Posts Tagged ‘Bob Ward’

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.”


Los Hombres se vienen, El hombre se va, en la carreterra

(In other words – in the desert – The sun comes up; The sun goes down.) Just a few more shots. I’ve got anything you have sent before today which is  Tuesday March 27th. I’m 66 in four days. Please send money. PO Box 82, Dunwich, 4183. It’ll be forwarded to the secret desert hideaway. […]


Cactus – Day 7 – by Rob Ward

In a reflective mood This is a toilet – 2 trunkated telegraph poles support the roof structure, they and all the interior fitting are secured to a concrete floor and the cement and sandstone boulders lead in a spiral to a well ventilated flushing loo. Ron says the (?8) loos with their running water, piped […]


Cactus Day 3 – by Rob Ward

This is a bit of a blow. Even under the awning you can (just?) see in the foto below, the light is way too bright for me to see anything on MAC’s screen. So I can’t write standing at the table I made from a panel of Carbon/foam/laminex (Formica), or sit with MAC resting on the little fridge freezer I have on loan. So I’m reclined with MAC on my knees and my head jammed on the walls of the sleeping box on the ute. (The white bit, obviously).

Camp (Castles surf break just over dune) habitation of the Camel Driver, the Painted Dragon and the Honey Eater – the Camel Drivers 2 best mates (read on…) unless you already did. NB Solar panels calculated to spit out photovoltaic energy. Crafty.

Let me tell you about my new best friends: The first and most hilarious is not called a Painted Dragon. There IS a lizard here that IS called that. But the one I’d call a Painted Dragon is called here a Gecko, which it most certainly isn’t. To know why this little guy is my new best friend (number 1) you’d have to know those whom I designate mine enemies. Everyone in England knows what a horsefly is. They’re big bumbling f###ers… we used to shoot them with the elastic garters that held our socks up at the school where the man used to beat me with a stick. They used to breed in the hot tin-roofed classrooms or under the floors or somewhere. But they blackened the windows. Alive and dead. Here they are called March Flies and someone recently announced a theory that were properly called Marsh Flies. Well, this is the Desert, the edge of the Nullarbor Plain. (That means no bloody trees, sport…) And these things have gone forth and multiplied. (You get Biblical in the desert). So I think we can dismiss that radical take on the etymology of March Fly. Since one is covered in flies here from sun-up to sun-down and equally, as the hoi polloi are wont to say in the UK, from “arsehole to breakfast time” – which I suppose to mean, “all over” – the March flies come at you under good cover. And these ones here bite twice as hard as the Queensland March flies, PLUS! they are half the size. So you’ll be walking along trying not to be a woos, lagged in flies like a dinky-di, outback, mule-skinning kind of Ozzie or imagining yourself in one of those pictures you see of bee-trainers (you know the ones where they have a bee “hat” on) and suddenly your composure is shot to buggery by a stabbing pain in – some place on your delicate skin located between your ******** & b’fast time. You look at the afflicted part and sure enough, there is a drop of your very own red, red blude as if you’ve just been donating it of your own free will to the doctor (to check that your AIDS has not come back) or the clinic that collects it for people who need it. Far from it, it has been removed against your will, painfully, in order that this spawn of Beelzebub can go forth (and here’s the irony…) multiply Biblically. Indeed, in plague proportions. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Pharaoh was in these parts before he started afflicting the Jews and that he seriously pissed God off.

Enter the Lizard that should be called the Painted Dragon. He should be called that,

Because it’s a great name and he deserves to be called by a great name
Because his back is a beautiful scaly skin tapestry that is expressly designed to strike dumb your average word-smith. Oh alright! it’s a lace-work of black separating fractal patterns of reddish-ochre split into two broadly parallel lines each about 6mm wide in between a cool mint green patterning tending toward a lemon belly. Of course the overall effect if you don’t get up-close and personal is a light sandy brown. But don’t be fooled. This is the Painted Dragon.

And here’s his trick… it’s amazing and it’s what makes him my best mate. I’m cooking standing at my table. Along comes the March fly (by the way, you’ve noticed the month; just a hint to the radical etymologists (& entomologists) among us, he settles on your foot. And just as he is about to fork in his first mouthful of dinner you feel a delightful tickle on your ankle rather than a stabbing pain and your dragon has nailed him even as he drilled! But these guys are even more proactive than that. This morning I watched one jump a full 100 mm and pluck one out of the air! This may not sound like a great leap to a 1800mm high human being … but just try leaping 1800 mm straight up… these guys are just 100 mm long; probably 15 mm high.

Ron who owns the place these days was just by (we’re friends… I gave him money) and told me of a fellow who was here for a few weeks and became such good mates with one he wanted to take it home. That, of course is NOT ON. If everyone did that this place would be a writhing, knee deep carpet of March flies and there would be not a small number of emaciated once-human leathery near-corpses riddled with tiny blood-stains.

