Posts Tagged ‘Bob Booth’

Sid Pitman R.I.P.

Sid Pitman sadly passed away while on holiday in the Mediterranean last week. Sid will be greatly missed by the whole Isle of Wight Surfing Community.  Are thoughts at this time are with Sid’s wife Jan. Sid started body boarding during the early sixties with a homemade plywood board, curved at the front and painted […]


BHC Hostel and Training Centre

Alan Hunter contacted me last year and told me about the apprentices from BHC (British Hovercraft Corporation) back in the 60’s being some of the first guys to start surfing. Earlier this week I met up with Alan and he told me a few stories from those times.

British Hovercraft Corporation (B.H.C.) had an apprentiuce hostel and training centre located in the old Naval Hospital in Whippingham on top of the hill in East Cowes and near to Osborne House. There were dormitories, workshops and a drawing school in the old wards which was a row of long buildings connected by a covered walkway. The dormitories were probably a bit like old being in a boarding scholl with rows of beds along the sides and lockers in the middle. Each dormintory could hold about 30 apprentices.

This is where Alan Hunter, Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner, Derek ‘Cosmic Leashes’ Thompson, Tad Ciastula, Dougie Clark and Bob Booth started their working lives as Apprentice Engineers. The other apprentices were either from the mainland or came from parts of the Island where there was no sufficient public transport to be able to get them to work on time so they stayed at the hostel. The apprentices were a mixed bunch with Islanders, ex public school boys and lads from the ‘Metal Box Company’ in Croydon, London and the ‘Metal Box Company, Carlisle, Scotland who did their first years apprenticeship at the Training Centre on the island.

It was a melting pot of different people, many of whom went onto great things. All around the hostel were the old Saunders Roe Test Centre, with test tanks, windtunnels and various works. At the back of the dormitories was a big tin shed which would always be a hive of activity. The apprentices would spend their free time working on there own personal projects from bikes, motorbikes, scooters, cars, fly by wire model aeroplanes and shaping surfboards. This tin shed was just as essential to their learning as the Training Centre was.

Alan remembers that Tad came from Winchester School and that Tad’s father was a designer on the Saunders-Roe Skeeter, a two-seat training and scout helicopter. The Skeeter has the distinction of being the first helicopter to be used by the British Army Air Corps.

The apprentices were paid very little and out of their wages was taken rent/keep for staying at the hostel too. So on a friday morning they would trek over to Cowes to sign on as the government would subsidise apprentices wages. Some of the apprentices were lucky enough to some cash work on a saturday morning reapiring hovercraft skirts for the Seaspeed Hovercrafts. Alan remembers being told of a story of when Tad was winching up a hovercraft to get at the skirts to repair them when the winch malfunctioned and tipped the hovercraft on end. Alan said if it had gone completely over the hovercraft would have been completely written off.

The apprentices were paid on a thursday and with what little they had, they would always be seen crossing the fields behind the hostel and around the back of the St Mildred’s Church at Whippingham and down to The Folly Inn. Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner was fondly remembered as a real character and for entertaining the other apprentices with impressions while they were at the pub. These were your normal impressions but were amazing impressions of outboard motors. Alan remembers his impression of a Seagull Outboard Motor being started up being particularly good.

Sunday nights were also spent at the Folly Inn, usually sitting out on the decking listening to the Goon Show on the radio and drinking scrumpy. On a few occasions Alan remembers Tad, Dougie, Derek and himself taking a couple of rowing boats from the slipway at BHC and rowing to the Woodvale Hotel in Gurnard for a few drinks.

Alan remembered buying a huge old Bilbo surfboard from Dougie Clark in about 1968/69 but admits he never really got into surfing. Dougie on the other hand made surfing his lifestyle, deciding to no longer wear shoes or socks as he wanted to harden his feet for surfing, and also decided he wasn’t going to wear a shirt and tie anymore, opting for a sweatshirt. The managers at BHC went absolutely mad but Dougie would not budge on the matter and insisted he would not wear shoes or a shirt and tie anymore.

In the tin shed/workshop at the back of the dormitories Derek Thompson brought in his old Lambretta Scooter anouncing that it looked really tatty and the spent weeks hand painting it in the workshop. When Derek it was finished Alan says it was the most amazing paint job on a scooter he had ever seen. Derek jumped on the newly painted scooter and rode off down the road. After a few hundred yards one of the panels fell off and scaped along the raod getting really badly scratched. Derek was gutted.

Tad and Dougie spent some of their time out in the old tin shed designing and shaping a knee board like the one George Greenough rides in Crystal Voyager with a scooped deck. Dougie had an old 105E Anglia car and Tad and himself would always be driving off to the beach at Compton when they could to get waves or just to be at the beach.

In the dormitories Tad used to do this thing where he would stand on the edge of his bed and fall forward only putting his hands up in front of his chest to catch the fall as he landed flat on his bed. One day on the beach when Tad went back to the car Dougie and Derek dug a huge hole where Tad had put his towel and then carefully laid the towel back down again over the hole. When Tad came back he stood at the bottom of the towel and dropped (just like he would on his bed), but this time he fell straight through his towel and into the huge hole. Alan says it was very dangerous and Tad was lucky not to have broken his neck, understandably Tad was furious.

Alan remembers one day Ned getting a really nasty gash across his head that needed stitches after pulling into a barrel at the bay.

Another surfer Alan remembered was a girl called Merry Hughes who went off to the south of Fance and Biarritz for a whole summer. When she returned from France Alan says that all of a sudden she got lots of attention from the boys as she had blossomed into an absolute stunner.

I told Alan that I’d been in touch with Tad and was hoping to speak to Bob Booth soon toobut wondered if he knew the where abouts of some of the other apprentices. Alan says he remembers Dougie Clark heading off to Morroco to teach English language but hadn’t heard from him since and the last time he saw Derek Thompson was at Alexandra Palace at a Wind and Surf Exbo in the late 80’s advertising his leashes and Mountain Bikes. At the same show he said Tad had a special booth where he was shaping boards, which would have been about the time of Vitamin Sea surfboards.

Alan said he always used to try and keep in touch or at least find out was all the old apprentices and it was great to see the write up on Tad and Sue and that they were still living the dream.

Alan also remember one day down at Little Hope Beach waiting for the waves to pick up when Carrots came flying down the hill right from the top on his skateboard until he hit the curb at the bottom and ended up in a heap.


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.