After several meetings with the South Coast Surf Club guys at various venues over time, they said it would be a good idea to have a strictly South Coast competition, held on the Island.
Having organised several club competitions, the committee thought it would be just a case of more of the same. So it was for the first year, but by the 2nd or 3rd years people from other clubs were expecting a more professional approach following the British Surfing Association’s guide lines with ‘proper’ judges etc, not the ad-hoc arrangements that had suited us over the years.
I should mention at this point that, in addition to the South Coast Surfing Club there was the Wessex Surf Club, a club from West Wittering, the Ordnance Survey Surf Club from Southampton, Brighton Surf Club, the London Surf Club, Hayling Island Surf Club and the East Kent Surf Club all clamouring to take part. What had started as a bit of fun rapidly deteriorated into grumblings and protests about the somewhat amateurish organisation over the course of 3-4 years. This was a shame because the majority of visiting surfers actually enjoyed their visits to the Island.
At the first contest, I was fortunate enough to progress as far as the semi-finals with local knowledge playing a major part in my success. There were many others from the Island who took part over the years, but I believe the most successful was Sid, who made the final one year. Maybe the time has come, with local surfers getting towards the top of the UK rankings, to reprise this South Coast only event.
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
Recently, Rapanui has been proud to support the Isle of Wight surf Club. The brand contribute to the club financially, making rash vests and giving away all the clubs prizes, and their web development guys made and maintain the clubs site. The Surf club was re-established after the lads started chatting to Matt Harwood, local hero, who came over to wish the boys good luck when he heard about Rapanui – back when the company was still run from a bedroom. Along with Oli Harvey and a bunch of other Island surfers, Rob and Mart are excited about the recent positive happenings on the island surf-wise – “the surf club, the beach cleans, and other projects like Wight Surf History celebrating the Island surf culture is not just interesting – it really contributes to what we do at weekends. More friendly line ups, more mates and more waves. Island surfing has given us so much and these kinds of projects really do give something back, so we’re stoked to be a part of it”
Craig Sharp is an Isle of Wight born surfer and now businessman of Pocean Vacations, Surfing and Self Catering Holidays and in less than 3 years employs about 30 people. Pocean life offers a wide range of surfing hoidays alongside activity holidays in Portugal. Pocean Life is located in the cultural town of Ericeira, which boasts some of the best waves in Europe.
Craig’s business was recently featured in an article in the Telegraph ‘Business in Lisbon: opportunities for British companies in Portugal’.
During the early Nineties the surfer on the Island leading the way was Stu Jones who was starting doing airs and seeming to get amazing speed out of any wave he rode. But not far behind him was a young Craig Sharp was starting to turn heads.
November 19-20th 1994 was the South Coast Championships and it was being held on the Isle of Wight. Stuart Jones was the last Islander to win it in 1991 and it was all set to be a great event. The event was held at Niton in good size waves helped by a force 5-6 south west wind. The final was between Stuart Jones, Craig Sharp, Ross Williams and Paul Blackley. Paul and Ross didn’t get a look in as Craig and Stuart battled to become champion. It was very close but the young Craig came out on top to become the 1994 South Coast Champion.
I managed to get hold of Craig a few weeks a go and this is what he had to say;
I have just sat down to think about the IOW surf scene and what it all meant to me growing up on the island. So here we go:
I remember skateboarding at Shanklin pier around 1990… At this time just a few of the boys surfed liked Edd Thompson , Dave Grey and Paul Wilson. They were the Shankers boys and I watched them from the pier end where we all used to skate.. To be honest at that time I preferred the skate scene as I just thought the surf looked kind of slow.. However after a little persuasion from Edd Thompson I managed to have a session down at Wight Waters on the foamies.. Well of course one wave was all it took for me to be totally hooked. I then asked my mum to buy me a board sooo she did and it was from Raf .. A 6.8 critical section., thanks Rick !! So I surfed everyday until dark and on all conditions.. I would call Edd every day about the surf and we became the shakers groms hahaha..
I really grew into the surf when I started to go to Niton.. I think the wave made me a better surfer as it allowed me to do turns which I always watched in movies from the likes of Kelly Slater, Luke Egan and Shane Dorian… They were the guys for me.. But I must say Stu Jones had an influence over me to perform, he was a radical surfer and I looked up to him for that, so I really wanted to beat him in a competition which came about in the south coast championships.. I was so pleased to win the event on the island it was a special surf scene for all of us at the time.. What a great day !!
After that I journeyed onto some amazing surf trips with Blackley, having surfed some of the best waves in NZ and growing up mentally as a surfer, I was now ready for the surfers path. Since The IOW I have competed in competitions around the Globe which have provided me with a lot of fun and at times financial rewards but the main thing for me today is that surfing is a lifestyle and without the Isle of Wight none of this would be possible. Thank you to all the surf breaks on the Island and all my friends who were of my life. Now I am in Portugal still surfing and making my life from the surf so come on boys lets do an IOW surf session in Coxos..
Isle of Wight Surf Club movie made in the very early 1970′s by Annie Macpherson
Footage from Compton, Niton and Freshwater Bay starring Roger Cooper, Dave Salero, Roger Backhouse, Dougie Saunders, Sid Pitman, Keith Williams, Tony Macpherson, Pete Brown, Magic ‘Cosmic’ Surf, Dave Jacobs, Brian Hill and others.
Were you surfing on the Island during the 1970′s? Tell us your stories and send us your images.