Best friend number 2 is a pretty, social bird with a tinge of green to his wings, a black eye-flash, a sweet unassuming song and a cunning ability to fly upside down into the tiny scrubby bushes here that look identical but actually constitute an eco-system of great diversity (if you get up-close etc…). They say that good art is a matter of ‘mis-direction’. So if this was good writing, you would have no idea at all why this pretty ‘Honey Eater’ (again, crassly mis-named) is my second, new best mate. And I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by mentioning that, while it may seem silly for a bird to fly into a bush upside down, they do have a knack of coming out with their beaks bristling with legs and wings. But I’m not allowed by the conventions of good art to say what the legs and wings are hanging off…

Anyway, enough of legs and wings; let’s get onto cabbages and kings. There was swell when I got in 3 nights ago but I’d driven all day – only 560km, not the 900 of the day before that, so I parked somewhere and braced myself to “make a deal” with Ron, who wanted $10 a night, which is a lot for a toilet when a chap owns a shovel. Ron came round shortly before dark which is about 7:30; sunrise is about 7:30 too so I guess we can agree that Meridian Passage at this longitude and using the rather odd time conventions in South Australia must be about 1:30 pm. For the record, NSW is one hour ahead of Qld. SA is 30 minutes back from that. NSW claim somehow to be saving daylight, eh? I know I wrote that, but it doesn’t seem to me to mean anything believable. SA of course, is – well the way I drove – nearly 3000k further away from sunrise than Stradbroke Island. And, now that we know that the world is round (actually, of course, an oblate spheroid) and goes round the sun (actually, elliptically round the sun) we know that sunrise is something of a misnomer. But more serious than the error of all those phrases is the sad fact that I even felt I needed to know what time the sun did, or didn’t “come up”. I woke at “6:30” this morning in the dark. I actually went to bed at “7:30” before dark. But the thing is, which 7:30 did I got to bed with and by which did I arise? The phone picked up SA time back in Ceduna where there is coverage. The computer is on Qld time. But my body is going to have to come round to acquiescing to Cactus time. The, sun rises, the sun goes down. Ca y est! Yesterday I went on to the beach and with no sign of human company did my Salute the Sun. I felt no need to rush. And last night, when I had a stainless cup of red (just found the glasses) I felt no desire to finish the bottle. This is part of why I came here.

The day I arose and surfed Castles. Very badly. In fact rather as if I were the victim of a bit of Jesus healing. You will know the story. A Centurion came to Jesus and said unto him. I am a man of authority. I say to this man “Come!” and he cometh. I say to this man “Go” and he goeth. I recognise in you a man of authority. It is sufficient that you say the word and my servant will be healed. He’s a 66 year old in a wheel-chair and he says he wants to surf.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I say unto you, I have not seen such faith as this in all Judaea.” And to the Centurion he saith, “Return to your servant. Tell him to arise from his wheel-chair. He will surf”. Well, as it went, I rather took the view that Our Lord had overestimated his pull with Our Father who is in Heaven. I surfed, but I surfed as if I were still in a wheel chair. Fortunately, I was alone and I pray, unseen. Later in the day I wandered up to Caves which was firing and offshore. I had wanted a paddle and did not want to mix it with the locals of which there were 12. But Lo, when I went out there in the afternoon there was but one. And I passed a man upon the road who was not young (for he was at least 40) and he was afflicted by poor attitude. He said to me, “The wind is on it. It is wretched”, though when I thought upon that I knew that the man truly had said, “For it is Rat Shit.” Thinking this unbiblical I passed upon my way. Having returned to my dwelling I picked up my 6′ 3″ quad, and girding my loins (read: fighting my way into a full wetsuit for the second time in 10 years, yay it was an struggle and yay I did fall upon the ground as it were possessed by an demon and if he who passed by on the other side of the road in my hour of need because I was a Samaritan and therefore despised, he should have seen me writhing in mine effort later to get out of it in the shallows, for, verily, I did nearly drown.) Long story short, terrific head-high waves running 100M with one guy out. “Carrick”. Good nautical name: the “Carrick Bend”, a particularly complex knot; also the name of a Cornish Council which would be right. Dad has a 100′ boat in Indo chartering. Carrick, after 11 years in Indo now drives a tug in Thevenard up the way near Streaky Bay I think. He ripped, and – you know what? – the healing kicked in. (A prayer, travelling at the speed of light – the ultimate speed of the permeation of force in the Universe – it must therefore take a measurable period of time to get from Judaea to Heaven and back again, so fair-enough!) And verily I did rip too. Later joined by Simon who farmed 7000 Hectares and was waiting for the first rains upon the land that he might plant grain. Simon had been a shearer before his parents gifted him the farm. I said, By Jove, that must have given you a strong back! And he said that it did but that it was a young man’s game. I had taken a look at him and thought he was not only young but hard as nails and I said to him, “And how old are you?” And he replied that he was 37. I said, Verily, verily, you are indeed a poor old f#ck.

