In March 1977 the Isle of Wight Surf Club became 10 years old and in the winter issue of Wight Water magazine, Keith Williams wrote a great piece on his personal view of the previous 10 years.
Ten Years On: A Personal View – by Keith Williams
Not until reading this will many people know that in March ’77, the IOW Surf Club celebrated its 10th birthday. “So what?” you may ask. Well, my first excursion on a “Malibu” surfboard was 11 years a go. The board was 9 ft. 6″ long, made of polystyrene foam sandwiched with plywood and coated in polyester resin, made by Mike Hutchinson.
1966 and Mike Hutchinson’s board
“Sure”, he said , “You can have a go. Just lie on it, face the shore and paddle for the white water – don’t shoot the curl!” I was lost – what did ‘shoot the curl’ mean; how did you paddle, in fact how on earth did you lie on the bloody thing without falling off? Some time after the disatrous outing, I went out surfing with Mit Sidpan and Ben Kelly of Kelly’s left fame. Watching Sid was a help to me even though I still couldn’t catch waves. It wasn’t until I joined the IOW Surf Club in March ’67 that I began to see the light.
All the surfing terminology was soon explained and because most of us were still at the learning stage, we all seemed to help each other with learning techniques. Developement was still very slow: I remeber that it took me nearly 3 months to get a ride in which I didn’t wipe out within 3 seconds of standing up, and that was on a longboard too! Compare that with today when newcomers are given the benefit of up to 10 years experience by established surfers. People who, until now, have had only one winter’s worth of waves are really getting it together, considering the greater difficulties involved with short boards.
People like Rog Backhouse and John Ainsworth, (who was one of the best surfers on the Wight when I joined the Surf Club), are still surfing. Most of the original members have drifted away through marriage, mortgage or moving. Some veteran surfers do make comebacks, Ned Gardner is getting into the water again after a lay off of about 6 – 7 years, and really enjoying it. Nice one Ned. Some of the old timers still appear now and again, although they seem to have lost the vitality and aggression that made them good durfers 10 years a go.
During the last 10 years every aspect of surfing and surfing equipment has improved. Foam is lighter and stronger, as is the fibreglass itself; wetsuits are especially tailored to the surfers’ needs and readily available now. Even skateboards have undergone a technological revolution. Obviously during a period such as this when hardware has improved, surfing performance must have improved at a proportionate rate – today’s average surfer can easily outperform yesterday’s hot dogger, although grace and style of a longboard surfer is hard to achieve on today’s boards. Surfing has become a very individual thing, there are almost as many styles and techniques as there are surfers.
Even after a long period of development, a surfer’s individual style is still recognisable, his attitude and posture on a board still having the same characteristics, which seem to be an integral part of the body even carried through to other activities like skateboarding.
Surfers are much more self sufficient now than in the 60′s, when about 30 of us used to sit around the downstairs room at Clare Cottage on a Friday evening, debating where we would get the best swell conditions on the following day. Once decided, everybody without exception, would duly arrive at the appointed place. Nobody would go in on their own, it was usually “I’d come in if you want to go in”.
Surfing equipment in those days covered a wide variety of construction techniques and design concepts. Plywood/Polystyrene sandwiches; hollow ply construction with solid rails (usually necessitating at least 2 drain plugs); polystyrene sealed with either ‘Cascamite’ wood glue or, less successfuly with papier mache, and glassed over the top. These were just a few of the combinations tried by home constructors. Designs also followed almost as many different avenues as construction techniques – whilst I was endeavering to make an 8 ft. x 24″ polystyrene – cascamite – glass virtually flat board with a removable fin in an aluminium skeg box, Rog Cooper was making an 11′ 3″ monster of similar construction with a hollow scooped bottom and an 1/8″ thick aluminium skeg – specially honed for the annual influx of grockles!
Durfing these early days many were the arguments that raged on a Friday evening at Clare Cottage about the relative merits of this and that. However, as time passed, better communication with the outside world by way of magazines, films, and trips away taught us the basic construction methods and what we could expect from each type of board design. All this was upset in 1969 when the shortboard and vee bottom revolution hit the surfing world. This revolution wss orginated by the so called Power Surfers of Australia. Bob McTavish and Nat Young really shook up the rest of the surfing world when they took their short, deep vees to Haliewa in Hawaii. Since then surfboard design has evolved again along many different avenues. Construction techniques have also undergone a critical scrutiny from major manufacturers. Honeycomb construction, hollow boards, even back to Balsa strips, have been tried in the last few years. However it would seem that the basic construction of polyurethane foam and GRP is here to stay. Board designs are developing all the time, short to long, to side to narrow – where will it all end? Probably when you as an individual do not want anything more from your board. Some people may never reach that stage; their surfing improving all the time – searching in vain for the perfect vehicle!
So where does this leave the IOWSC after 10 years of change and of fluctuating levels of interest? Gone are the days when any one who was vaguely interested in surfing automatically became a member. At present there are a number of surfers on the Island who show no interest in the club whatsoever and many more who sometimes pay their yearly subs, and sometimes not, but who still attend the club functions and use club facilities. These absentees, however temporary, must be drawn (back) into the club to strengthen it in as many ways as possible – not least financially. Obviously the more members there are the more each member can get out of the Club, not only in enjoyment of more films etc. but in communication, competition and companionship.
The IOWSC has contributed to making the last 10 years the most entertaining and fulfilling years of my life, from the day I walked up the path at Clare Cottage and met a ginger haired bloke in faded jeans and a sloppy jumper (John Ainsworth as I later discovered).
Now, after 10 years I hope that the club has given and will give in the future as much enjoyment to the rest of you as it has to me.
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.
There were little pockets of surfers scattered around the Island all experimenting with surfing in their own ways
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 […]