Isle of Wight featured in the 1972 book ‘Surfing In Great Britain’ by Carl Thomson Obviously prices, telephone numbers and much of the information given below is now not relevant and only for historical interest. For example please do not expect to get a ferry for £1.50. Extract on the Isle of Wight below: Isle […]
As mentioned earlier, most of us didn’t have our own boards in the early days; this was because: a) the only place in the UK at that time where you could buy boards was Cornwall & b) we couldn’t afford one anyway.
The other main thing that you needed to go surfing on the Island was a wet suit. I remember borrowing a Long John from Rusty one day and was amazed at how warm I was compared to wearing just an old tee shirt! Again, suits were difficult to come by. The only things available locally were diving suits, which were not designed for the strenuous activity required for surfing. They were, by & large, just rubber with no nylon lining. Getting these things on (& off!) was a work of art involving ample sprinklings of talcum powder or applications of Fairy Liquid. I always preferred talcum powder as Fairy was always cold & clammy, but strangely, never bubbled up. Eventually, it became possible to buy nylon lined, neoprene sheet and many happy hours were spent with paper patterns, scissors & Evostik.
My first suit was a two piece diving suit which I bought from Bob Ward. That served me well for a few years, until there were more repairs in it than original material. I made a shortie for summer use, which I also wore in winter, over the trousers of the diving suit & under the jacket. That was very warm, but I could hardly move in it. Eventually I bought an O’Neil Long John and a Gul top. That combination wasn’t particularly warm, but it was flexible. At last suit design & materials improved enough for me to buy a custom made Second Skin winter steamer, which was brilliant.
The next thing you needed was board wax. Back in the early days (mid-sixties) there were no specialist waxes like now, so every couple of weeks a trip had to be made to the local chemist for, as Jake says, ‘Something for the weekend’. This was not (necessarily!) condoms, but a block of low melting point Paraffin wax. This was available in most of the larger chemists, but what its official use was, I’ve absolutely no idea. There was also a product that arrived on the scene in the late sixties/early seventies called ‘SlipCheck’. This was an aerosol that sprayed some sort of non-slip coating onto the board. It even came in different colours so that you could make designs on the deck. It wasn’t that popular though, because it was slightly abrasive and had a bad effect on wetsuits & bodies and wasn’t available on the Island.
As time passed, another item that became indispensible, apart from gloves & boots, was a leash. I remember being down in Newquay in ’69 or ’70 & seeing someone with a length of rope running from their ankle to a large sucker cup on the nose of their board.
Tony & I went to the nearest hardware shop & bought rope & a couple of suckers of the type that you would use to hold tea towels on the back of kitchen doors. Needless to say success was somewhat limited, & it was a miracle that neither of us drowned, with our legs tangled up in several feet of blue nylon rope.
However, another entrepreneurial islander soon took up the challenge. Derek Thompson utilised scrap pieces of Hovercraft skirt to make up patches with slots that could be glued to the tail of your board and came up with some red gas hose and Velcro to make the first Cosmic Surf Products surf leash.
I think that one of the most important, but overlooked pieces of kit, was the hat. At last, ice-cream headaches were a thing of the past & early Sunday morning winter surfs were suddenly a lot more pleasant.
I was finally persuaded in about 1969/70 to exchange my popout for something more modern & I thought I’d have a go at making my own board. I bought a Groves Foam blank, but where I shaped & glassed it is lost to my memory in the mists of time. The board was 8 feet long, very narrow with a drawn out ‘gun’ tail and rather crudely shaped rails. I had a job to paddle it, but when I did catch a wave it went like a rocket in a straight line, but was very difficult to turn. After about a year, I gave in and bought a ridiculously short 6’6” Bilbo. I couldn’t even catch waves on that, let alone ride it any sense. It did fit inside the Cortina, though! Then I progressed to a 6’10” Bilbo. I could catch waves on that, but I just could not transition onto my feet. Then, in about 1971-2 I got Rog Cooper to make me a new board, 7’7” long, lots of floatation, but again a semi-gun shape. After 2-3 years struggling with shorter boards & almost wanting to give up, suddenly I was surfing again!!
Around this time, I went on a trip with Jake, Tony Mac, Don (a buddy from work who said he could cook!) and Chris Coles from Northwood, down to Llangenith on the Gower. One night we were coming back from Swansea, having partaken of strong drink, when Don wanted a pee. I stopped the car & we all got out to take our ease, except Chris, who, pissed as a rat, climbed into the driving seat & drove off, leaving us at the roadside in the pitch dark at midnight in the middle of nowhere! It was some time before he came back & we never did get an explanation as to where he’d gone or why. And Don couldn’t cook.
Having had a go at making my own board, Jake & Tony Mac wanted to have a go as well. We decided to pool our resources & talents and make boards. Jake came up with the name ‘Will Jason Surfboards’, an amalgam of our names. I thought this sounded a bit too smooth & so suggested ‘Jake Wilson’, which I thought had a bit more bite, and so, eventually, ‘Jake Wilson Surfboards’ was formed. A friend printed up some Jake Wilson stickers on tissue paper for us to lay up under the glass & we were away. We made boards for ourselves using the infamous Groves Foam and orders from Sid, Rob Clark & Rob Greenhalge, among others, soon followed.
Jakes’ garage was divided into two parts by a polythene sheet over a timber frame, one area for shaping & one for glassing. Tony was the glasser, Jake was the pin line wizard (he had such a supple wrist!) and I did the shaping. Resin was weighed out using ordinary domestic scales (I don’t think Jen ever found out!) and Tony occasionally got the ratios a bit wrong & got a hot mix going which had to be thrown out onto the drive to prevent a fire. It’s a wonder we didn’t all succumb to the fumes sometimes. In fact, Rusty Long always said that resin fumes made him fart; and I know that one day he was forced to stop his works van half way up Quarr Hill so that everyone could bail out due to the smell, so perhaps that also goes some way to explaining Jake’s gaseous habits.
In truth, our boards were nothing to write home about, but we did have some good fun making them! I don’t know how many we made, but I don’t suppose it exceeds single figures. Are there any still out there? I think Sid still has his. We certainly didn’t make any money out of the venture & I think Jake probably made a loss due to providing endless cups of coffee & gallons of water to clean the brushes that was so hot, Tony called it ‘superheated steam’.
Happy days; I remember talking to a Spanish guy in Laredo, northern Spain, & he was interested in my board, pronouncing it Yak Vilson
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.
Here is an excerpt about the Isle of Wight from Roger Mansfield’s new book ‘The Surfing Tribe’ A History of Surfing in Britain’ Roger Backhouse and his friends Mike Hutchinson, Sid Pitman, Ben Kelly and a handful of others are attributed with being the first island residents to start surfing in 1964. They picked up […]