The Camper Era
After returning from this trip, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world, I bought my first camper van, an ancient Commer with a nice conversion in back. This opened up the way for me to get away to the West country more often and to retrace my steps back to France & Spain once a year, not to mention numerous weekends camping out at Compton. There was a trip to Rhosilli at Easter one year with a bunch of other guys who camped in tents. It was so cold that Jake put all his clothes on to go to bed and the boards were covered in ice in the morning.
Needless to say, I was snug & warm in the Commer. On a trip to Newquay in the Commer in September 1976, Jake & I would surf Great Western in the morning on a rising tide and Crantock on the ebb in the afternoon as the edge was taken off the swell.
One afternoon, we were out in the line-up at Crantock when Dave ‘Turf’ Salero & Brian Hill turned up on the beach, but couldn’t get out through the crunching inside section. We’d just remarked on this, when Jake saw a monster set rear up out back. As he was clearly a bit nervous, I said, “Don’t worry Jake, it’s only water”. Funnily enough, that didn’t seem to reassure him. Suffice to say that we were both cleaned up & washed in and felt no desire to venture out again that day!
That Commer eventually gave way to a bigger Commer Highwayman. This was a coachbuilt conversion & would sleep 4 in comfort. It was a big, slow beast though & the journey back from Freshwater West in Pembrooke with Mick Thomson & Magic took all day. In time, that van was superseded by a rising roof Bedford.
Unfortunately, a coming together with an 80mph drunk a week before a planned trip to Ireland meant the Bedford was written off, to be replaced, eventually, by a VW. That served me well for several years with trips back to Biarritz, Spain, Ireland, Wales & the West country before being replaced by another VW.
One day I was talking to a bunch of guys, a couple of whom I knew, when one of the guys I didn’t know very well said, “You’re Keith Williams aren’t you? You’re the guy who caught the best wave ever at Compton” I was a bit stunned by this pronouncement, as you can imagine. Having thought about it, I remembered a Saturday afternoon a few months previously, in October 1986, when the conditions were the best I’d ever seen at Compton. The swell was 6-8 feet on a rising tide with no wind to speak of. At the time, I’d gone back to long boards and had a ‘Chapter’ popout. I’d caught a couple of 4-5 footers and got tubed on the inside when I saw a big set approaching. I was able to get outside everyone else and was lined up just right for the first wave. It peaked & peeled perfectly and I decided not to attempt anything clever, so as not to risk falling off this beauty prematurely. I crouched and dragged my hand, easing forward on the board and tucked up into the curl for what seemed like several minutes before pulling out over the top as the wave closed out nearer the beach. There were many other waves on that day, but none came close to bettering that one; so maybe that was the one the guy meant. I was so stoked with the session that I hardly slept that night, still buzzing on the adrenaline rush.
From the Virgin Islands they traveled onto America, working their way across to the west coast. They stopped in North Carolina to stay with Barney’s sister Rosie who was at university there. Word had got around about Barney and Chris’s travels through Europe and across to the Caribbean and onto the U.S.A. and the university president had questioned Barney’s sister Rosie where they would be staying. When he found out that they were staying at her small flat he made arrangements for them to stay at his mansion. The staff were never to remember Barney and Chris’s name properly and they soon became known as Bonnie and Clyde by the them.