Elite Clique Surf Club – I can’t quite remember how it went but evidently we weren’t allowed to compete for a reason that still escapes me, so John Ainsworth, perhaps Len and I started our own club in about three days and had it ratified by the British Surfing Association – if that was the name of the umbrella organisation. We competed and I think we might have won. It was a bit of politics and I honestly can’t remember who was behind it and what the motivations were. But I think the IW surf club had made it difficult for us to enter and be a part of the contest. That would have been about 1969. I was on my way to Australia.
What we did was silly (the name was intended to be) and to make a point.
I can report that the inverter works the coffee grinder. Tomorrow I’ll charge the MAC on it and after that, the world’s our oyster.
When I built the canopy for the ute, I bonded-on 2 20-ply bookshelves. Today I loaded an unfeasibly extensive line of books and had heaps of room for more! Rog Mansfield met me first when I was camping at M, Etchegoan’s valley and he was the reciprocal guest of Francois-Xavier Moran, the junior French champ, I think. He’d been a friend when we lived at the Villa Baccharis on the Chemin des Falaises. (Cliff Road.). Etchegoan was a lovely old dipsomaniac with a tiny herd of Friesians that used to wake me with their lovely cold, wet, black noses when they peered through the tent doors. I was under instructions from my friend Douglas Jardine (then in his late 60′s – he died in his 90′s) to leave the old dear a bottle of Martinique Rhum. Which was done. I can’t remember what the little pair of left and right reefs was called… ooops (‘Seniors’ Moment) it was Cenitz. I had a tent full of books then. Among them Arthur Koestler’s “The Act of Creation”. I must have been afraid that tent book-critics wouldn’t take me seriously as I also had Bertrand Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy”. My reflections were sophisticated: “What the f### are they on about?” Roger later credited that as a guiding moment in his ambition (to beat me?) into print!
Busy day, setting up solar panels, getting inverter to work, 3 board repairs, loading box on roof with long-term food-stuffs.
I’m hoping to get off some time after Monday. If, by any chance, the ‘blog’ – if that is what it is – gets a bit raw, it will not be to provoke but merely where I may happen to be (“at”, as American hippies used to say.) I hope I may have your collective indulgence. One needs to trust those whom one imagines one’s readers to be. And yet not alienate. It’s hard to guess where that line might be with people one has not met. And looking at about 4 months alone on the road or in the desert (though not by accident but of free will) it is not always possible to anticipate how it may go. This is by way of a wavering and uncertain pre-emptive apology if things go a bit pear-shaped.
On a lighter note, I leave the light on where the basin is during the nights so I can find my way there from the ute where I sleep without, perhaps, stepping on a snake. Yes, it can happen! I came out of my office to find a large Brown snake 3 paces away and quite alarmed. (The snake, actually). It could get no traction on the concrete so spun its wheels for a bit before it was able to gather some composure. It slid off and out of the building by descending one of the small tunnels made by the corrugated steel overlapping the concrete slab. Finding itself in bright sunlight, which perhaps offends a snake’s delicate sense of privacy, it immediately returned to the shed and finding me not much of a threat, relaxed for a while before having another go at outside. But that’s by the bye. The light has been attracting some lovely insects. Today a 6″ long stick insect. It can’t feel very comfortable against the white paint. On any of the ten million trees that cover this Island it would be invisible. The two previous days a couple of bright green mantises wandered in, intent to make the most of the sterile surroundings. If you watch them closely they swivel their triangular heads this way and that and it is impossible not to conclude they are having a very good look at you. They also oscillate from side to side at about 3 movements per second. Whatever it is they grab and eat (head first if it is a mate) perhaps struggles to decode this endless movement. A good friend called Neil Harding, kept preying mantises wrote two books, one of which was called “Bizarre and Macro Mantids”. He was obliged to learn German as the main field work had been done by German entomologists. (Always a struggle to know if one means to say “etymologist”).
And that leads rather smoothly to a joke. Since I can only ever remember one joke at a time I rather hate to tell them as it is more or less inevitable that my audience will have heard it. That’s always assuming I don’t fluff the punch line, which happens often. Far safer to write them:
At a convention of philologists in Costa Rica (obviously this was suggested by the reference to etymology… IF I have that one right… my 2 volumes of the SOED are somehow packed in the ute) a Latin American philologist addresses an Irish visitor to the convention.
“Tell me, por favor, senor (sorry can’t do the enya!) do the Irish have a word equivalent to our “manana”?”
Looking up from his pina colada, the Irish man replied,
“To be sure, oi don’t think we have a word with quite that pressing sense of urgency!”
