Posts Tagged ‘Biarritz’

Wight Water – Issue No 2

Issue No 2 of the Isle of Wight Surf Clubs magazine ‘Wight Water’ came out in the autumn of 1976. It included a write up on the IOW Surf Club longboard competition won by Tad Ciastula, 2nd Dave Jacobs, 3rd Keith Williams, Pete Brown and Dave Grey. It also covers the IOW Surf Club Darts […]


Surfing never dies – it will always be a part of us

Surfing Never Dies, it will always be part of us – by Tad Ciastula

A couple of weeks a go I got a great email from Tad and Sue. Tad had managed to persuade Sue to dig out some old pics from the 70’s for us to use here on the website and this is what Tad had to say.

Sue and I have been married 40 years this year. She is still the love of my life and has been my constant companion on everything we have done and the many places we have worked and travelled to.

Shots from Summer 71 after Sue and I got married in June. Trip to

Biarritz and Portugal / shaping shots from Portugal.

Some from Canaries 72/73 in tent on south of Gran Canaria.

You can see all the old crew Roger / Sandy /Keith Williams / Tad /Sue/

Dave Mercer don’t see Andrea but she was there (Fitted a new piston in their J 4 van in Spain)

Tony Mac was there – me and him on the park bench. Seem to remember that that Tony Mac was with someone else but ended up with Annie!!! Think that was right.

Really a long time ago – still surfing that will never change. Surfing never dies – it will always be a part of us.

Trip already booked to Bali for 3 weeks over Christmas we have a favorite place we always go. The waves are always great and Bali is such a special place. We have loved it from the first time we ever went some 30 years ago!! We will always go back there as often as we can. Working from Thailand it is an easy 3 hr. flight – we even take long weekends when the forecast is good.

Good luck with Freshwater Bay – total crap – greed is the very worst kind of evil.

Best regards

Tad and Sue.

After showing Tad’s pics to Keith Williams, Keith remembers a little more to the trip to France.

The restaurant photo was taken in the restaurant at the corner in Guethary by the traffic lights (later a double glazing outlet & then a Pizza parlour) taken soon after Tony & I arrived in late May or June 1973. I remember that it rained really hard during the meal with thunder & lightning and people eating outside had to abandon their tables to escape the torrential rain. I have a mental picture of baskets of soggy bread & glasses of diluted wine left on the tables outside.

There was another mass dinner on that trip at a little café up in the hills behind Baquio in northern Spain. I went up with Tad in the morning to warn the Senora that there would be 12 for dinner that night. As we went in there were a couple of seedy looking characters drinking wine at the bar & half a dozen flies circling above a table footie machine. That night, we took over a back room & all had steak (horse!), egg & chips all washed down with copious amounts of real Sangria. The bill was split 12 ways and came to 18/6 each….that’s 92.5p! Those were the days! In fact that was a bit of a ‘blow-out’ for us, as, when in Spain, we were living on about £2 per week

I remember the problem with Dave Mercer’s van. Tad & Sue turned up at Somo, where Tony & I were still camped, with Dave & Andrea one evening. Fortunately, I had a tent, ready for when my girlfriend flew out to join us some weeks later, so Dave & Andrea had somewhere to sleep. They were with us for about a week, waiting for a new piston to arrive.


The Camper Era

The Camper Era

After returning from this trip, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world, I bought my first camper van, an ancient Commer with a nice conversion in back. This opened up the way for me to get away to the West country more often and to retrace my steps back to France & Spain once a year, not to mention numerous weekends camping out at Compton. There was a trip to Rhosilli at Easter one year with a bunch of other guys who camped in tents. It was so cold that Jake put all his clothes on to go to bed and the boards were covered in ice in the morning.

Needless to say, I was snug & warm in the Commer. On a trip to Newquay in the Commer in September 1976, Jake & I would surf Great Western in the morning on a rising tide and Crantock on the ebb in the afternoon as the edge was taken off the swell.

One afternoon, we were out in the line-up at Crantock when Dave ‘Turf’ Salero & Brian Hill turned up on the beach, but couldn’t get out through the crunching inside section. We’d just remarked on this, when Jake saw a monster set rear up out back. As he was clearly a bit nervous, I said, “Don’t worry Jake, it’s only water”. Funnily enough, that didn’t seem to reassure him. Suffice to say that we were both cleaned up & washed in and felt no desire to venture out again that day!

That Commer eventually gave way to a bigger Commer Highwayman. This was a coachbuilt conversion & would sleep 4 in comfort. It was a big, slow beast though & the journey back from Freshwater West in Pembrooke with Mick Thomson & Magic took all day. In time, that van was superseded by a rising roof Bedford.

