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.
A few weeks a go I was contacted by BBC Countryfile saying they were filming on the Island later in the month and had come across the Wight Surf History website and were interested in showing the history of surfing on Island on the show. One of the BBC Countryfile presenters would have a surfing lesson and speak to some of the surfing legends about the legacy of the sport on the Island. One of the people they were particularly interested in talking to was Betty Tricket and too see Archie’s old surfboard and wetsuit.
The BBC Countryfile team turned up at Compton on Thursday morning in style with a lovely blue VW Camper from Isle of Wight Camper Van Holidays. Ellie Harrison met up with Scott Gardner of Wight Water and son of Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner, (one of the first to surf on the Island back in the sixties) to have a surf lesson.
The car park was a busy place while the film crew got ready for the days shoot and Scott got Ellie set up with a board. Ellie got a few tips from Sid Pitman one of the first members of the Isle of Wight Surf Club that was formed in 1967.
The conditions weren’t ideal with strong onshore winds but the sun came out and there were waves and Scott went out and grabbed a quick wave showing Ellie how it’s done. After a few lessons on the sand and a some warm up excersises Ellie and Scott finally hit the water for the lesson. After a couple of initial tumbles Ellie looked like she was getting the hang of it and having a blast at the same time. By the end of the lesson Ellie was up and riding waves and getting huge cheers from everyone on the clifftop (sorry I missed you standing up Ellie, I’d gone to pick up Archie’s surfboard).
Rob Drake-Knight from Rapanui (and recently ‘Come Dine with Me’ fame) went in the water as spotter for Jules Benham the BBC Countryfile researcher and water cameraman. After Ellie’s lesson some of the guys from the Isle of Wight Surf Club went out and grabbed a few waves too. I just got back in time to see Joe Truman take out a 1970′s Tiki single fin surfboard to try out.
Ellie then went onto speak with Matt Harwood (Chairman of the Isle of Wight Surf Club), Mart Drake-Knight (Rapanui), Alan Reed (British Masters Longboard Champion), Mark New with Betty Tricket about Archie’s surfboard and wetsuit from the sixties.
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Alan Reed then got to take Archie’s homemade surfboard for a surf. Archie had surfed until he was 74 and the board hadn’t been in the sea for 15 years. Betty was really looking forward to seeing the board in the water again and remarked as Alan started to paddle it out that it reminded her of seeing Archie paddling the board all those years a go.
Al came in after catching a few waves saying how well it rode and it was a really lovely moment when Betty walked up a agve Al a big hug. Archie’s surfboard got a lot of interest and many of the the boys said how the shape of the board was actually ahead of it’s time with quite a lot of rocker in it.
At the end of the days shooting I bumped into Steve Williams who remembered Archie when he used to turn up the beach in his old Ford Anglia and walk down past the wreck to catch a few waves.
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.