Posts Tagged ‘La Barre’

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.


1980 France – by Sid Pitman

In July 1980 Dave Williams(Magic), Mick Thompson and myself arrived at Moliet Plage south western france having travelled down in Daves VW Camper, as the advance party for the Isle of Wight Surf Club. We were waiting for Dave Jacobs, Steve Williams, Keith Williams, Ann and Tony Macpherson and there parties to arrive.

Magic and Sid at La Barre

Whilst there we would get acclimatised to the French way of life. Our days started with an early morning surf, followed by breakfast, mid morning surf, followed by lunch, (which usually consisted of Baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, a bottle or two of red wine all for the equivalent of 1£) then a siesta in the sand dunes behind the beach. A late afternoon surf, evening meal with another bottle or two of wine, then an evening surf before bedtime.

Keith, Mick, Sid, Neal and the back of ‘Magic’

This formed the pattern of our days, and as we wound our way through the camp site every morning we would acknowledge a Dutch family camped further nearer the beach with a smile to start with, next day we were greeted with a broad grin, then the day after followed laughter by the end of the fifth morning they greeted our journey with unrestrained laughter. We never did discover what they found so amusing but after the forth day we had run out of milk and Mick had resorted to putting red wine on his cornflakes. Dave never did get the wine rings out of his Formica table top

Back Row: Steve Williams, Dave ‘Magic’ Williams, Jenny Jacobs, Neal Fordham, (Steve’s friend?), Jo Clark, Rob Clark, Keith Williams, Annie Macpherson, Tony Macpherson.
Front Row: Mick Thompson, Paul Jacobs, Mark Jacobs, Dave Jacobs, Kathy Watson (Wheeler), Sid Pitman, Sue Fordham


A Surfing Life – by Sid Pitman

A Surfing Life-by Sid Pitman, (or the ramblings of a senile idiot).

