Posts Tagged ‘Guethary’

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.”


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?


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.


The 1980 Trip – by Keith Williams

Was it coincidence that saw 18 Islanders make the journey to Biarritz in the summer of 1980? I think not. As I heard someone say at the recent film night, the surf club was different then; we all knew each other pretty well from years of surfing together and the trip was arranged as much as a social event as a surf trip.

Having arranged to meet up with Sid, Jake et al at the camp site at Moliets Plage, I arrived there one sunny afternoon and on enquiring at the reception desk about where Les Anglais, Monsieur Jacobs et Monsieur Pitman might be pitched, I was told, after much misunderstanding & arm waving, that they were not registered on the site. Disappointed, I decided to head on to Bidart, where I was sure I’d meet up with them, arriving early enough for a surf before dinner.

I don’t now remember the details, but one by one we began to assemble. I do remember being in the bar at Tamarisk Plage with Sid, Mick Thomson, Magic & my newly arrived brother Steve, when a tremendous thunderstorm hit & all the lights went out.

Steve’s VW CamperSomo
Steve’s VW Camper

I headed off to Somo for a few days to meet up with Rob Clark & enjoyed a few quiet days on the beach there before returning to Bidart. We used to be able to drive onto the breakwater at Plage des Cavaliers & park up in those days & I remember sitting on the rocks lining the breakwater with Sid watching the waves.

The best waves we had all trip were at Cote des Basques. On several days running we had 4 – 6 foot waves peeling fast across the beach in glorious sunshine & warm water on a rising tide. I know Jake was made up with it, especially after 4 o’clock, when the local schoolgirls paddled out for a few waves! The weather was hot & sunny most of the time & poor old Sid’s head suffered a bit with sunburn. Even in the hottest weather, it was common in those days for doughnuts to be sold at the beach. At Bidart, a rather overweight youth used to stagger up & down the beach with a tray slung round his neck, full of apricot doughnuts. These were actually quite delicious and we reckoned that the youth was so fat because he had to eat all the unsold doughnuts at the end of the day.

There were many visits to the cafes in Bidart square & I remember Sid discovering wine in plastic bottles with flip off tops in the local Carrefour for about 30p a litre. The best bit was that they didn’t break if you were too pissed to hold onto them properly!

Cote De Basque
Cote De Basque

Whilst in Bidart, I parked the VW up on the beach road, behind the shed that housed the beach cleaning machine. The advantage of parking there was that you were shielded from the headlights of cars coming down the hill during the night to check the surf, or other nefarious activities; the disadvantage was being woken up at 6 a.m. every morning when the cleaning guy started the massive diesel engine & clattered off down to the beach. Perhaps not though, as an early start always got me into some solitary offshore waves, well solitary apart from Rob Clark who was also parked up at the beach.

Living by the beach at Bidart was one of the most unforgettable experiences. An early surf, followed by breakfast, preceded a walk up to the village (much quieter than it is today) for essential shopping & the first visit of the day to the café. Back to the beach for a sunbathe & a doughnut, followed by another surf before the tide gets too high. Then a long, hot, lazy afternoon before dinner and another walk up to the village for some more serious drinking & maybe a visit to the Pelote au Chistera at the Municipal Fronton before staggering back down the beach path to bed. I remember many evenings sitting on the wall overlooking the beach with Jake, watching the lightning storms over the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, hoping that they would clear by the morning, as they invariably would.

There was also a massed dinner one night at the restaurant by the traffic lights at Guethary, now sadly a double glazing shop, with most of the 18 of us in attendance.

France Crew 1980

The thing from this trip that really sticks in my mind was getting stranded at Cherbourg on the way home by a French fishermen’s strike, which closed the port for 3 days. It was a bit of a bore, but bearable for me as I had all the comforts of home with me in the VW, but for others, particularly families with young children, trying to live in car packed with holiday paraphernalia, parked up in the port with hundreds of others, it was no joke.

I remember the first ship to break the blockade was a Townsend Thoreson ferry which had charged through the picket line of French fishing boats with the fire hoses aimed at the strikers and ‘Rule Britannia’ being broadcast over the ships tannoy! I could even make out one of the officers on the bridge wearing a Viking helmet! This really annoyed the French, though, and negotiations to lift the blockade were brought to a halt, but their action did give us stranded Brits a psychological lift. When the time came, it was a relief to finally get onboard to sail home. The final indignity, though, was being docked 3 days pay for being late back to work!

I don’t suppose there will ever be another trip like the 1980 trip. That was just about the last year where there was the freedom to park up anywhere (except Guethary, eh Magic?) and stay overnight and before the advent of Ryanair flying vast hordes of horrid English people into Biarritz for £1. Bidart, in particular, has changed almost out of all recognition with development, new hotels, car parks, crowded breaks & hordes of the aforementioned horrid English people, although once on the beach, it is possible to lay back with your eyes shut & drift back to the golden era. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


‘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.


French Customs confiscate Surfboard

At that time I had a board that had been made by a guy called Fitz at Westcoast boards based in North Devon. (Fitz subsequently died, I believe he tried to cool his electric shaper down by plunging it into a bucket of water). This board was fairly extreme for the day at 6’3”, and was an absolute delight to ride, but I found great difficulty in picking up waves, you had to be much nearer the hook than I was comfortable with and so I decided to sell it. I approached Tony Macpherson who was spending his holiday in a camper van on the beach in Bidart and suggested something along the lines of that if he would put the word out amongst the French surfers and sell it for me he could have 10% of the sale up to £30 and 50% for anything above that. However, I knew that the French customs had started clamping down on people selling surf equipment without paying import duty, so I told Tony not to put an “A vendre” (for sale) sign on the board, but just use word of mouth amongst the French guys. A couple of days later we went back up to Bidart, my board was nowhere to be seen. “Good” I thought, “Tony’s sold it”. When I asked where Tony was, no one knew. All that they could tell me was that the previous evening the police had shown up, and had whisked Tony and my board off somewhere. When Tony returned a few hours later it transpired that he had put a for sale sign on the board, and the police demanded to see the import documents, but when those weren’t forthcoming they had dragged him off for further investigation. The result was a fine of 290FF or forfeiture of the board. 290FF was about £30 which was approximately the value of the board, so Tony had told them to keep the board and had walked.


‘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 […]


France 1991

In 1991 I managed to persuade Stuart Jones and Richard Harvey to do a surf trip to the South of France. At that time Stuart and Ritchie in my opinion were among the best surfers on the Island…..

As is often the way the very next day the swell came up and it was cranking. We were all bleary eyed, very hung over and the waves coming through on the left were some of the best I had ever seen. When two guys started to paddle out we could see it was a good size too. We soon got ourselves together. This was what had come for, so we got into our wetsuits and paddled out…..

The swell lasted nearly all week and it was soon obvious that we were staying at one of the best set ups along the coast as one day a load of pros including Tom Curren, Lisa Anderson, Michael ‘Munga’ Barry, Paul Russell and others turned up with Maurice Cole and a few Surf Photographers to surf our left hander.