And we had a ball.

Later,

Rob

The sea and part of the Gawler Craton, the granite underlying the sedimentary sandstone and limestone on which the surf breaks and a piece of rock that has neither been been faulted nor folded in 1,450 million years and can therefore be supposed to be “as God intended”. Which I would apply to all of Cactus if God believed in me.

Camel driver seen on walk to Port Le Hunte (That really IS the name) That really isn’t a camel driver…


On the road to Cactus with Rob Ward

I’m alive and nobody is more surprised and happy than I am. I’ll only mention one (out of many) reason: Road Trains. Any Australian who has driven outback knows what a Road Train is. Think very big semi-trailer with another one or two stuck on the back. You’ve got the hang of driving fantastically fast, gradually, over the course of five days. The legal limit is 110kph. You’ll be overtaken frequently if you drive at 120. But trucks, “lorries” (UK Speak) more or less confine themselves to the limit. There are now average-speed cameras. Truckies have always known where the cops are and where the cameras are. But this device has them beat, for their own good, sure! It automatically identifies vehicles over 4.5 tonnes weight – that is, NOT a van – and calculates the driver’s average speed over, what? 100 kilometers? So, no good speeding up between cameras. This means for the common ute/pickup voyager that, sooner or later, you will find yourself overtaking a road train. The roads are good. Straight and flat and my fotos give little impression of the fact that you can see to a 30k horizon and sometimes get a hint of further if the terrain permits it. You can on the larger version but I couldn’t send them.) The engineers were Romans. A road train coming towards you usually appears as a water tower in the distance. You’re seeing the white fibreglass wind streamliner that leads the air blast up and over the one-story-high trailers behind the prime mover. The body of the prime mover is hidden in the road’s “mirage effect” at a certain distance. Gradually it begins to make itself visible. First it gets two black legs then it forms itself into a recognisable object and then you start preparing yourself to stay real nice and steady on your side of the road. Of course, if you did do a head-on with one it would be over very quickly and with little damage, including psychological, to the road train or driver. Your engine would pass out through the back of your treasured transport/home with you a hard to-identify something in between One of the many little games you play over these great distances is to start counting the seconds from first sighting to the passage of the vehicle. Then you start trying to work out how far away it was when you first saw it. I found about 30 seconds was common. So, closing at about 220kph, you saw it about 2k up the track.

Anyway, passing an approaching road train is a thrilling but only a brief flirtation with death – the road is just wide enough for two of them to pass each other without going for a wander. Overtaking takes more planning. I overtook 2 in the past 2,300k which I concluded last evening here in Port Augusta. (About 560k to go… that has worked out about 400k further than I expected.) The last one was a bit of a worry. I came up behind it and stayed well back. The first one was a gentleman and perhaps realising how nervous I was, eventually gave his indicators a little flash to say – well, I don’t know what in truckie speak? “OK buddy you can f###ing GO now!” The second, on the 200k dead-straight stretch coming out of Broken Hill troubled me. He had to negociate an approaching Road Train himself while I was behind and he put himself half a metre onto the gravel shoulder. The entire back half, with some 32 wheels whose tyres cost about $1000 each (nothing like my friend who has a gold mine in the Klondike who pays for his earth moving gear $20,000 per tyre – second-hand!) well, the entire back half of the road train was drifting as if to overtake the first half. The driver pulled this off a couple of times and I can’t say if he was alarmed or not. I would guess not. He was down to about 100 and I had, days earlier shocked myself by realising that I had gone up to 130 on overtaking. So I got set to go. No worries about oncoming traffic – the road is empty to the horizon. So you take to the ‘wrong side of the road’ and go. To keep your wheels on the tarmac you have about 300m to your right and – for safety’s sake – about 500-1000mm on your left. It is like driving down a city block in height and extent and the sky does go dark. This is when you really hope the driver next to you does not go skateboarding on the gravel. Actually fear only comes into it before and after. At the time surgical concentration is the mode. Phew, my heart is racing just thinking about it. Hey, if you’ve got a Volvo or a great powerful 4WD that’s another thing. You go fast and steady and you’re by in quite a long! moment. But when you’re navigating your home, 3 surfboards, and a box with enough weight in it on the roof to need a lot of air in your rear tyres to keep them round… different story.

