Isle of Wight featured in the 1972 book ‘Surfing In Great Britain’ by Carl Thomson Obviously prices, telephone numbers and much of the information given below is now not relevant and only for historical interest. For example please do not expect to get a ferry for £1.50. Extract on the Isle of Wight below: Isle […]
I’m alive and nobody is more surprised and happy than I am. I’ll only mention one (out of many) reason: Road Trains. Any Australian who has driven outback knows what a Road Train is. Think very big semi-trailer with another one or two stuck on the back. You’ve got the hang of driving fantastically fast, gradually, over the course of five days. The legal limit is 110kph. You’ll be overtaken frequently if you drive at 120. But trucks, “lorries” (UK Speak) more or less confine themselves to the limit. There are now average-speed cameras. Truckies have always known where the cops are and where the cameras are. But this device has them beat, for their own good, sure! It automatically identifies vehicles over 4.5 tonnes weight – that is, NOT a van – and calculates the driver’s average speed over, what? 100 kilometers? So, no good speeding up between cameras. This means for the common ute/pickup voyager that, sooner or later, you will find yourself overtaking a road train. The roads are good. Straight and flat and my fotos give little impression of the fact that you can see to a 30k horizon and sometimes get a hint of further if the terrain permits it. You can on the larger version but I couldn’t send them.) The engineers were Romans. A road train coming towards you usually appears as a water tower in the distance. You’re seeing the white fibreglass wind streamliner that leads the air blast up and over the one-story-high trailers behind the prime mover. The body of the prime mover is hidden in the road’s “mirage effect” at a certain distance. Gradually it begins to make itself visible. First it gets two black legs then it forms itself into a recognisable object and then you start preparing yourself to stay real nice and steady on your side of the road. Of course, if you did do a head-on with one it would be over very quickly and with little damage, including psychological, to the road train or driver. Your engine would pass out through the back of your treasured transport/home with you a hard to-identify something in between One of the many little games you play over these great distances is to start counting the seconds from first sighting to the passage of the vehicle. Then you start trying to work out how far away it was when you first saw it. I found about 30 seconds was common. So, closing at about 220kph, you saw it about 2k up the track.
Anyway, passing an approaching road train is a thrilling but only a brief flirtation with death – the road is just wide enough for two of them to pass each other without going for a wander. Overtaking takes more planning. I overtook 2 in the past 2,300k which I concluded last evening here in Port Augusta. (About 560k to go… that has worked out about 400k further than I expected.) The last one was a bit of a worry. I came up behind it and stayed well back. The first one was a gentleman and perhaps realising how nervous I was, eventually gave his indicators a little flash to say – well, I don’t know what in truckie speak? “OK buddy you can f###ing GO now!” The second, on the 200k dead-straight stretch coming out of Broken Hill troubled me. He had to negociate an approaching Road Train himself while I was behind and he put himself half a metre onto the gravel shoulder. The entire back half, with some 32 wheels whose tyres cost about $1000 each (nothing like my friend who has a gold mine in the Klondike who pays for his earth moving gear $20,000 per tyre – second-hand!) well, the entire back half of the road train was drifting as if to overtake the first half. The driver pulled this off a couple of times and I can’t say if he was alarmed or not. I would guess not. He was down to about 100 and I had, days earlier shocked myself by realising that I had gone up to 130 on overtaking. So I got set to go. No worries about oncoming traffic – the road is empty to the horizon. So you take to the ‘wrong side of the road’ and go. To keep your wheels on the tarmac you have about 300m to your right and – for safety’s sake – about 500-1000mm on your left. It is like driving down a city block in height and extent and the sky does go dark. This is when you really hope the driver next to you does not go skateboarding on the gravel. Actually fear only comes into it before and after. At the time surgical concentration is the mode. Phew, my heart is racing just thinking about it. Hey, if you’ve got a Volvo or a great powerful 4WD that’s another thing. You go fast and steady and you’re by in quite a long! moment. But when you’re navigating your home, 3 surfboards, and a box with enough weight in it on the roof to need a lot of air in your rear tyres to keep them round… different story.
