Posts Tagged ‘Bayonne’

1968 Isle of Wight French Surf Trip

An Isle of Wight Surf trip to France in 1968 remembered by Graham Sorensen who shared a campsite and waves in a field along with Bob Ward, Elizabeth, Angus, Hutch, Mo, Trevor, Dita and Pat.  Traveled in a green kombi van with a kiwi emblem drawn on the front. Taken in the month of mid-August 1968 […]


UNDERGROUND EXPLORER: ROB WARD

The story of British surfing would not be complete without reference to its underground surfers – those who passed up competition, fashion and media exposure for hard-bitten travel. These are the “soul” surfers such as Rob Ward and the late Nigel Baker. Rob Ward was a lover of French waves. “The early days surfing France had to be the best time of my life. I was totally focused on riding big waves at Guethary,” says Rob. “In 1967 I lived in a tent in the Cenitz valley, then in later years stayed in a villa with early Newquay immortal Alan McBride.” Rob was a standout big wave surfer and a hard-core adventurer. “Growing up on the Isle of Wight, in the south of England halfway up the English Channel, I never saw anyone surf,” says Rob. “But one day in 1961 I found an article on glassing a surfboard torn from a magazine and lying on the floor of a garage at the back of my dad’s hotel. I tried to make a board upstairs in the hotel, but lacking the right tool or materials, it was not a happy experience, and I never finished the board.”

Educated at the Nautical College at Pangbourne in Berkshire, Rob went on to become an officer in the Royal Navy. “In 1964 I was a Midshipman in HMS Jaguar on the South Africa/South America station,” says Rob. “I’d been pestering a South African lieutenant aboard with the question of whether people surfed in South Africa. I had a day’s leave on the Friday of the week. I took a taxi to Cape Town from Simonstown naval base and arrived just after the shops had closed. I found a shop with a surfboard in the window and banged on the door until they opened. They gave me a board and took £30 pounds (a month’s wages) from me. The sporting taxi driver shoved my prize halfway into the boot of his car and drove me back ‘home’. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen—brownish, distinctly bent and with the name Sunsurf announced by an orange sticker with an impressionist rendering of the principal feature of our solar system near the nose.”

“I surfed in South Africa, South and Central America and returned to the UK,” says Rob. “During my third year at the Britannia Royal Naval College (in Dartmouth, Devon), I tendered my resignation with some trepidation. I had, after all, been in an institution since I was six. Within a few months, a friend and I had bought an old diesel van, some blanks from a defunct surf business in Newquay and, after building a dozen boards in the Isle of Wight, headed down to Guethary. Then followed nine months of bliss. We built a small factory on the outskirts of Bayonne with a French partner. I grew my hair for the first time in my life and surfed every day it was possible. At first I entered in the competitions that the French Surf Federation had newly inaugurated. I won an international paddle race taking Felipe Pomar’s record for the course by five minutes.” 1965 World Champion Felipe Pomar was a go-for-broke Peruvian big wave surfer, famous for his power paddling.

Later Rob turned his back on competition, travelling extensively in California, South Africa and Australia, often seeking the more obscure, high quality big wave locations as his hang out, such as Outer Kommetjie in Cape Town, Margaret River in Western Australia and Cactus in Southern Australia, many years before these places were reported as make-the-barrel-or-die big-wave breaks. Rob also had an innovative attitude towards surfboard design and had a long relationship, spanning decades, with experimental shaper Tom Hoye, Precision Equipe, in California, who would ship him his latest, sometimes quirky designs, to ride wherever he was in the world. “I recall in 1972 coming from the surf in the desert in South Australia. There had supposedly been a large shark sighted. But the waves were extraordinary,” says Rob. “I spent an hour alone with both fear and elation and when I came from the water I actually fell on my knees and thanked God for my existence. It was the sort of peak experience that will carry you through a lifetime of the normal, and less common, trials. Bliss indeed. Thank you surfing.” In one of those impossible to predict moments in an obscure place on the planet, who should Rob bump in to during a spell at Cactus but ‘Moby’ – Dave Patience, one of Newquay’s earliest surfers and Guethary pioneers.