Anyway, let’s get off dicing with death and onto dealing it out: road kill. When I drove with the ex-wife and Jonno to NW Queensland, out past Longreach to Carisbrooke station 3 years ago, there was so much road kill you could go the whole way stepping from one dead animal to the next. Nearly all Kangaroos. Wedge-tail eagles more or less set up shop in groups of 20 or 30. Chatting as they gorged. For some reason, the roads were largely clear of road kill down here, farther south. In the first 1,500k I counted just 2, albeit fat, wallabies or small kangaroos… not sure which. Bit of a mess. I have not seen a single living one in 2,400k. (Had they all gone north and been run over?) However, and this surprised me, I counted no less than six dead European foxes. You’d think they’d be smarter having survived being imported expressly to be hunted. (What did Oscar Wilde say in reference to fox hunting? “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”). Just as I was giving up on wildlife in general, I saw a flock of emus, with their lovely brown tail feather drooping quite delicately. Had they been fluffier and a little more erect I could have mistaken them for Ostriches, which my two English surfing friends & I often saw when we cycled along the Garden Route some 1000k to Cape Town. Hmmm, funny how these adventures occur at the end of a relationship! Still, this time round I am not waking every morning miserable. Au contraire!

Of course, I wrote this as I drove, in my head. Or rather, this is precisely NOT what I wrote in my head as I drove. I surrender abjectly before the task of putting into a few paragraphs an impression of the really big bigness of the outback. And that is the impression when driving, almost flying, over it. God knows what the single cyclist I passed was thinking! He shamed me. I had been having thoughts like, “Oh F###. If the beast breaks down, I’m done out here.” Not dead, but I have no money for a tow and, pray tell me, what does a 100k tow cost? Then the repairs? I’d say to myself, Look, it’s done 181,000k There’s every chance it’ll do another 5 or 6, no? The outback passes your eyes hour after hour, day after day. But I should remark that this particular version of the outback trip has been beautiful, rather than bleak and desiccated. At no time was there not water standing somewhere. Thousands upon thousands of square kilometres passed with green as far as the eye could see. Indeed, it only got a little dry as I drove into South Australia yesterday, within 50k of the Spencer Gulf. I passed a farm at Wilmington some 20k from the gulf waters where some Charolais cattle were feeding on hay. I drove past millions of hectares of green without a domestic animal upon any one of them. I was shocked to come upon the actual Darling River in full flood. The colour of Rudyard Kipling’s “Great grey-green greasy Limpopo river”. That’d be the one that tells how the elephant got his trunk, if memory serves. In fact, leaving Gilgandra, at a petrol station, a Kiwi (the national, not the bird) told me that, seeing the surfboards on my roof, he’d guess I was heading to South Australia. I said I was. He told me that a bridge was down past Broken Hill which meant I would be unable to drive directly to Port Augusta, but would have to take a 400k detour via Mildura. Looking at the map I was almost tempted to head directly down that way and perhaps save a couple hundred klicks. As I was driving away it hit me how much pleasure he had in imparting that (bad) news. Schadenfreude is alive and well in the breast of the feral Kiwi. A couple hundred k up the road – I had decided to go the Broken Hill road as it was so straight and good and resigned myself to the long detour – I pulled in for a coffee. A fat girl (the girls are fat, the men are rake-thin outback. Strong arms but no bums, no idea why) a fat girls told me that No, the South Australian engineers were way better than the NSW ones gave them credit for. They had filled the then flooded, now dry, creek and built a road around the bridge. They just didn’t understand, she said, how quickly it floods and how quickly it dries round here. No more the feral Kiwi. The busted bridge was at a small settlement called Cockburn. The locals, (and what gives me any right to bicker?) pronounce the name not as the Scots and English, nor for that matter the Actor, James Co’burn, who chopped out the offending consonants. They pronounce it more as a male venereal complaint. The bridge hardly merited the description. (Of ‘bridge’, I mean of course…) A couple of concrete slabs set up like dominoes both horizontally and vertically which was no match for 2M of rushing mud. But the staunch SA engineers had filled it and faired it and we all drove round the bridge in a cloud of red-brown dust and with nary a care. But still a tad worried about the pronunciation. I did cry something lusty and rude to the Kiwi.

I won’t do the travel guide here but I have to thank Danika for the tip to take the Waterfall Way across the Great Dividing Range. Although the last 5 k uphill to the point where the rivers change direction tried the beast mortally in second and third gears. I realised then how loaded she is. When I took the foto of the tiny Newell falls she was pissing water and coolant all over the road as the radiator boiled fit to blow. After that, brave thing, she has run cool – even at 130kph. Phew. If I can attach it, the picture of the Ebor Falls, does no justice to it. Or the dodgey viewing platform that tenuously held the nervous writer above a 200M drop. Note the camera shake.