Unfortunately, a coming together with an 80mph drunk a week before a planned trip to Ireland meant the Bedford was written off, to be replaced, eventually, by a VW. That served me well for several years with trips back to Biarritz, Spain, Ireland, Wales & the West country before being replaced by another VW.

One day I was talking to a bunch of guys, a couple of whom I knew, when one of the guys I didn’t know very well said, “You’re Keith Williams aren’t you? You’re the guy who caught the best wave ever at Compton” I was a bit stunned by this pronouncement, as you can imagine. Having thought about it, I remembered a Saturday afternoon a few months previously, in October 1986, when the conditions were the best I’d ever seen at Compton. The swell was 6-8 feet on a rising tide with no wind to speak of. At the time, I’d gone back to long boards and had a ‘Chapter’ popout. I’d caught a couple of 4-5 footers and got tubed on the inside when I saw a big set approaching. I was able to get outside everyone else and was lined up just right for the first wave. It peaked & peeled perfectly and I decided not to attempt anything clever, so as not to risk falling off this beauty prematurely. I crouched and dragged my hand, easing forward on the board and tucked up into the curl for what seemed like several minutes before pulling out over the top as the wave closed out nearer the beach. There were many other waves on that day, but none came close to bettering that one; so maybe that was the one the guy meant. I was so stoked with the session that I hardly slept that night, still buzzing on the adrenaline rush.


The Big Trip by Keith Williams

The Big Trip by Keith Williams

In the late 60s & early 70s, Biarritz was the place to go if you were serious about surfing. Guys like Rog Cooper, Bob Ward and Tad Ciastula were regular visitors for the summer and it was like a right of passage for English surfers, a bit like gap year travels nowadays.

I was sitting with my boss at JS Whites one afternoon in early March 1973 when his phone rang. “It’s for you”, he said crossly, handing me the phone. It was Tony Mac. “I’m going to France for the summer” he said “Are you coming?”

I thought about it for about 3 seconds, & said “Yes” So it was on May 3rd we left Southampton on a Townsend Thorenson car ferry (remember them?) bound for Cherbourg in the home-converted 1200 VW that Tony had acquired for the trip. It took us 3 days to get to Biarritz & when we arrived at Bidart Plage it was dull, drizzly and windy with no waves to speak of!

Having said that, we did witness some big waves at Guethary, La Barre & Lafitenia at about 15 ft before we moved on to Spain.

I remember having to take turns to go to the local shops for our daily bread, milk etc and it became my habit, once the shopping had been done, to stop for a coffee in the square at Bidart. As I sat there, looking around at the distant Pyrenees, La Rhune, the church and all the other buildings around the square, it struck me that this was the nicest place that I’d ever been to. Now, nearly 40 years on, Bidart is still my most favourite place, despite the changes that time has wrought and the many other wonderful places that surfing has taken me to.

There were several of us from the Island down there for the summer; there was Rog, Tad, Dave Mercer, Pete Brown, Trev Woodley & us. We surfed at some wonderful beaches but on the other hand, stayed in some really dodgy places!

One of the dodgier places was Baquio, where we were parked up between the apartment blocks for several days. One day there seemed to be a 2-3 foot swell building. We all started getting changed to go in, but by the time we’d got in the water, the swell had got up to about 5-6 feet. Rog said that it was time to hit Mundaka. Tony & I set off with some trepidation, not only because Mundaka had a fearsome reputation even then, but because Rog had told us how bad the road was between Baquio & Mundaka. Sure enough, it was like driving over a ploughed field with bomb craters in it. It was six miles & it took us nearly an hour.

When we got there, Rog was just coming back from a look-see over the harbour wall. “Great,” he said “It’s about 8 feet AND they’ve mended the road”!

Discretion being the better part of valour, I refrained from surfing that day, preferring to watch from the harbour wall as guys got eaten by the ultra fast left.

As the tide flooded, I recall Dave Mercer being washed into the river & so far up stream that he had to get out of the water & walk back along the road as the current was too much to paddle against. I did venture in the next day when the size had dropped to about 5-6 feet. The waves were incredibly fast, no matter how hard I tried, I could not outrun them and ate sand.

There was another session in big waves that I remember. This was back in France when Guethary reef was working at about 10-12 feet. Tony & I decided to paddle out to watch from the safety of the shoulder. Although the waves were the biggest I’d ever been in, they were not breaking fast, so after a while, I thought I’d have a go. Trev Woodley always said that Guethary was the only right break in the world where you had to go left to catch up with the curl, so I felt I could handle it.

I paddled over to where Rog & the other guys were and eventually paddled for a wave. As the board started to plane, I stood up, but was unprepared for the acceleration down the face & was thrown off the back as the board accelerated away. On the second wave, I was determined not to repeat that mistake and so stood up quickly, transferring my weight forward onto my left foot. I guess it was inevitable, but I accelerated straight down the face & got 10 feet of the Bay of Biscay dumped on top of me. After that, I figured I’d had enough.