In the ‘80s Rob lived in Cornwall and ran a surf shop in Newquay called Ocean Imports. “During that period,” says Rob, “a friend encouraged me to buy a 26 foot boat with him and smuggle hashish from Morocco. Of the six-year prison sentence, I served four years. I had no excuses. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was grateful for the opportunity to study Romantic Poetry at the Open University.” Upon release, Rob started building 40 foot catamarans. In the Orinoco Flo he made a global circumnavigation, financed by paying surfer passengers for the surf break stops along the way. These included pioneering visits to the Easter Islands.

Rob’s surfing passion has always been focused and intense. He possesses a driven quality recognised among that breed of surfers like Laird Hamilton who “have to be there to ride the big waves.” Well-educated and highly articulate, Rob has also been able to share his love of surfing. His performances have been inspirational, and he would have been better known, but for his low level of interest in surfing contests. Even in current surf sessions he sets a high international standard for his age. “I just completed a 27 kilometre paddle race beating paddlers 20 years my junior,” says Rob. “Now 60 and looking back at 40-plus years dedicated to surfing – seeing that I abandoned a naval career my father had set his heart on for me; considering the jail term that I served as an arguably direct result of the economically barren years in the back of a van in Mexico and California, a station wagon in Australia and under the stairs of a villa falling down a cliff on the Chemin des Falaises in Guethary – I suppose I should harbour some regrets. A surfer will know that I do not. Joseph Campbell, in one of a series of interviews made shortly before his death, declared – ‘Ah, fortunate is the one who finds his Bliss.’ It’s an odd phrase but that is what surfing has been (and remains) for me. And I feel fortunate indeed.”


France 1993

By 1993 I had a newer VW Camper, it was better equipped and I had surfing a lot. The previous year I had done a trip out to New Zealand surfing at Raglan and Piha and stopping on Oahu, Hawaii on the way home. I was very excited about this trip to France.

This time Shaun Baxter, Mark White and Jo Turner were coming with me and we had heard there was quite a contingent of other Islanders heading to the South of France.

After an overnight stop at Avranches to pick up Jo we set off for the Messanges area again. We arrived just as the sun was going down and I couldn’t wait to get everyone to the beach. It was high tide and only a bit of a shore break, but a swim in the warm Atlantic was lovely after the long drive.

For the next few days we had small waves on a low tide and nothing at high tide. The sun was out and it was very relaxing, but there was only so much sun bathing we could do. It wasn’t long before the sand dunes started to look like they could be fun. I had brought my snowboard with the intention of trying a bit of sand boarding with it. We were soon at the top of the biggest sand dune with snowboard, surfboards (no fins) and a bodyboard. The sand dunes weren’t steep or long enough for the snowboard but were pretty lethal on a surfboard with no fins.

On one trip to Hossegor we bumped into Martin Potter coming out of a café. Jo asked if she could have her picture taken with him and he was more than happy to oblige.

The evenings were spent with a few bottles of French beer or glasses of wine and a barbeque. Mark, Jo and myself were quite happy to chill most evenings at the local bar but Shaun was determined to go clubbing and would often walk or hitch along to ‘Club Le Fun’. He would come back with tales of crazy nights and sexy French girls, until one night he returned much earlier than usual grumbling about ‘elephants’ and ‘too much to drink’ as he went to bed. In the morning when we questioned him he said that when he turned the corner near the stadium he came across an elephant and had turned back thinking he had over indulged in the delights of French Red wine. We laughed at this ridiculous story but when we walked into town later that day we found that the Circus had arrived in town during the night with elephants, tigers and other exotic things. It suddenly made lots of sense and we all saw the funny side of it until we realised the conditions in which the animals were kept. The Tigers were obviously heavily sedated and in cages that were barely big enough for them to stand in.

Mark took to preparing and cooking food straight away and we were more than happy to let him as his meals were lovely. Jo got stuck in with the chores too, I tried to keep using the excuse that I did all the driving but they wouldn’t put up with that for too long, while Shaun did the washing up.

While the swell was small we went down to Hossegor to watch the Rip Curl Pro. When we arrived Luke Egan was on fire in his heat against Millar with some powerful moves. The next heat saw Shane Beschen beating Thomas and then we watched Dino Andino go through against Rob Bain.

The final was between a young Rob Machado and Damian Hardman. Damian’s experience proved too much for Rob and he went onto become the 1993 Rip Curl Hossegor Pro Champion.

With small waves we had time on our hands and Mark became very creative , making himself a nose protector from kitchen foil. Shaun had hit shops coming back with some John Lennon style mirror sunglasses.