Oh just one pleasing note: I knew I was in the outback when truckies started to raise the hand to salute you. There is that sense of being “out there together”. The salute takes a number of different forms from different types of driver. The Common Trucky salute is the right index finger raised (print toward you). It is the Parisian demand for service too: “Service! Garcon…” I found mine was more along the lines of the night owl’s pinion feathers. The left hand, fingers slightly spread in a spiral. (In the bird it works to maintain laminar flow and avoid (noisy, hence warning the about to be dead rabbit) detachment of air as the wing terminates. You know how a pigeon’s wing whistles?) I don’t think mine was so functional but it did serve to express the pleasure I felt in being recognised as being fully “out there”. In all senses. Women were ambivalent about waving but when they did it was frequently the “High Four”. The thumb remained attached to the wheel for very good reasons. I never saw a child in a car. Perhaps they were all in the back working over an XBox 360. Or watching a video. God, speaking of toys! I saw huge rolling homes that actually towed a CAR behind! And I worried about (and finally had to concede I could not bring) my mountain bike.

Last night I took a sleep in a Motel run by a Sikh called Gorinda, here in Port Augusta. Charged the MAC, the camera and the phone. Spoke to Danika who may have been cooking for Sam. I was too amazed to catch her to take it in. Every other night has been by the side of the road in the bush. I got my guitar out at Tamworth in honour of the coming Country Music Festival. I had a good coffee and charming service (made to feel reelly welcome) in Gilgandra at the Jolly Cauli. The six foot transvestite who ran the business proved that hospitality trumps gender perceptions, for me anyway – hands-down. She was not exactly Priscilla Queen of the Desert, nor was she the Lebanese one who gave Danika her lift up this way all those year ago. But the tradition is strong. In Willcania, next to the Darling river, a nice Country Women’s Association type gave me coffee and a home-made cake. The shop was called the Elliott sisters. When I enquired about the sepia print of two very beautiful young women – although the adjective ‘handsome’ contends with ‘beautiful’, she told me they were the original sisters. She told me this story. The older sister Isabel had been engaged to a local farmer for 18 years. One day she took her courage in both hands and said,

“Fred, have you thought about marriage?”

He replied,

“Yes, but who’d have us?”

And on that bombshell, Luvya,

Rob


Future of my life – Rob Ward

When I was in Simonstown Naval Dockyard with HMS Jaguar (in South Africa) I had made friends with a young fellow on a Naval replenishment vessel. We’d met, so to speak, in the Mozambique Channel, during a RAS (“Replenishment at Sea”).

He and I decided one afternoon and evening to climb Simonsberg, the small mountain back of the dockyard. Going up was exciting. Pulling up onto a ledge we came eyeball to eyeball with a Cape cobra, which fortunately was not too pissed off. Going down was really quite dangerous for a couple of reasons. One, it was getting dark, so we were hurrying. And we had not taken note of a deep quarry which stood in our way down. There was a 100′ drop made by the excavation. We only became aware of it in the fading light from very close to the edge. So we were not too late to skirt it. The other thing that didn’t seem too much of a worry was a load of barking and screaming that was going on around us. We had no idea what it was. Obviously some bloody wild life.

We got to the dockyard a while after dark quite thrilled with the whole adventure, indeed with a small sense of achievement. When we came to the gates of the dockyard we had to identify ourselves to a dockyard policeman. These guys were Afrikaaners. Very big. But, if you’re not giving them a hassle (more on that in a sentence or two) they are personable and a source of much good information when your ear has cut through the thick accent. So he asked what we’d been up to and we told him. He said – can you do an Afrikaans accent? Well here’s your chance to try…

“Now you fellows been bloody lucky. You walked through a pack of baboons. And I want to tell you a little story about those boys. Last year, after they had been breaking into the food store in the radio station at the top of the mountain there for a while, one of our men was doing a patrol with his Alsation. He happened to catch the mob inside the foodstore and let the dog off his lead. The dog caught a small one and killed it. The biggest baboon called off the pack. He screamed at them and they all came out of the store. Then he carried on barking and screaming for a bit. Then the entire pack went in, surrounded the dog and tore it to pieces. I tell you man… you don’t want to piss them off!”

Point taken buddy. I wonder what happened to the policeman. He then went on to give us a little advice on the scorpion we had caught and put in our sandwich box. It was large and had black pincers and a black sting about the size of the last section of your little finger.

“That one is the most poisonous one in South Africa. It will kill you if you’re not very lucky. Put it somewhere safe!”.

I was thinking of my divisional officer’s bed. He was a bastard to me.

Anyway a week or two later -I had by now bought a surfboard – £30, a months salary, and a bit brown: a “Sunsurf” – and I had started surfing. I was at a drinks function in the dockyard and there was a guy there whom I knew surfed. He was shorter than us but fit and with regulation blonde hair. Not long; he was a conscript as Whites had all to do National Service in those days. He also had his right arm in a plaster cast to the elbow. I asked him what had happened and he told me. I’m glad you’ve been practising your Yarpy accent because here it comes again.

