Roger Cooper started out as an apprentice with Dave Bulford working on Tractors and Combine Harvesters. Dave saw some magazine article about making a surfboard. Roger and Dave saw some postcards in Cornwall with surfboards on but didn’t see anyone surfing so based their first surfboard design on what they had seen on the postcards, they didn’t realise that there were others on the Island like Roger Backhouse who were already surfing.
These first boards were made using polystyrene and sealing them with cascamite and then resin, but Dave dropped out as he took a long time finishing his surfboard and had lost interest in the idea.
The following year Roger Cooper started travelling in search of waves.
Roger soon got to know some of the other surfers on the Island and remembers ‘Jon Jon’ Ainswoth, Rog Backhouse and Sid Pitman being very good. Roger says that ‘Jon Jon’ stood out from the rest making walking the board look easy. ‘He was brilliant.’
Roger with his first Bilbo
In 1966 Roger bought his first surfboard from Bilbo. At that time the new thing was the radical v-bottom boards and so while waiting for his Bilbo, Roger started making his next board with a v-bottom.
Roger started shaping on the island in a small shed at home. Roger says that getting blanks and resin was difficult and all had to come from Bilbo until Bob Groves started supplying them which made it much easier and better. Roger used to make about 20-30 or more surfboards a year.
Roger’s early boards had many names, Sister Sticks, Yamma, Zippy Sticks to name a few. Roger says there were so many he can’t remember them all. ‘Back then you didn’t use your own name, it was all about coming up with the next brand names,’ said Roger.
In 1968 Roger took his first surf trip to France with Rusty Long in his car a Cortina with BH Rusty and Dave Bottrell and one other person but he can’t remember his name (was it you?) … They had planned to spend the time camping but also rented an apartment as the weather was so awful.
The next winter at the end of 1968 Roger set off to Morocco with Rob Clarke, Pete Barden and spent the next 3-4 months away surfing.
Roger Cooper in France - image © Alex Williams
When Roger came back he met Sandy and the two of them would work the winters and then go away for the summers surfing in France. They carried on doing this for about 4 years. This meant they were away in France for the famous 1970 Pop Festival but Sandy’s Grandfather was there and painted the amazing 1970 Pop Festival picture that is on display up at Dimbola
Roger and Sandy moved to Wales in 1974. Roger says he had great trips to Wales with IOW Surf Club, great waves, lovely country and obviously a bigger surfing population so it made sense. Determined to shape more boards and build a successful business and start to live the life. Roger would shape all summer and go away surfing all winter.
While away he would get lots of great ideas and couldn’t wait to get back start shaping again. ‘Travelling was very inspiring’ says Roger.
The Zippy Sticks range was born in Wales. I asked Roger why nearly all the Zippy Sticks I’d seen were orange. Roger laughed at this and said he didn’t realise but said that orange was one of the easier colours to do. Dark blue was difficult but orange and yellow was easier. Roger joked that he made his early boards too well.
Roger had his first factory for 6-7years but it burnt down while away surfing in Hawaii. He had his 2nd Factory for 6-7 years too but now has settled into his latest factory in Cwmafan, Port Talbot and says he’ll not move again.
Roger is still surfing, Aberavan is one of his favourite spots in Wales, a left hander which is really good, sometimes sensational. He also gets down to the Gower, Porthcawl, breaks in Pembrokeshire and Llantwit Major
Roger remembers bumping into Rob Ward in France and says his surfing was so much better than all the others. Roger said they met up with Len Haworth in Europe and he showed them around much as Rob had done with Len in previous years. Roger says it was almost like walking in Rob’s footsteps.
One memorable day was at Guethary at double overhead and closing out, when they got out there, they just got absolutely killed.
Roger also remembers some guy from Ventnor who was a great surfer but couldn’t swim, when wiping out he would grab hold of his board for dear life but eventually, probably after a couple of near misses he gave up. Does anyone else remember this guy?
Website: Roger Cooper Surfboards
Brunel Industrial Estate
Cwmafan, Port Talbot
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