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been involved at the start of surfing in Great Britain and especially on the Isle of Wight. The friends I have made and the great times /fun we had together can never be erased from my memory.
My involvement with surfing started with body boarding in the early sixties, as soon as I could drive and could get to Compton, with a homemade plywood board curved at the front and painted blue (a lot of my boards have been blue).
I then saw surfing on Television from Makaha Beach Hawaii and I knew that was the sport I wanted to follow, I was hooked,
I had no idea on the exact shape or length of a surfboard, only that they were made of some sort of foam with a fibreglass outer shell, I decided to try Polystyrene foam and shaped my first board with a handsaw and a surform blade. When I had got the shape I thought it should be it was cut lengthways in half and an oak stringer glued in after covering with cascamite and newspaper it was then fiberglassed and painted blue with white and yellow stripes, hence the cover shot of wight surf history. I had this board a few years before giving it to Rob Clark when he started.
I had seen other guys at compton surfing but not met them until an advert appeared in the County Press announcing the Isle of Wight Surf Club had been formed and to contact a Ventnor phone number which I did with my mate Ben Kelly. That’s when I met Roger backhouse and his girlfriend Sue Ellis, Geoff (Ned) Gardner, Rusty Long, Jon Jon Ainsworth, Colin Burgess, Colin Hickey, Bob Booth, Steve Brown. Very shortly afterwards others joined including-Keith Williams, Roger Cooper, Rory Angus, Ian Vallender, Mary Hughes, Dave Bottrell, Glynn Kernick, Rob Eldridge Dave Saleroe, Doug Saunders,Mr Cosmic(Derek Thompson) and many others
Soon after the formation of the surf club Sues mum and dad allowed us to have Clare Cottage in Spring Hill Ventnor as a clubhouse, where we could meet-up hold parties and film shows. It was quite something to find 80 people crammed into a small two bedroomed cottage watching a super 8 surf film, Having Spring Hill outside also enabled us to try out the new surfing craze “Skateboarding” invented by a Californian to practice on when the surf was flat. Someone got an old pair off roller skates, removed the wheels and bolted to the bottom of on old piece of wood and we were away. Rusty Long memorably overtaking a car one evening.
In the 60s and 70s the car park at Compton was obviously considerably larger that it is today, and on the left hand front side, was a large wooden shiplap café/shop belonging to a chap called Ron Munt who sold everything from ice creams to plywood surf boards, this shop was there for many years before the inevitable erosion of the cliff face took its toll on it, likewise the early surf club was fortunate to be able to lease one of the many quite large two roomed beach huts from the National Trust, that were situated in the small valley to the right side of the car park, unit that to fell victim of erosion although we did manage to move it with a “Cheek Bros Crane” away from the cliff edge on one occasion, (any photos would be appreciated to add to this).
My First surf trip was to Porthtowan Cornwall to go to see the Cornish and Open Surf Championships in which our Honorary club president Rod Sumpter was completing, Rory Angus and myself travelled down in Geoff (Ned ) Gardners Standard 8 car.it took 6 to 8 hours driving to travel down in those days and at about two in the morning Ned by this time was understandably getting tired,and at that time you had to go through Launceston were you had to negotiate a hairpin bend, Ned unfortunately missed the bend and shot up an ally opposite, after doing a three point turn we returned to the main road and continued to Cornwall, after about half a mile a police mini van over took us blue light flashing and stopped us, Ned got out walked up to the policeman who was emerging ominously from his vehicle and said-“Hello Gilbert, I suppose it’s about that whoreing u bend we missed back there”. The copper was so non plussed at this approach he just said “Well I saw you had one go at that bend when you returned for a repeat I thought I,d better stop you” He graciously let Ned off with a warning and a form to produce his documents at a police station within seven days.
When we camped we had no tents only ex Army Sleeping bags which we lay either between the cars (before the days of VW campervans) or under hedges or walls, after consuming generous quantities of Scrumpy to ease the often very wet nights. Some very boisterous evenings were had including one notorious one in the Old Albion ,Crantock, which involved first eating large amounts of baked beans drinking lots of beer and a lit cigarette lighter, those who were there can remember Derek Thompson rolling on the floor helpless with laughter, it also cleared the pub of locals.
The next trip to porthtowan I shared a berth in Roger Coopers van, only to get him to wake me at three o,clock in the morning with him saying “ Do you want some prunes sunshine?” I politely declined, where on he commenced to eat the whole tin.
Later surf trips included Mort Hoe, The Gower, and France, one memorable trip in 1980
Found over 15 members of the surf club assembled on the sea front at Bidart, where the inevitable party ensued, during that trip one of my memories was of about 200 people enjoying the 8ft shore break at La Barre ,being rolled over in a multinational jumble of arms, legs, bodies, sand and gravel great fun!
Anyone who has ridden Freshwater Bay remembers the first paddle out and drop-in, the heart in the mouth feeling of anticipation not knowing for certain what is going to appear on the horizon to the east of the needles, seeing the large lumps of sea building and not knowing exactly how big the next set is going to be. The bay has an unnerving habit of doubling in size every 10 to 12 minutes to catch the unwary that are caught on the inside. For the brave or skilled the best take off zone is in front of the rocks in front of the Albion Hotel.
As you start to paddle if the sets are much over head high it is advisable to paddle at an angle to the wave or immediately turn before the drop, as the wave is so hollow you may well free fall down the wave if you attempt to bottom turn. Once on the wave you face a collapsing section of wave we christened “the Cabbage Patch” once past this a long wall of peeling surf will follow you if over 8ft it will sound like thunder cracking and spitting in your ears, if over 10ft the light goes darker as the wave blocks the sun from the south and you need to race the break to the centre of the bay.
Years ago I remember surfing the bay when a large patch of maggots had accumulated in the calm zone in the middle from some form of dead marine animal and when you finished surfing you had to remove them all from your wetsuit and baggies.
Any Surfer knows when there is no surf it can get pretty boring, on one such episode after taking a walk along Compton beach I thought it would be a good idea to have a mud slide on one of the wetter parts of the cliffs near the fields, after generating some interest from about ten others we dammed up a small rivulet on the cliff and made a pond at the bottom. After experimenting a bit it turned out to be quite a bit of fun and we filmed it. A couple of months later Mike Smith saw a National competition for any film to do with mud to be presented to Johnson and Johnson, so mike took the film I had and added it to his and edited the film and sent it off, After a couple of months Johnson and Johnson told Mike that he had won a 8mm sound cine camera.
My first custom board was a Surfboard Basques, made by Len Howarth and Bob Ward,
bob, who in my opinion was one of the greatest surfers the Island has ever produced.
Other island pioneer board makers have been Roger Cooper- Zippy Sticks, Tad Ciastula- Vitamin Sea, Keith Williams, Dave Jacobs and Tony Macpherson –Jake Wilson Surfboards.


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.