Anyway, let’s get off dicing with death and onto dealing it out: road kill. When I drove with the ex-wife and Jonno to NW Queensland, out past Longreach to Carisbrooke station 3 years ago, there was so much road kill you could go the whole way stepping from one dead animal to the next. Nearly all Kangaroos. Wedge-tail eagles more or less set up shop in groups of 20 or 30. Chatting as they gorged. For some reason, the roads were largely clear of road kill down here, farther south. In the first 1,500k I counted just 2, albeit fat, wallabies or small kangaroos… not sure which. Bit of a mess. I have not seen a single living one in 2,400k. (Had they all gone north and been run over?) However, and this surprised me, I counted no less than six dead European foxes. You’d think they’d be smarter having survived being imported expressly to be hunted. (What did Oscar Wilde say in reference to fox hunting? “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”). Just as I was giving up on wildlife in general, I saw a flock of emus, with their lovely brown tail feather drooping quite delicately. Had they been fluffier and a little more erect I could have mistaken them for Ostriches, which my two English surfing friends & I often saw when we cycled along the Garden Route some 1000k to Cape Town. Hmmm, funny how these adventures occur at the end of a relationship! Still, this time round I am not waking every morning miserable. Au contraire!
Of course, I wrote this as I drove, in my head. Or rather, this is precisely NOT what I wrote in my head as I drove. I surrender abjectly before the task of putting into a few paragraphs an impression of the really big bigness of the outback. And that is the impression when driving, almost flying, over it. God knows what the single cyclist I passed was thinking! He shamed me. I had been having thoughts like, “Oh F###. If the beast breaks down, I’m done out here.” Not dead, but I have no money for a tow and, pray tell me, what does a 100k tow cost? Then the repairs? I’d say to myself, Look, it’s done 181,000k There’s every chance it’ll do another 5 or 6, no? The outback passes your eyes hour after hour, day after day. But I should remark that this particular version of the outback trip has been beautiful, rather than bleak and desiccated. At no time was there not water standing somewhere. Thousands upon thousands of square kilometres passed with green as far as the eye could see. Indeed, it only got a little dry as I drove into South Australia yesterday, within 50k of the Spencer Gulf. I passed a farm at Wilmington some 20k from the gulf waters where some Charolais cattle were feeding on hay. I drove past millions of hectares of green without a domestic animal upon any one of them. I was shocked to come upon the actual Darling River in full flood. The colour of Rudyard Kipling’s “Great grey-green greasy Limpopo river”. That’d be the one that tells how the elephant got his trunk, if memory serves. In fact, leaving Gilgandra, at a petrol station, a Kiwi (the national, not the bird) told me that, seeing the surfboards on my roof, he’d guess I was heading to South Australia. I said I was. He told me that a bridge was down past Broken Hill which meant I would be unable to drive directly to Port Augusta, but would have to take a 400k detour via Mildura. Looking at the map I was almost tempted to head directly down that way and perhaps save a couple hundred klicks. As I was driving away it hit me how much pleasure he had in imparting that (bad) news. Schadenfreude is alive and well in the breast of the feral Kiwi. A couple hundred k up the road – I had decided to go the Broken Hill road as it was so straight and good and resigned myself to the long detour – I pulled in for a coffee. A fat girl (the girls are fat, the men are rake-thin outback. Strong arms but no bums, no idea why) a fat girls told me that No, the South Australian engineers were way better than the NSW ones gave them credit for. They had filled the then flooded, now dry, creek and built a road around the bridge. They just didn’t understand, she said, how quickly it floods and how quickly it dries round here. No more the feral Kiwi. The busted bridge was at a small settlement called Cockburn. The locals, (and what gives me any right to bicker?) pronounce the name not as the Scots and English, nor for that matter the Actor, James Co’burn, who chopped out the offending consonants. They pronounce it more as a male venereal complaint. The bridge hardly merited the description. (Of ‘bridge’, I mean of course…) A couple of concrete slabs set up like dominoes both horizontally and vertically which was no match for 2M of rushing mud. But the staunch SA engineers had filled it and faired it and we all drove round the bridge in a cloud of red-brown dust and with nary a care. But still a tad worried about the pronunciation. I did cry something lusty and rude to the Kiwi.
