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
I always remember seeing Johnny down the fields at Compton surfing from dawn until dusk, and then in 1994 I think a few people began to notice his amazing talent as he became best cadet in the South Coast Surfing Championships at Niton. Johnny grew up surfing on the Island and last year became the first Isle of Wight surfer to become British Champion. I decided to put the questions out to the local schools and sports clubs to see if the youngsters would be interested in asking British Champion and Isle of Wight born Johnny Fryer any questions.
Davina age 7: What is your favourite surfboard?
Johnny: I have quite alot, and its hard to choose a favourite. I have one that I won the English championships and the British championships with, so thats probably my most precious. But its fun to have lots of different ones for different waves.
Abigail age 8: What is your biggest surfboard?
Johnny: My boards aren’t very big (not like the old school longboards). My biggest one is about 6’6ft long.
Will age 9: What was your very first surfboard?
Johnny: ha ha! it was a pink “pop out” board. with black paint splashes on. made by ‘circle one’ if anyone still has it i would love to get it back. It was so heavy and dangerous for me…I was only 6 years old.
Millie age 9: What is the biggest wave you have ever surfed?
Johnny: I’m not exactly sure, probably about 20ft. But surfers messure waves differently by about about half…so we would call it 10ft.
Alyssa age 7: How far away from land is the furthest break you have ever surfed?
Johnny: Some places in Indonesia you go out on a boat to the reef which can be about 1 mile out.
Saskia age 8: Do you have favourite food or any special diet when you are competing?
Johnny: Do you have favourite food or any special diet when you are competing? No special diet, but i just try to eat good, clean food, and lots of it so I’ve got a lot of energy. I love ice cream and chocolate as well though!
Becky (Gymnastics coach): Who initially taught you to surf?
Johnny: I never had lessons, I just always remember enjoying surfing even when I was about 3 years old. I wish I had lessons, it would’ve saved me making a lot of time mistakes in the early years.
Holly age 7: How fast can you go on your surfboard?
Johnny: I dont know. It depends how fast the waves can push you. alot of the time when you surf you try to slow yourself down to stay in the right place on the waves, so its not really about going as fast as possible. But maybe about 30 miles per hour in really big waves.
Emily age 5: What is your favourite manoeuvre?
Johnny: I love getting barrelled, where the waves breaks over you and you stand inside the tube. Its the best feeling in the world.
Bailey age 8: What is you favourite break on the Island and Worldwide and what is your favourite country and why?
Johnny: What is you favourite break on the Island and Worldwide and what is your favourite country and why? My favourite break on the Island is the far end of Compton towards Freshwater. This is where I spent most of my time learning. In the world my favourite waves are in scotland and the Islands north of Scotland, but it’s a bit cold sometimes!
Callum age 11: Who or what inspires you?
Johnny: Family and friends, and people who pursue their goals and get the most out of life.
Ed age 15: Where was the first place you ever surfed and how old were you?
Johnny: I think it was at Compton Bay. I used to surf on polystyrene surfboards when I was about 3 years old, but my first real board was when I was 6
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.