Posts Tagged ‘Great Western’

First Official Isle of Wight Surf Club Trip

The very first official IoW Surf Club trip was to Newquay at Easter in 1967 just after the club was formed. It seems like the Stone Age now.

The thinking was it would be relatively warmer by then and it would be a chance to surf some proper waves. It was the only available time off work so ferries were booked. Sleeping bags were bought from the army surplus store and old tents dug out as no one could afford a hotel then or even a guest house, that’s if they would let us in!!!!!!!!

The chance to use the newly acquired ‘MALIBU’ boards in Cornwall was too good to miss. Rudimentary wetsuits were acquired over the winter, being diving based or just sleeveless tops. Beaver tails were all the rage, being early examples of neoprene up to ½” thick, ideal for being slammed into a sandbar.

Of course there were some who had surfed all winter without one and didn’t think much of these new fangled things, ‘what’s wrong with a thick woollen jumper!’, Ned was a great exponent of this philosophy especially after a few pints.

The boards were bought in the autumn of the previous year, at the end of the season sale at ‘The Paint Spot’ which was located in the Diggey, an old area of Newquay which is now the Co-Op behind Towan beach. They were ex-hire boards and ranged in size from 9’6” – 10’6”, single fin jobs, slightly heavier than today’s slithers, almost resembling aircraft carriers, but when going would really fly.

These boards were a huge advance on the heavy wooden boards in use at that time, plywood traditional belly boards used with swim fins were soon obsolete and Malibu long boards were the thing with one downside, no leashes then, probably a good idea as one of these boards tied to your leg would have caused quite a bit of damage.

The enthusiasm for going to Cornwall was all wound up with the emerging surf culture, Bilbo’s surf shop and factory where a board would be made there and then to your spec and meeting Rod Sumpter who had just come back from California coming 5th in the world championship!!!!!.

So the Thursday before Easter soon came round and arrangements were made. We were to meet up at the pub in Crantock not far from Trevella camp site in the evening, as some could finish work early and get a surf in before dark, while others were still travelling down having to work till late.

A far as I can remember there was myself (Rog Backhouse), Sue Ellis, John Ainsworth, Rusty Long, Colin Burgess, Geoff ‘NED’ Gardener and Kev Digweed, but as they say about the Sixties ‘if you remember it you weren’t there’.

What a motley parade of antiquated cars there were from a Mini, a Standard 10, an A35, and a Hillman Minx, all with strange wings attached to the roof. Today we take it for granted, dial in the post code set the nav, select the play list on the whatever, load the drinks holders and off you go, 4hrs max. Not then, just getting off the Island was a complete pain following the directions of the British Rail staff onto the old tea tray of a ferry running at that time. Rough waves would come right through the car deck and out of the stern. There were far more rusty cars on the Island than anywhere. On foreign soil, the great north island, which way to go?? Head west on the A35 not quite Route 66 but that’s all we had, no dual carriageways, roundabouts, traffic lights and endless little roads going right through the main towns all the way.

Dorchester, Bridport, Axminster, the tunnel at the top of Charminster, and on to Exeter, occasionally the road became three lanes, with a suicide lane for overtaking, scary. And so onto the moors and Launceston with its really scary left turn round the castle walls. Fish and chips in Bodmin and pray it wasn’t foggy over the last bit to Indian Queens and then the relaxing bit into Newquay, knowing it wasn’t far and waves were waiting.

You might tell that I’ve driven this route many many times, driving down after work on Friday and coming back Sunday late, through the construction of the many bi-passes and motorways over the years. The worst drive ever was being stuck in Exeter on a August Bank Holiday when it took 18 hours to get home.

Were there waves? Of course, Great Western was really going off and we dragged our weary limbs down the beach and caught some really good right handers at high tide. If you know it, you’ll know what I mean. After a good surf, down the town to get something to eat and dry the wetties in the launderette at Towan and a look at the new boards at Bilbo’s.

There was and probably still is only one pub, ‘The Sailors’ in Newquay and many a story was told in there and plans hatched for trips all over the world as this was the time of the Hippie trail to India, and new discoveries and no boundaries to limit the new found freedoms.

Off to Trevella to put the tents up and get ready for the night and then to the rendezvous at Crantock where we said we would meet to discuss where to surf in the morning. There was no such thing as a surf forecast then, no Magic Seaweed or mobile phones, just a hunch or a quick look at the back page of the Telegraph newspaper for their Atlantic pressure chart.

After a long wait Ned eventually arrived and had a quick pint to liven himself up and told us about why he had been held up. Not knowing the road that well he had to take evasive action while taking the infamous corner in Launceston, and guess what the constabulary were waiting for just that occasion. After greeting the officer with his best imitation of Neddy Seagoon, “Evening Gilbert” a long conversation took place about where he was going with that strange thing on the roof, and ‘next time be a bit more careful son’. Whew !! at least the officer was a bit more humane and interested than official!!!!

After a long day it was time to get some sleep, some sleep was not what we got. Every half hour a tremendous roar was heard and a large aircraft barely made it over the camp sight, what was happening? Are we at war? Have aliens landed? Eventually all the noise died down and a little bit of exhausted sleep was had, but it was freezing, Easter in England!!!!!!!.

Soon the noise started again and to add to the discomfort the wind got up and there was a heavy squall with hailstones and sleet, retreat to the cars was the only option. Morning eventually came, a cup of tea and off into Newquay for breakfast and to check the surf out, but considerably slower than the day before, a sort of malaise had set in.

Fistral was big and exposed to the wind so back round to Towan and some nice shaped waves, others were already out making it quite crowded, 6 people. After parking up, donning wetties and lugging boards down the beach, the tide was going out.

A confusion of coastguards, police and council workers descended on us. Were we illegally parked? Had ‘Neds’ encounter the night before stirred things up? Were we being invaded? We were told quite forcibly to clear the beach immediately, but why?

Someone eventually told us what was going on, the tanker Torrey Canyon had run aground in the Scilly Isles and was spilling thousands of gallons of oil all along the coast. Answers to all our questions, the aeroplanes that had kept us awake were Long Range Shackleton Reconnaissance planes flying out of RAF St. Mawgan. A long way to come for no waves perhaps the little old Isle of Wight waves weren’t that bad. This was to turn out to be the worst environmental disaster to ever hit Cornwall and even the whole of the South West, of course the Government had no idea of how to deal with it.

This was a serious wakeup call as spraying had an even worse effect on the environment eventually leading to the bombing of the wreck by Buccaneers of the Navy. Although pretty depressing, it has lead to more stringent rules and regulations being introduced over the years, with protest movements having great effect over authority. Yet time and time again it has happened and probably will in the future.

A long drive back through the Easter traffic and a final catastrophe, I had lost my return ferry ticket!!!!!!!!

There was a lull in visits down west, but after a couple months the beaches were deemed usable and trips continued through ‘67. But a slight hic-up came, my future wife ,Sue, refused absolutely and completely forever ever to go camping in a tent ever again which lead to the purchase of a split – screen 1200cc, 6volt Volkswagen, under-powered or what!!!!!!!!!!! Porthtowan for the National Championships, Aggie in the badlands and good old Crantock.

Throughout 67-68 surfing equipment was evolving at a rapid rate, with the influence of the Aussies, V-bottoms, shorter boards and new ways of attacking waves but that’s another story……


The Camper Era

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.


Hawaii to the Isle of Wight

Ned Gardner

There were little pockets of surfers scattered around the Island all experimenting with surfing in their own ways