I won’t do the travel guide here but I have to thank Danika for the tip to take the Waterfall Way across the Great Dividing Range. Although the last 5 k uphill to the point where the rivers change direction tried the beast mortally in second and third gears. I realised then how loaded she is. When I took the foto of the tiny Newell falls she was pissing water and coolant all over the road as the radiator boiled fit to blow. After that, brave thing, she has run cool – even at 130kph. Phew. If I can attach it, the picture of the Ebor Falls, does no justice to it. Or the dodgey viewing platform that tenuously held the nervous writer above a 200M drop. Note the camera shake.
Oh just one pleasing note: I knew I was in the outback when truckies started to raise the hand to salute you. There is that sense of being “out there together”. The salute takes a number of different forms from different types of driver. The Common Trucky salute is the right index finger raised (print toward you). It is the Parisian demand for service too: “Service! Garcon…” I found mine was more along the lines of the night owl’s pinion feathers. The left hand, fingers slightly spread in a spiral. (In the bird it works to maintain laminar flow and avoid (noisy, hence warning the about to be dead rabbit) detachment of air as the wing terminates. You know how a pigeon’s wing whistles?) I don’t think mine was so functional but it did serve to express the pleasure I felt in being recognised as being fully “out there”. In all senses. Women were ambivalent about waving but when they did it was frequently the “High Four”. The thumb remained attached to the wheel for very good reasons. I never saw a child in a car. Perhaps they were all in the back working over an XBox 360. Or watching a video. God, speaking of toys! I saw huge rolling homes that actually towed a CAR behind! And I worried about (and finally had to concede I could not bring) my mountain bike.
Last night I took a sleep in a Motel run by a Sikh called Gorinda, here in Port Augusta. Charged the MAC, the camera and the phone. Spoke to Danika who may have been cooking for Sam. I was too amazed to catch her to take it in. Every other night has been by the side of the road in the bush. I got my guitar out at Tamworth in honour of the coming Country Music Festival. I had a good coffee and charming service (made to feel reelly welcome) in Gilgandra at the Jolly Cauli. The six foot transvestite who ran the business proved that hospitality trumps gender perceptions, for me anyway – hands-down. She was not exactly Priscilla Queen of the Desert, nor was she the Lebanese one who gave Danika her lift up this way all those year ago. But the tradition is strong. In Willcania, next to the Darling river, a nice Country Women’s Association type gave me coffee and a home-made cake. The shop was called the Elliott sisters. When I enquired about the sepia print of two very beautiful young women – although the adjective ‘handsome’ contends with ‘beautiful’, she told me they were the original sisters. She told me this story. The older sister Isabel had been engaged to a local farmer for 18 years. One day she took her courage in both hands and said,
“Fred, have you thought about marriage?”
“Yes, but who’d have us?”
And on that bombshell, Luvya,
One of the biggest challenges putting the exhibition together was finding and collecting all the memorabilia from people. Surfboards that had been kept for 30-40 years were obviously things that were going to be items that had great sentimental value. When I rang Roger Cooper to see if he would be able to make the opeing night and he said he had his original Bilbo (the first board he ever bought) and that did I want it for the exhibition I was stoked.
On the Tuesday evening before the opening night Jon Hayward and myself were putting up the board rack when we suddenly realised as we were putting in Archie Trickets board that the ceiling was only just over 9′ high and there were beams above the rack. I didn’t know the size of Roger’s Bilbo so I made a quick phone call to him and it was 9’6″. We quickly decided that the only way to get it in was to mount it on a slant and we’d have to do a bit of guess work.
Rog, Jimi and Paul – photo by Jason Swain
Roger and Sandy arrived at Dimbola on Thursday morning and luckily we had allowed enough room for the board although it was a tight squeeze. Jason took a few pics of us with Rog’s board next to the Jimi Hendrix statue and while chatting Sandy said that her Grandfather painted the amazing painting of the 1970 Pop Festival that was up in Dimbola.