Going back, finally to snakes, I have never suffered a desire to kill them or throw things at them. DH Lawrence wrote a shamed poem about a snake who visited him in his garden in (?) Corsica. He heaved a stick at it and the poem was born of remorse. I have a picture of myself taken by a Cornish friend at Cactus 40 years ago. I am playing chess and have my head in my hand looking at the board which is supported by a Post Office cable spool serving as a table. As I straightened up I looked down to my right and there was a Red Bellied Black snake curled up asleep touching my right thigh. I was delighted and said to my friend, “Hey, Tris, look at this”. Unfortunately this disturbed the snake which quietly slid up the small bush-covered dune at my back. Two friends and I had a more serious brush with a large Western Australian Brown snake locally called a Djugait. These are really poisonous and, with the quantity of venom they pack, out-kill (measured in units of hypothetical dead sheep) the King Cobra. We had been diving for fish and were walking back loaded with wetsuits, lead weights and spear guns. We were chatting about the fish we had missed and in so doing, in a clearing with lawn-short grass on it, found ourselves on top of this 2M Djugait, whose head was raised about 300mm to strike. My friend on the left managed to get out one word,
We were in a diagonal line, he was behind me on my left and my other friend was less in harm’s way to my right. I did stop, with my bare right foot in the air above the snake. For the longest time (at least 3 seconds!) it was a stalemate. I had plenty of time to admire the beauty of it. A lovely fox red-brown with a belly of lemon yellow, clearly apparent from its raised portion. It moved off slowly in quite an odd manner, with its raised head remaining so and slightly turned back toward us. There wasn’t a moment when any of us felt any fear, which perhaps tells us something about the nature of fear. It is only useful in preparation for an event. In the instant, it has no use. Last week a friend, (Doctor) Ross Shiel was surfing when he looked up to find himself being charged by a large Tiger Shark. He told me about it 2 days ago. Astonishingly he reacted perfectly in the instant. He paddled hard AT it. It stopped 1M from him and he was able to gauge the width of its body at twice the width of his board, that is, it was a full metre wide in the body. I guess there was a moment of stand-off and the thing took off, thrashing water into Ross’s face, almost one imagines with childish pique. Tigers are scavengers and I have seen a documentary showing young Tigers trying to get the hang of catching and eating seabirds afloat on the water. It was far from impressive, but one finally got a bird down its neck. Well, I’d better not follow this line of discussion as Stradbroke has too many tales. In fact you can see some of them around you. Bruce, who drives the small car ferry to Moreton Island (to the N) has one leg. He was surfing at Main and a Tiger shark took his other leg. He tells of the relief when his leg came off as he was on the bottom and close to drowning.
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.
The Club Hut – part 3 by Keith Williams
As mentioned in part 2 ‘The Surf Club is Formed’, the club was lucky enough to be able to rent one of the wooden ‘Bungalows’ at Compton from the National Trust for a very modest fee. In fact, I believe it was free, but we made a donation towards the upkeep of the car park each year.
The Surf Club Hut at Compton with John Ainsworth reading the National Trust notice board
In addition, parking in the car park was also free, provided you displayed your club membership card in the windscreen. I remember in the early days, the Hut was in quite good nick & you could ‘book’ the place to stay in over the weekend.
As is usual with communally owned property, it all went down hill, doors being forced, stuff broken and, horror of horrors, boards stolen. Gradually, the cliff edge got closer & closer to the hut; it was originally the inland end of a 3 hut ‘terrace’, but over time the two huts nearest the sea had been demolished as the cliff encroached.
Eventually, the time came when either our hut was demolished as well or it was moved or rebuilt back from the edge. At that time Sid worked for Cheek Brothers & was able to persuade their mobile crane driver to go out to Compton on a Saturday morning & lift the whole thing back to a new position away from the edge.
There was a lot of preparation to do making up a lifting sling arrangement, but the job was a good ‘un, despite the hut door never opening properly again! Eventually, the lease on all the bungalows in the compound ran out (they’d been there since the 1920s) & the National Trust wanted the structures removed to return the area to its natural state. After much lobbying the NT agreed that we could erect a new hut in the corner of the site near the toilet block. That meant that we had to raise the funds to have a new, custom made hut. It took a couple of years with jumble sales, film shows etc, but we eventually got our new hut in October 87.
As it was being installed on site, I said to the supplier, ‘It gets pretty windy here, how are you going to secure it to stop it blowing away?’ He replied rather off handedly that he wasn’t going to do anything about it.
The installation wasn’t complete in one day & he said he would come back the following weekend & finish off. Some of you may remember the Great Storm in Oct 87, mayhem all along the south coast, but one item that never made the news was the fact that the Isle of Wight Surf Club’s new hut had blown clean away & been smashed into a thousand pieces spread all along the Military Road!
There was quite an argument that followed. We refused to pay as we’d not received the goods & the supplier tried to take us to court, but legal opinion was in our favour as the keys to the building had not been handed over & therefore ownership had not passed from the supplier to the Surf Club. A new hut was ordered & constructed & eventually erected on site. By this time though, the club had gone into a bit of a decline, no-one wanted to leave an expensive board in the hut, & many surfers had acquired vans by this time, so few people used the hut for changing. Eventually the hut disappeared, but I had lost connection with the club by this time & I don’t know the reasons why or where it went.
Sue came up & introduced herself and I remember her asking my girlfriend if she wanted to become a full member or just a ‘beach bunny’. That was the start of the best period of the Surf Club for me. In a matter of weeks the membership had grown to 90+ due in no small part to the CP ad. Friday night was the highlight of the week, with Clare Cottage bursting at the seams for the club meetings. Very soon there were movies being shown, mostly taken on 8mm by Dave Bottrell, and skateboarding down Spring Hill. I well remember Sid remarking that Merry Hughes (a quite well endowed young lady) had done a 6 point landing having fallen off her board halfway down. Hands,knees & boobs for those with no imagination. Also, a decision was taken as to where the club would be surfing at the weekend. Bear in mind that the majority of members had no board & were reliant on the good will of the established members, mainly the Ventnor crew, to borrow boards, thus meaning that everyone had to turn up at the same place at the same time. My belated thanks to Rog & Sue, John Ainsworth, Rusty Long & Colin Burgess.
During the early 1960’s a group of friends had started to hang out on the cliff tops between Ventnor beach and Steephill Cove. These bored teenagers soon began to focus their attention on the ocean. The Island at that time still had many unexplored pockets of coastline or so it felt to this group of friends. The ocean soon became their playground.
There were little pockets of surfers scattered around the Island all experimenting with surfing in their own ways