“See, ma brruther, I come back late from drinking and I was clahmbing the wall back into the dockyard when this big O comes up to me to arrest me. Well, Ah had enough punishment this month and ah was trying to reason with him but he pulls aht these bangles. He’s goin to cuff me, see? Now, ah don’t mind bangles but these were chromium bangles and – see ah was pretty drunk – and ah just couldn’t consent to the chromium bangles, so ah hit him. Trouble was, he ducked and ah caught him on his forehead and broke three bones in my hand. Now ah’m confined to the base for a month and the surf ‘s really good at Muisenberg this week! Ah’m just gled he didn’t murra me.”

I don’t have to tell you, I’d learned enough about surfing (that it was the future of my life… not the Navy!) to sympathise with him most sincerely, taking no account whatsoever of the cultural gulf that yawned between us.


Roger Cooper

Roger Cooper

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. These boards were made using polystyrene and sealing them with cascamite and then resin resin.

While shaping their own boards they didn’t realise that there others on the Island like Roger Backhouse who were already surfing

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 the very good. Roger says that ‘Jon Jon stood out from the rest making walking the board look easy. He was brilliant.’

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 Cortina with BH Rusty and Dave Botterill and one other person but can’t remember… 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.

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 for the famous 1970 Pop Festival in France but Sandy’s Grandfather was there and painted the amazing painting of the 1970 Pop Festival that is 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 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 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.

Rogers 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 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, 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, said Roger.

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?


Come Surfing – by Robert Ward

The sport of Hawaiian kings originated using huge Redwood boards is now practiced on a lighter more manoeuverable piece of equipment , made of plastic and fibreglass, and the challenge is as great as ever. The greatest surf is found where the final issue of the storm at see expends its might; the steep sloping beaches of the world. The beautiful North Shore of Oahu, the middle Hawaiian Island. The rocky Pacific coast of Peru; Australia’s Queensland coast-noted for cyclonic surf; the misty California coast. The Basque coast of France where the gulf of Gascogne leads the continental shelfto within a few miles of the land capturing swells from the North Atlantic depressions. Here are the Eigers of the surfer. Here men can still play a dicey game of catch with nature itself, ptting coolness of mind and fitness of body against the inscrutable wrathchild of storm and sea; the wave.
The most sought after wave is the long lining glass green swell held steep and smoothed by an offshore wind. It peels fluently along its length as it is tipped by an underwater point, a reef or sandbar. Good spots where the sea bottom disciplines the swell correctly are not common and are well known throughout the surfing world. Their names are often poetic. The aboriginal beach names of Australia: Avalon, Cronulla, Narabee and Dee Why point. Hawaii’s Waimea, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. California’s urbanely tagged beaches – Los Angles 42nd Street, Pacific Pallisades, Huntingdon Pier and further South the Spanish names of Malibu and Rincon del Mar (Little Corner by the Sea). This wave, produced by storms thousands of miles distant, smooth, regular and powerful is a far cry from the local wind swells for which a surfer has no love. Especially if the wind is still blowing on-shore the wave is rough, flat and slow. Meaning to the surfer no speed, no place to go – the wave breaks everywhere.
Let us go to the home and paradise of surfing; Hawaii in the winter. In the North Pacific storms are churning angrily, like big hands dipped in the sea they send out gigantic trains of swells. The swells march south and waiting for them is the coral-volcanic bed of Sunset beach. From the south the Trade Winds blow over Monaloas blunt peak. Milleniums ago a fault formed a deep channel at Sunset which runs directly seaward. To the right of the channel the swells are refracted and concentrated on the under water point. They are peaking four hundred yards out. They tremble, hiss as the offshore wind tears spray back off their tops and finally collapse, hurling their burdens forward. The waves are tubing as they break, trapping a tunnel of air which compresses and blasts a cloud of water vapour out of the tube. From the shore one hears a continuous roar punctuated by canon shots from the outside reef. The surfer is standing on the beach, his 11 foot board under his right arm. He is scared – this is big even for Sunset.
He waits for a lull – throws his board in and paddles hard. If he is caught in the hard breaking shorebreak, board and body can be damaged. A rip current is running from the right to the left, hitting the channel and runninf out to sea at four or five miles and hour. He paddles into it. Waves seldom break in the rip.
He strokes out until the waves are breaking inside him. He paddles further yet. He is familiar with the bluebird or loomer twice normal size that sneaks in and plucks him from his board. The resulting ‘wipeout’ may throw him twenty or thirty feet under water leaving him starved of air as the rest of the ‘set’ of maybe five waves repeats the process, then there is the swim in.
Now he examines the ‘line-ip’ carefully. Watching the waves as they peak up, feather and crash down. He must position himself in the Lion’s mouth if he is to take a wave. Now is the time when he must really desire to ride a wave. If not he will certainly call discretion the better part of valour and paddle in. The noise is tremendous, the wvaes obscure the horizon, as they march in. The people on the shore are no bigger than sand crabs. As he gingerly paddles into the line up from the channel, he rises and falls as a set goes through and explodes inside. Outside the sea darkens in four green lines and the horizon shudders as if shaken by an unseen hand; it is the top of the biggest wave of the set. The first wave rears , its face wind hollowed and sheer, to fifteen feet. It threatens to crash down on him. Judging that the wind will hold it he paddles across to the point through which the peak of the crescent swept through. The wave holds and collapses ten yards inside, drenching him with spray. Number two is his wave – it lines up like number one but it is bigger. Some fourteen seconds behind number one giving him just enough time to paddle out ten yards to meet it. He swings round to face the shore. Prone on his board he paddles for all he is worth. Now the critical seconds – the surfers moment of truth. A glance over his shoulder tells him that he is well lined up, he feels the swell lift him, strokes down the face. Suddenly he starts to drop – almost free fall. He has swung to his feet. He hits the bottom of the wave and leans right hard; the board sweeps into a turn and the wave drops where he was a second ago. The wave is peeling fast and below him. The wave threatens to break ahead, the surfer walks two paces down the board and crouches into a ball – he accelerates through. He walks back and kicks off the now flat shoulder of the wave. He screams with exhilaration. The initial thrill of surfing won’t have worn off yet, he’s only been at it for five years.
This is Surfing. Skiing a fluid mountain carved for you only once by nature. An avalanche on a moving mountain of green glass. A unique experience – no two waves are the same.
Mark you it is not always like that. Sometimes conditions are bad. Sometimes the waves are small as to be puny. This is when surfing becomes more light hearted fun. No crushing wipeout to fear. No half mile swim. Now the surfer concentrates on hard turns, a radical style of surfing. Walking on the board, noseriding – controlling the board from the front tip; touchy and fun. So surfing has chameleon moods and surfers talk the common language.
It is hard to capture on paper the ethereal excitement and poetry of surfing. But if you want tangible proof, take a surfer down to the sea on a good day and feel his pulse. Better still, take a board and join the club. You’ll never look back; there is no such thing as an ex-surfer.
The Isle of Wight Surf Club