Sandy & Rog next to her Grandfathers painting
Everything else slowly slotted into place in time for the opening night and it was a great night. Thanks again to everyone for all the help and to everyone who came on the opening night.
Opening Night – photo by Gerhardt Potgieter
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.
Surfing Never Dies, it will always be part of us – by Tad Ciastula
A couple of weeks a go I got a great email from Tad and Sue. Tad had managed to persuade Sue to dig out some old pics from the 70′s for us to use here on the website and this is what Tad had to say.
Sue and I have been married 40 years this year. She is still the love of my life and has been my constant companion on everything we have done and the many places we have worked and travelled to.
Shots from Summer 71 after Sue and I got married in June. Trip to
Biarritz and Portugal / shaping shots from Portugal.
Some from Canaries 72/73 in tent on south of Gran Canaria.
You can see all the old crew Roger / Sandy /Keith Williams / Tad /Sue/
Dave Mercer don’t see Andrea but she was there (Fitted a new piston in their J 4 van in Spain)
Tony Mac was there – me and him on the park bench. Seem to remember that that Tony Mac was with someone else but ended up with Annie!!! Think that was right.
Really a long time ago – still surfing that will never change. Surfing never dies – it will always be a part of us.
Trip already booked to Bali for 3 weeks over Christmas we have a favorite place we always go. The waves are always great and Bali is such a special place. We have loved it from the first time we ever went some 30 years ago!! We will always go back there as often as we can. Working from Thailand it is an easy 3 hr. flight – we even take long weekends when the forecast is good.
Good luck with Freshwater Bay – total crap – greed is the very worst kind of evil.
Tad and Sue.
After showing Tad’s pics to Keith Williams, Keith remembers a little more to the trip to France.
The restaurant photo was taken in the restaurant at the corner in Guethary by the traffic lights (later a double glazing outlet & then a Pizza parlour) taken soon after Tony & I arrived in late May or June 1973. I remember that it rained really hard during the meal with thunder & lightning and people eating outside had to abandon their tables to escape the torrential rain. I have a mental picture of baskets of soggy bread & glasses of diluted wine left on the tables outside.
There was another mass dinner on that trip at a little café up in the hills behind Baquio in northern Spain. I went up with Tad in the morning to warn the Senora that there would be 12 for dinner that night. As we went in there were a couple of seedy looking characters drinking wine at the bar & half a dozen flies circling above a table footie machine. That night, we took over a back room & all had steak (horse!), egg & chips all washed down with copious amounts of real Sangria. The bill was split 12 ways and came to 18/6 each….that’s 92.5p! Those were the days! In fact that was a bit of a ‘blow-out’ for us, as, when in Spain, we were living on about £2 per week
I remember the problem with Dave Mercer’s van. Tad & Sue turned up at Somo, where Tony & I were still camped, with Dave & Andrea one evening. Fortunately, I had a tent, ready for when my girlfriend flew out to join us some weeks later, so Dave & Andrea had somewhere to sleep. They were with us for about a week, waiting for a new piston to arrive.
I met Sid when my dad and I were lodging at Dimbola above Freshwater Bay during the winter of 1973 when I started lower 6th at Carisbrooke and my dad was head of the catering dept at the Isle Of Wight Technical College. Dad and I used to walk down to swim at the bay, and one day there was a decent swell and one guy out there all by himself. Got chatting to him, and he told me all about the surf spots on the island and the surf club…
We moved to Newport after a while (during that winter I think) and from there I used to catch rides with Rog Cooper, Brian “the screw” Hill, Tony Macpherson. I used to walk down to Tony’s house on Pan Estate before light with my “fare” – a pack of biccies to share, then we’d go in one of their cars by rotation. I was by far the youngest (and only “young”) surfer on the island at that time.