Somo, across the river from Santander, was another favourite place. In those days it was just sand dunes & pine trees and a gloriously long sandy beach with no-one about, except at weekends when a few city folk would come out & camp.

I particularly enjoyed the walk along the beach to the little jetty where a boat, not too dissimilar to the ‘African Queen’, would come in to pick you up for the 20 peseta (about a shilling or 5p) ride across the river to Santander. The boats were run by a company called Los Diez Hermanos, or The Ten Brothers & at least two of them looked remarkably like Humphrey Bogart in the above mentioned movie!

We would go over every couple of days for supplies in the market and a wander around followed by a large café con leche in a pavement café. There were no other English people and it was rare to see any one else on the beach. One night just after dusk, we were aware of a distant noise like chanting. As the noise got louder, we could see a procession approaching, carrying torches & some sort of figure on a plinth. We were a bit concerned for a while as we thought maybe we were about to be sacrificed by the Spanish KKK to some weird Iberian Anti-Surfing God or other. Fortunately, the procession wound its way past us & down through the dunes onto the beach, where they set fire to the figure and its plinth.

We found out later that it was an annual ceremony to celebrate Santa Maria, which was the name of the small island off the eastern end of the beach. I’ve spent 10 or 12 weeks there in all, over 3 or 4 visits, just parked up behind the dunes, surfin’ & chillin’ out. However, the last time I went there, in 1980, there was a road, a car park, an ice cream shop, diggers, lorries and foundations being laid for what would inevitably be a load of shore side apartment blocks. A sad day indeed, Lord knows what it’s like now.

That trip proceeded on to Portugal and some more wonderfully deserted surf spots. Although the water was cold after Biarritz, I really enjoyed Peniche and Carcavellos.


The 1980 Trip – by Keith Williams

Was it coincidence that saw 18 Islanders make the journey to Biarritz in the summer of 1980? I think not. As I heard someone say at the recent film night, the surf club was different then; we all knew each other pretty well from years of surfing together and the trip was arranged as much as a social event as a surf trip.

Having arranged to meet up with Sid, Jake et al at the camp site at Moliets Plage, I arrived there one sunny afternoon and on enquiring at the reception desk about where Les Anglais, Monsieur Jacobs et Monsieur Pitman might be pitched, I was told, after much misunderstanding & arm waving, that they were not registered on the site. Disappointed, I decided to head on to Bidart, where I was sure I’d meet up with them, arriving early enough for a surf before dinner.

I don’t now remember the details, but one by one we began to assemble. I do remember being in the bar at Tamarisk Plage with Sid, Mick Thomson, Magic & my newly arrived brother Steve, when a tremendous thunderstorm hit & all the lights went out.

Steve’s VW CamperSomo
Steve’s VW Camper

I headed off to Somo for a few days to meet up with Rob Clark & enjoyed a few quiet days on the beach there before returning to Bidart. We used to be able to drive onto the breakwater at Plage des Cavaliers & park up in those days & I remember sitting on the rocks lining the breakwater with Sid watching the waves.

The best waves we had all trip were at Cote des Basques. On several days running we had 4 – 6 foot waves peeling fast across the beach in glorious sunshine & warm water on a rising tide. I know Jake was made up with it, especially after 4 o’clock, when the local schoolgirls paddled out for a few waves! The weather was hot & sunny most of the time & poor old Sid’s head suffered a bit with sunburn. Even in the hottest weather, it was common in those days for doughnuts to be sold at the beach. At Bidart, a rather overweight youth used to stagger up & down the beach with a tray slung round his neck, full of apricot doughnuts. These were actually quite delicious and we reckoned that the youth was so fat because he had to eat all the unsold doughnuts at the end of the day.

There were many visits to the cafes in Bidart square & I remember Sid discovering wine in plastic bottles with flip off tops in the local Carrefour for about 30p a litre. The best bit was that they didn’t break if you were too pissed to hold onto them properly!

Cote De Basque
Cote De Basque

Whilst in Bidart, I parked the VW up on the beach road, behind the shed that housed the beach cleaning machine. The advantage of parking there was that you were shielded from the headlights of cars coming down the hill during the night to check the surf, or other nefarious activities; the disadvantage was being woken up at 6 a.m. every morning when the cleaning guy started the massive diesel engine & clattered off down to the beach. Perhaps not though, as an early start always got me into some solitary offshore waves, well solitary apart from Rob Clark who was also parked up at the beach.