Mark’s cooking got better and better, especially at the bbq. I remember lots of great meals using only the small hob in the van and the bbq, he would cook anything from rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous.

Earlier that year I had bought a couple of old longboards from Clive Richardson. The largest of which came to France with us just in case it was small. It was huge and very flat so I could catch the tiniest ripples with it. The only problem was that it was so heavy and the walk to the sea over the sand dunes carrying it on my head was a killer. I only managed to carry it over the dunes for 2 sessions on it, preferring to struggle on my shortboard, than carry that longboard. It made me appreciate what it must have been for surfers years a go with the big old logs.

The swell had improved and we had started to get a few good waves but it was now time for Jo to head home as she had to prepare for university. We dropped Jo at the train station in Bayonne, and noticed the pressure chart on a local newspaper. It looked very promising for good waves in a day or so.

The next couple of evenings we would always be found sat on the top of the sand dunes searching the horizon for the new swell as the sun went down. We weren’t the only ones and soon got chatting other surfers, Rich from Hayling Island who worked for Haven and his friends, Pete, Phil and others….

After a week of tiny waves we made a sacrifice to the surf god Huey. Mark made a tree mobile and donned zinc war paint (sun block). We lined up the boards and made a sacrifice of our most prized surf magazine that we’d brought with us.

When the swell hit it was epic. On the morning of the swell when we got to the top of the sand dunes and our first sight of the swell with corduroy lines to the horizon it almost had Shaun and myself sprinting to the ocean. As we started to put our leashes on at the waters edge we realised that Mark was missing. Looking back towards to sand dunes we saw Mark still standing at the top, mouth agape staring at the swell.

Initially the swell wasn’t big but it was solid and Mark said they were some of the fastest waves he’d ever had. Sadly later that day Mark was hit by some idiots board which bruised his kidneys and he was forced to seek medical attention from the local Doctor.

The swell grew over the next few days with the left really putting on a display and a couple of perfect ‘A’ frame peaks between Vieux Boucau and Messanges which broke as good as I’d seen before. These were my favourite breaks as you could sit just behind the peak and get barrelled on take off.

After a few great days of surfing we sat on the dunes with new friends Rich, Pete, Phil and others and watched this huge storm moving towards us. The wind seemed to hit us all of a sudden with no warning and we only got back to the bar before the rain started. The storm really hit that night with the most dramatic thunder and lightning show that only someone who has camped in those pine forests on the edge of the Atlantic will appreciate.

For the rest of the trip we had predominately on shore winds so spent a lot of time down at Capreton surfing in between the groins and enjoying the great fish restaurants and café’s or I would try and tempt Shaun and Mark to run down the beach and get as close to the shore break as possible for a photo. We also bumped into a gut called Liam who worked for Sola down at Capreton.

Another thing about surf trips is the music you listen to at the time. I remember listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and a couple of great compilation tapes that Esther (The National Trust warden at the time) and an old friend of mine had done for me (I feel the need to download those tunes from ITunes, now where are those tapes)…


French Customs confiscate Surfboard

At that time I had a board that had been made by a guy called Fitz at Westcoast boards based in North Devon. (Fitz subsequently died, I believe he tried to cool his electric shaper down by plunging it into a bucket of water). This board was fairly extreme for the day at 6’3”, and was an absolute delight to ride, but I found great difficulty in picking up waves, you had to be much nearer the hook than I was comfortable with and so I decided to sell it. I approached Tony Macpherson who was spending his holiday in a camper van on the beach in Bidart and suggested something along the lines of that if he would put the word out amongst the French surfers and sell it for me he could have 10% of the sale up to £30 and 50% for anything above that. However, I knew that the French customs had started clamping down on people selling surf equipment without paying import duty, so I told Tony not to put an “A vendre” (for sale) sign on the board, but just use word of mouth amongst the French guys. A couple of days later we went back up to Bidart, my board was nowhere to be seen. “Good” I thought, “Tony’s sold it”. When I asked where Tony was, no one knew. All that they could tell me was that the previous evening the police had shown up, and had whisked Tony and my board off somewhere. When Tony returned a few hours later it transpired that he had put a for sale sign on the board, and the police demanded to see the import documents, but when those weren’t forthcoming they had dragged him off for further investigation. The result was a fine of 290FF or forfeiture of the board. 290FF was about £30 which was approximately the value of the board, so Tony had told them to keep the board and had walked.