Posts Tagged ‘Bidart’

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.


A Surfing Life – by Sid Pitman

A Surfing Life-by Sid Pitman, (or the ramblings of a senile idiot).

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been involved at the start of surfing in Great Britain and especially on the Isle of Wight. The friends I have made and the great times /fun we had together can never be erased from my memory.
My involvement with surfing started with body boarding in the early sixties, as soon as I could drive and could get to Compton, with a homemade plywood board curved at the front and painted blue (a lot of my boards have been blue).
I then saw surfing on Television from Makaha Beach Hawaii and I knew that was the sport I wanted to follow, I was hooked,
I had no idea on the exact shape or length of a surfboard, only that they were made of some sort of foam with a fibreglass outer shell, I decided to try Polystyrene foam and shaped my first board with a handsaw and a surform blade. When I had got the shape I thought it should be it was cut lengthways in half and an oak stringer glued in after covering with cascamite and newspaper it was then fiberglassed and painted blue with white and yellow stripes, hence the cover shot of wight surf history. I had this board a few years before giving it to Rob Clark when he started.
I had seen other guys at compton surfing but not met them until an advert appeared in the County Press announcing the Isle of Wight Surf Club had been formed and to contact a Ventnor phone number which I did with my mate Ben Kelly. That’s when I met Roger backhouse and his girlfriend Sue Ellis, Geoff (Ned) Gardner, Rusty Long, Jon Jon Ainsworth, Colin Burgess, Colin Hickey, Bob Booth, Steve Brown. Very shortly afterwards others joined including-Keith Williams, Roger Cooper, Rory Angus, Ian Vallender, Mary Hughes, Dave Bottrell, Glynn Kernick, Rob Eldridge Dave Saleroe, Doug Saunders,Mr Cosmic(Derek Thompson) and many others
Soon after the formation of the surf club Sues mum and dad allowed us to have Clare Cottage in Spring Hill Ventnor as a clubhouse, where we could meet-up hold parties and film shows. It was quite something to find 80 people crammed into a small two bedroomed cottage watching a super 8 surf film, Having Spring Hill outside also enabled us to try out the new surfing craze “Skateboarding” invented by a Californian to practice on when the surf was flat. Someone got an old pair off roller skates, removed the wheels and bolted to the bottom of on old piece of wood and we were away. Rusty Long memorably overtaking a car one evening.
In the 60s and 70s the car park at Compton was obviously considerably larger that it is today, and on the left hand front side, was a large wooden shiplap café/shop belonging to a chap called Ron Munt who sold everything from ice creams to plywood surf boards, this shop was there for many years before the inevitable erosion of the cliff face took its toll on it, likewise the early surf club was fortunate to be able to lease one of the many quite large two roomed beach huts from the National Trust, that were situated in the small valley to the right side of the car park, unit that to fell victim of erosion although we did manage to move it with a “Cheek Bros Crane” away from the cliff edge on one occasion, (any photos would be appreciated to add to this).
My First surf trip was to Porthtowan Cornwall to go to see the Cornish and Open Surf Championships in which our Honorary club president Rod Sumpter was completing, Rory Angus and myself travelled down in Geoff (Ned ) Gardners Standard 8 car.it took 6 to 8 hours driving to travel down in those days and at about two in the morning Ned by this time was understandably getting tired,and at that time you had to go through Launceston were you had to negotiate a hairpin bend, Ned unfortunately missed the bend and shot up an ally opposite, after doing a three point turn we returned to the main road and continued to Cornwall, after about half a mile a police mini van over took us blue light flashing and stopped us, Ned got out walked up to the policeman who was emerging ominously from his vehicle and said-“Hello Gilbert, I suppose it’s about that whoreing u bend we missed back there”. The copper was so non plussed at this approach he just said “Well I saw you had one go at that bend when you returned for a repeat I thought I,d better stop you” He graciously let Ned off with a warning and a form to produce his documents at a police station within seven days.
When we camped we had no tents only ex Army Sleeping bags which we lay either between the cars (before the days of VW campervans) or under hedges or walls, after consuming generous quantities of Scrumpy to ease the often very wet nights. Some very boisterous evenings were had including one notorious one in the Old Albion ,Crantock, which involved first eating large amounts of baked beans drinking lots of beer and a lit cigarette lighter, those who were there can remember Derek Thompson rolling on the floor helpless with laughter, it also cleared the pub of locals.
The next trip to porthtowan I shared a berth in Roger Coopers van, only to get him to wake me at three o,clock in the morning with him saying “ Do you want some prunes sunshine?” I politely declined, where on he commenced to eat the whole tin.
Later surf trips included Mort Hoe, The Gower, and France, one memorable trip in 1980
Found over 15 members of the surf club assembled on the sea front at Bidart, where the inevitable party ensued, during that trip one of my memories was of about 200 people enjoying the 8ft shore break at La Barre ,being rolled over in a multinational jumble of arms, legs, bodies, sand and gravel great fun!
Anyone who has ridden Freshwater Bay remembers the first paddle out and drop-in, the heart in the mouth feeling of anticipation not knowing for certain what is going to appear on the horizon to the east of the needles, seeing the large lumps of sea building and not knowing exactly how big the next set is going to be. The bay has an unnerving habit of doubling in size every 10 to 12 minutes to catch the unwary that are caught on the inside. For the brave or skilled the best take off zone is in front of the rocks in front of the Albion Hotel.
As you start to paddle if the sets are much over head high it is advisable to paddle at an angle to the wave or immediately turn before the drop, as the wave is so hollow you may well free fall down the wave if you attempt to bottom turn. Once on the wave you face a collapsing section of wave we christened “the Cabbage Patch” once past this a long wall of peeling surf will follow you if over 8ft it will sound like thunder cracking and spitting in your ears, if over 10ft the light goes darker as the wave blocks the sun from the south and you need to race the break to the centre of the bay.
Years ago I remember surfing the bay when a large patch of maggots had accumulated in the calm zone in the middle from some form of dead marine animal and when you finished surfing you had to remove them all from your wetsuit and baggies.
Any Surfer knows when there is no surf it can get pretty boring, on one such episode after taking a walk along Compton beach I thought it would be a good idea to have a mud slide on one of the wetter parts of the cliffs near the fields, after generating some interest from about ten others we dammed up a small rivulet on the cliff and made a pond at the bottom. After experimenting a bit it turned out to be quite a bit of fun and we filmed it. A couple of months later Mike Smith saw a National competition for any film to do with mud to be presented to Johnson and Johnson, so mike took the film I had and added it to his and edited the film and sent it off, After a couple of months Johnson and Johnson told Mike that he had won a 8mm sound cine camera.
My first custom board was a Surfboard Basques, made by Len Howarth and Bob Ward,
bob, who in my opinion was one of the greatest surfers the Island has ever produced.
Other island pioneer board makers have been Roger Cooper- Zippy Sticks, Tad Ciastula- Vitamin Sea, Keith Williams, Dave Jacobs and Tony Macpherson –Jake Wilson Surfboards.


‘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.


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.


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.