Living by the beach at Bidart was one of the most unforgettable experiences. An early surf, followed by breakfast, preceded a walk up to the village (much quieter than it is today) for essential shopping & the first visit of the day to the café. Back to the beach for a sunbathe & a doughnut, followed by another surf before the tide gets too high. Then a long, hot, lazy afternoon before dinner and another walk up to the village for some more serious drinking & maybe a visit to the Pelote au Chistera at the Municipal Fronton before staggering back down the beach path to bed. I remember many evenings sitting on the wall overlooking the beach with Jake, watching the lightning storms over the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, hoping that they would clear by the morning, as they invariably would.

There was also a massed dinner one night at the restaurant by the traffic lights at Guethary, now sadly a double glazing shop, with most of the 18 of us in attendance.

France Crew 1980

The thing from this trip that really sticks in my mind was getting stranded at Cherbourg on the way home by a French fishermen’s strike, which closed the port for 3 days. It was a bit of a bore, but bearable for me as I had all the comforts of home with me in the VW, but for others, particularly families with young children, trying to live in car packed with holiday paraphernalia, parked up in the port with hundreds of others, it was no joke.

I remember the first ship to break the blockade was a Townsend Thoreson ferry which had charged through the picket line of French fishing boats with the fire hoses aimed at the strikers and ‘Rule Britannia’ being broadcast over the ships tannoy! I could even make out one of the officers on the bridge wearing a Viking helmet! This really annoyed the French, though, and negotiations to lift the blockade were brought to a halt, but their action did give us stranded Brits a psychological lift. When the time came, it was a relief to finally get onboard to sail home. The final indignity, though, was being docked 3 days pay for being late back to work!

I don’t suppose there will ever be another trip like the 1980 trip. That was just about the last year where there was the freedom to park up anywhere (except Guethary, eh Magic?) and stay overnight and before the advent of Ryanair flying vast hordes of horrid English people into Biarritz for £1. Bidart, in particular, has changed almost out of all recognition with development, new hotels, car parks, crowded breaks & hordes of the aforementioned horrid English people, although once on the beach, it is possible to lay back with your eyes shut & drift back to the golden era. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


‘Surf Trips & France’ by Pat Morrell

This is 1971 and Hutch and I are coming off Barricane beach in Woolacombe. By this time we were both living in England and found it more convenient to leave our wives together (after a year or two with children) in Hutch’s house in Southsea, and to go down to the west country for a weekend rather than to come to the Island. Woolacombe was much closer than Newquay so we would leave at around 6:00 or 6:30 on a Saturday morning, reckoning to be in the water by 10:00 and then return late Sunday afternoon. I’m carrying the board that the customs confiscated.

In 1972 we went back to Biarritz where there was quite a gang from the Island I remember the Isle of Wight contingent sitting on the sea wall outside the surf club at Cotes des Basques, Biarritz watching the then world champion (Corky Carroll).
From left (ignoring the little girls) is me, Rory Angus, an Australian chap that we hooked up with, Bob Ward (I think, he was certainly around), Trev, his girlfriend, an English bloke called Alan that was with the Aussie, and their two girlfriends one who was English the other Australian.

The “IW” campsite. Hutch in the middle, Rory on his right andTrev + girlfriend in the background.

Rory at Chambre d’Amour. The waves were very small but he insisted it was worth going in, we gave him flack about surfing on wet sand.

Hutch on the left, unknown on the right. This is on the sandy beach between Bidart and Guethary

Hutch at our campsite.

Chambre d’Amour. Trev’s girl, Trev and Rory with Hutch in the car. Hutch and I were a bit better organised that the rest of them and did most of the shopping. Each day we would go into the little supermarket in Guethary and buy a platter of peaches, about 4 baguettes, two cheeses and 7 or 8 litres of beer. The girls there thought it was only for us so we achieved a little notoriety for our diet, but it was really for the other guys as well.
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.


‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell

‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell 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 […]


France 1991

In 1991 I managed to persuade Stuart Jones and Richard Harvey to do a surf trip to the South of France. At that time Stuart and Ritchie in my opinion were among the best surfers on the Island…..

As is often the way the very next day the swell came up and it was cranking. We were all bleary eyed, very hung over and the waves coming through on the left were some of the best I had ever seen. When two guys started to paddle out we could see it was a good size too. We soon got ourselves together. This was what had come for, so we got into our wetsuits and paddled out…..

The swell lasted nearly all week and it was soon obvious that we were staying at one of the best set ups along the coast as one day a load of pros including Tom Curren, Lisa Anderson, Michael ‘Munga’ Barry, Paul Russell and others turned up with Maurice Cole and a few Surf Photographers to surf our left hander.


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.


2010 with Tad Ciastula

I managed to contact Tad recently and thought many of you would be interested in what he is up to. Tad has also promised to dig out some good shots of the first surf trip to Biarritz in ’71. If you went to Biarritz in ’71 too, please let us know? Tad is still in […]