thursday before Easter soon came round and arrangements were made. We were to meet up at the pub in Crantock not far from Trevella camp site in the evening, as some could finish work early and get a surf in before dark, while others were still travelling down having to work till late.
A far as I can remember there was myself (Rog Backhouse), Sue Ellis, John Ainsworth, Rusty Long, Colin Burgess, Geoff ‘NED’ Gardener and Kev Digweed, but as they say about the Sixties ‘if you remember it you weren’t there.
What a motley parade of antiquated cars there were from a Mini, a Standard 10, an A35, and a Hillman Minx, all with strange wings attached to the roof. Today we take it for granted, dial in the post code set the nav, select the play list on the whatever, load the drinks holders and off you go, 4hrs max. Not then, just getting off the Island was a complete pain following the directions of the British Rail staff onto the old tea tray of a ferry running at that time. Rough waves would come right through the car deck and out of the stern. There were far more rusty cars on the Island than anywhere. On foreign soil, the great north island (AKA the mainland), which way to go?? Head west on the A35 not quite Route 66 but that’s all we had, no dual carriageways, roundabouts, traffic lights and endless little roads going right through the main towns all the way.
Dorchester, Bridport, Axminster, the tunnel at the top of Charminster, and on to Exeter, occasionally the road became three lanes, with a suicide lane for overtaking, scary. And so onto the moors and Launceston with its really scary left turn round the castle walls. Fish and chips in Bodmin and pray it wasn’t foggy over the last bit to Indian Queens and then the relaxing bit into Newquay, knowing it wasn’t far and waves were waiting.
You might tell that I’ve driven this route many many times, driving down after work on Friday and coming back Sunday late, through the construction of the many bi-passes and motorways over the years. The worst drive ever was being stuck in Exeter on a August Bank Holiday when it took 18 hours to get home.
Were there waves? Of course, Great Western was really going off and we dragged our weary limbs down the beach and caught some really good right handers at high tide. If you know it, you’ll know what I mean. After a good surf, down the town to get something to eat and dry the wetties in the launderette at Towan and a look at the new boards at Bilbo’s.
There was and probably still is only one pub, ‘The Sailors’ in Newquay and many a story was told in there and plans hatched for trips all over the world as this was the time of the Hippie trail to India, and new discoveries and no boundaries to limit the new found freedoms.
Off to Trevella to put the tents up and get ready for the night and then to the rendezvous at Crantock where we said we would meet to discuss where to surf in the morning. There was no such thing as a surf forecast then, no Magic Seaweed or mobile phones, just a hunch or a quick look at the back page of the Telegraph newspaper for their Atlantic pressure chart.
After a long wait Ned eventually arrived and had a quick pint to liven himself up and told us about why he had been held up. Not knowing the road that well he had to take evasive action while taking the infamous corner in Launceston, and guess what the constabulary were waiting for just that occasion.
Geoff 'Ned' Gardner
After greeting the officer with his best imitation of Neddy Seagoon (Neddie Seagoon was a character in the 1950s British radio comedy show, The Goon Show. He was created and performed by Welshman Harry Secombe. Seagoon was usually the central character of a Goon Show episode, with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers’ many characters interacting with him and each other), “Evening Gilbert” a long conversation took place about where he was going with that strange thing on the roof, and ‘next time be a bit more careful son’. Whew !! at least the officer was a bit more humane and interested than official!!!!
After a long day it was time to get some sleep, some sleep was not what we got. Every half hour a tremendous roar was heard and a large aircraft barely made it over the camp sight, what was happening? Are we at war? Have aliens landed? Eventually all the noise died down and a little bit of exhausted sleep was had, but it was freezing, Easter in England!!!!!!!.
Soon the noise started again and to add to the discomfort the wind got up and there was a heavy squall with hailstones and sleet, retreat to the cars was the only option. Morning eventually came, a cup of tea and off into Newquay for breakfast and to check the surf out, but considerably slower than the day before, a sort of malaise had set in.
Rog Backhouse, Colin Burgess and John Ainsworth at Towan
Fistral was big and exposed to the wind so back round to Towan and some nice shaped waves, others were already out making it quite crowded, 6 people. After parking up, donning wetties and lugging boards down the beach, the tide was going out.