About a year ago six or seven young people on the Island realized the possibility of surfing locally with Malibu boards. They formed the Isle of Wight Surf Club on April 11th. Roger Backhouse was chairman and his surfing fiancée the club’s secretary. Rodney Sumpter the British champion accepted an invitation to become the club’s honorary president. He has brought much prestige to the club by becoming 5th in the World Championships at San Diego in California. The founder members were John Ainsworth, Colin Burgess, Geoff (Ned) Gardner and Rusty Long. Now only 8 months from its conception the club numbers at a cool 74.
Every Friday the club meets at Clare Cottage, Springhill in Ventnor, but now they face the task of finding new premises as the cottage is required by its owners. Any suggestions? The meeting is invariably held in audible enthusiasm whilst Roger clinging precariously to the chair reads the weeks correspondence and outlines the coming weeks business. From time to time there are films. The last met a full house of eighty (in one small drawing room!) The rest of the meeting is not “organised” and generally one can find members chatting about the past weeks surf, the possibilities of the weekend to come, wrangling over the finer points of board design or recalling ‘hairy’ wipeouts. When it comes to shop talk surfers leave golfers and sailing types cold.
Many of the club are planning trips abroad to surf and viable targets include France and Ireland. The U.S. is on the list too and some members have had good fortune to surf in South America and South Africa.


Keith Williams & Friends

Personalities

Well, there have been so many. Some have had a mention earlier, others worthy of inclusion in this tome would be, in no particular order:-

Derek Rust, always known as BH Rusty, to differentiate him from Rusty Long, so called because of his propensity to exclaim ’Bloody Hell’ to everything. Derek worked in London during the week, always having to wear a suit & tie, and so when at home on the Island at the weekend, went about looking like a scarecrow. He owned a 1950’s Austin Metropolitan coupe, in which he would roar into Compton car park, jam on the handbrake & leap out before the thing had come to a standstill. Inevitably, one day he miscalculated & hit something, unfortunately I can’t remember what. Derek was always enthusiastic & would talk you into going in on rubbish because he’d convinced you ( & himself!) that the waves would get better as the tide came up / went out / wind dropped / picked up etc. After a sojourn in California he’s returned to the Island and can still be seen eying up the waves at Compton now & again.