Sue Ellis (Backhouse)
A confusion of coastguards, police and council workers descended on us. Were we illegally parked? Had ‘Neds’ encounter the night before stirred things up? Were we being invaded? We were told quite forcibly to clear the beach immediately, but why?
Someone eventually told us what was going on, the tanker Torrey Canyon had run aground in the Scilly Isles and was spilling thousands of gallons of oil all along the coast. Answers to all our questions, the aeroplanes that had kept us awake were Long Range Shackleton Reconnaissance planes flying out of RAF St. Mawgan. A long way to come for no waves perhaps the little old Isle of Wight waves weren’t that bad. This was to turn out to be the worst environmental disaster to ever hit Cornwall and even the whole of the South West, of course the Government had no idea of how to deal with it.
This was a serious wake up call as spraying had an even worse effect on the environment eventually leading to the bombing of the wreck by Buccaneers of the Navy. Although pretty depressing, it has lead to more stringent rules and regulations being introduced over the years, with protest movements having great effect over authority. Yet time and time again it has happened and probably will in the future.
A long drive back through the Easter traffic and a final catastrophe, I had lost my return ferry ticket!!!!!!!!
After the first Isle of Wight Surf Club trip…
There was then a lull in visits down west, but after a couple months the beaches were deemed usable and trips continued through ‘67. But a slight hic-up came, my future wife ,Sue, refused absolutely and completely forever ever to go camping in a tent ever again which lead to the purchase of a split – screen 1200cc, 6volt Volkswagen, under-powered or what!!!!!!!!!!! Trips to Porthtowan for the National Championships, Aggie in the badlands and good old Crantock.
Throughout 67-68 surfing equipment was evolving at a rapid rate, with the influence of the Aussies, V-bottoms, shorter boards and new ways of attacking waves but that’s another story……
The Torrey Canyon Oil Spill
The Oil spill from the Torrey Canyon in 1967 was Britain’s worst-ever Oil spill. The Oil spill was handled disastrously and is still killing wildlife today. At the time it was the biggest oil spill ever involving one of the new supertankers and is living proof that oil spills plague eco-systems for decades.
On the 18 March 1967 the Torrey Canyon ran aground on Pollards Rock, which is between Lands End and the Scilly Isles. During the days that followed nearly 120,000 tonnes of crude oil ended up in the Atlantic. This resulted in tonnes of oil washing up on the beaches of Cornwall and as far away as France and the Channel Islands.
The day after the accident the slick was 20 miles long. Previously small oil spills were cleaned up by mixtures of solvents and emulsifiers. The Royal Navy ships were brought in to spray a dispersal agent on the oil, and then sprayed the beaches when the oil began going ashore in Cornwall on March 24. The detergent was supposed to emulsify and disperse the oil but it ended up increasing its volume and was found on many shores for months after. The chemical sprays seemed to work as the oil was disappearing but it was realised that it was making the oil more toxic. A t sea, the oil was made soluble by the detergents, which then meant it was taken in by more living organisms. On shore, the chemicals destroyed lichens and other beach-life.
The efforts to refloat the ship failed and as tugs attempted to pull the ship off the rocks on August 26, she broke in two. From March 28 to March 30 the Royal Air Force Buccaneers bombed the ship repeatedly and dumped aviation fuel, kerosene and napalm on the wreck in an effort to start fires that would consume the remaining oil before it could spread. The RAF bombed the Torrey Canyon in order to set light to the oil, unfortunately a quarter of the bombs dropped missed the target.
The slick contaminated 120 miles of Cornish coastline. An estimated 15,000 birds were killed. Seals and other marine life also perished.
Cornwall actually got off lightly because the prevailing south-westerlies were absent in the weeks after the disaster, and much of the oil leaked from the Torrey Canyon was deposited on the coastline of Brittany.
Nineteen days after the disaster, a huge slick hit western Guernsey and much of the oil was put into a quarry. Over 40 years later this quarry was still claiming the lives of many wild birds. Early in 2012 Countryfile were in Guernsey and presenter Ellie Harrison saw the oil being removed by the bucket load when she was filming for the BBC.
Ellie Harrison at Torrey Canyon Quarry in Guernsey (Photo coutesy of Guernsey Press)
The Torrey Canyon disaster did have some beneficial consequences. International maritime regulations on pollution were created and a young David Bellamy was asked to comment on the disaster and he helped raise awareness of pollution.