Robert Haines, better known to one & all as Rex started surfing in the 70’s with his buddies Mike Thomson & Dave Downer & ran an old Ford Anglia until it was well past it’s sell by date. Rex was always there when the surf was up and was always up for a trip away, at least until he & the other Island surfers with him got thrown off the Trevella campsite for being drunk & disorderly!

Ron Munt, not a surfer, I know, but as dispenser of teas, coffees & High-energy fruit pies, most of us oldsters will remember him with some affection. Not, however, the lady who asked him for some water one day with which to take some medicine; he said that the water was free, but he’d have to charge her 2p for the cup!

Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardener, now sadly gone for many years. Ned was introduced to me all those years ago on my first visit to Clare Cottage as the club’s Big Wave Rider. And it was true, I saw Ned take the biggest wave at Compton from right out back on a gnarly, wind blown, winter swell on a long board with no leash or wetsuit & he rode it, white water & all, right up the beach. Rory Angus was coming down the hill from Freshwater towards Compton Chine & saw Ned take off & Ned was just walking up the beach as Rory got out of his car at Compton; that’s how far out he was. I also remember one club evening at Clare Cottage when Ned came in & announced that his new board had arrived from Bilbo’s. At that, we all trooped off to his house to have a look. I don’t think his Mum was too pleased to have 30 or so surfers crowding into their lounge to admire Ned’s board which had pride off place, nestled down among the cushions on the sofa. Ned liked a beer now & again and at one of the Porthtowan Championships that we attended, he staggered back from the bogs in the Porthtowan Inn mumbling about a dog that was as big as he was. We eventually discovered an ordinary sized dog & drew the conclusion that Ned had been on his hands & knees at the time! Ned also had the endearing habit of calling everyone ‘Gilbert’.

Bob Ward’s family ran the Bugle Hotel in Newport & I have fond memories of having days out with him & Rusty Long, chasing waves. I don’t think Bob had a car at that time & Rusty would occasionally pick him up as well as me on the way out to Compton. Bob could be a bit brash at times, but he was a better surfer than Russ & I put together, and then some, and he would always ask us up to his room in the hotel when we got back & order up a huge tray of tea, toast & marmalade in a catering sized tin for us all. I remember one big swell at Freshwater when Bob decided that it would be easier to paddle out from the beach on the west end of the bay, rather than out from in front of the Albion. It took him ages & I didn’t think he would make it as he was getting hit by every wave. He was determined, though, and after about half an hour’s paddling, he made it outside.

Clive Richardson is another guy that deserves a mention here, not necessarily because of great adventures shared, but for the many, many laughs we had together. Remember the Pork Scratchings, Clive?

Then there was Dave Paddon, again, gone now for many years. Dave was a hardened smoker & could often be seen knee paddling out on smaller days with a cigarette between his lips. He even took to wearing a wide brimmed hat, which he said kept his fag dry if he had to punch through a lip!

There were, and are, of course, many, many others, too many to mention individually, but I thank them all from the bottom of my heart for making my life so much richer than it may have otherwise been.

Up to Date

In the early 90s I injured my back & had to lay off surfing for a couple of years until it got better. When I restarted, I spent about 9 months trekking out to the coast in search of waves, but there seemed little to be had. One weekend, the weather charts looked good for Sunday, & it was an early tide so I dragged myself out of bed and pulled into Compton by 6 o’clock only to be faced with a swell of about 6 inches. “That’s it” I thought, “I’m not going to waste any more time or money on this” and so more or less gave up surfing on the spot. As it happens, my back problem recurred shortly after and has only receded in the last year or so.

When I look back to the 60s, it’s a wonder that anyone surfed on the Island. None of the essentials were available locally, you couldn’t even get baggies (are they a thing of the past now?) & surfing sweatshirts on the Island. Perhaps that’s why so many people made their own kit & why Rog Cooper, Tad Ciastula & Derek Tompson eventually became fairly major suppliers in the industry.

They say that there are Surfers, and people who surf. I’ve always considered myself to be a Surfer and still do. I still go to the Basque country for my holidays when I can, and I still manage to boogie & bodysurf in the nice warm waters down there. A holiday isn’t a holiday unless there are waves to be had. I still have my 9 foot BoardWalk board and harbour some ambition to make a serious attempt to start surfing again when I have more time on my hands. I can’t think of a better way to keep fit into retirement; I’m sure that my years of surfing have helped me to keep reasonably fit until now.

I guess I’m old fashioned in that the modern trend for tricks, aerials, 360s etc is not how I want to surf. For me Surfing is about joining with nature, harnessing its power and going with the flow (typical ‘60s hippy outlook!), and not about obliterating the wave and trying to become absolute master of it. Humans will never become masters of the sea, it may allow them to utilise it for their own ends for a while, but they will never truly be its master.

Surf on.


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.


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.


‘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 […]