During my upper 6th year Steve Chase arrived from Portsmouth, and was working at the garage at the bottom of the hill below Carisbrooke High School, so I’d get lifts with him also (often not getting back to school if the waves were good, hence only getting 2 A levels instead of 3…). I also got the use of my parents’ 1960 Morris 1000 traveller when I learnt to drive, so could get out more by myself when I had money for petrol.
Dave “turf” Salero was very active then too – I think he’d won the IOW championship the year I arrived (at about 40 years old after only surfing a couple of years).
The Club house was not even close to the edge of the cliff at Compton, movie nights by Pete Brown and Annie (now married to Tony Mac I believe)… lots of great times.
“Postman” Tad with his stories of Peniche in Portugal, the other guy I forget the name of who’d moved away, but came back for a while and lived in a converted hearse or London taxi cab… the connection with Genevieve Berrouet in Guethary where I ended up spending 7 months in 1976 and again in 77…
And I remember those special days when we’d come over the hill and see lines stretching out to the horizon, and we’d flash by Compton to FB… and those VERY special days when it was working. One day Steve’s dog got so excited at our hollering he peed himself all over me on the front seat!
There’s an old movie of Annie’s that has some FB in it, don’t know if it’s still around anywhere.
Haha… this was going to be just a word to say I’d be happy to give you some info – now you have some!!
Have been talking to Sid Pitman about a trip Pete and Dave Salero did to Woolacombe meeting up with Roger Cooper. Sid remembers Pete cooking an omelette for everyone which was a complete mess while in the camper next door Roger Cooper had managed to cook a full roast dinner followed by trifle which he fiunished off all by himself.
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
Well, there have been so many. Some have had a mention earlier, others worthy of inclusion in this tome would be, in no particular order:-
Derek Rust, always known as BH Rusty, to differentiate him from Rusty Long, so called because of his propensity to exclaim ’Bloody Hell’ to everything. Derek worked in London during the week, always having to wear a suit & tie, and so when at home on the Island at the weekend, went about looking like a scarecrow. He owned a 1950’s Austin Metropolitan coupe, in which he would roar into Compton car park, jam on the handbrake & leap out before the thing had come to a standstill. Inevitably, one day he miscalculated & hit something, unfortunately I can’t remember what. Derek was always enthusiastic & would talk you into going in on rubbish because he’d convinced you ( & himself!) that the waves would get better as the tide came up / went out / wind dropped / picked up etc. After a sojourn in California he’s returned to the Island and can still be seen eying up the waves at Compton now & again.
Robert Haines, better known to one & all as Rex started surfing in the 70’s with his buddies Mike Thomson & Dave Downer & ran an old Ford Anglia until it was well past it’s sell by date. Rex was always there when the surf was up and was always up for a trip away, at least until he & the other Island surfers with him got thrown off the Trevella campsite for being drunk & disorderly!
Ron Munt, not a surfer, I know, but as dispenser of teas, coffees & High-energy fruit pies, most of us oldsters will remember him with some affection. Not, however, the lady who asked him for some water one day with which to take some medicine; he said that the water was free, but he’d have to charge her 2p for the cup!
Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardener, now sadly gone for many years. Ned was introduced to me all those years ago on my first visit to Clare Cottage as the club’s Big Wave Rider. And it was true, I saw Ned take the biggest wave at Compton from right out back on a gnarly, wind blown, winter swell on a long board with no leash or wetsuit & he rode it, white water & all, right up the beach. Rory Angus was coming down the hill from Freshwater towards Compton Chine & saw Ned take off & Ned was just walking up the beach as Rory got out of his car at Compton; that’s how far out he was. I also remember one club evening at Clare Cottage when Ned came in & announced that his new board had arrived from Bilbo’s. At that, we all trooped off to his house to have a look. I don’t think his Mum was too pleased to have 30 or so surfers crowding into their lounge to admire Ned’s board which had pride off place, nestled down among the cushions on the sofa. Ned liked a beer now & again and at one of the Porthtowan Championships that we attended, he staggered back from the bogs in the Porthtowan Inn mumbling about a dog that was as big as he was. We eventually discovered an ordinary sized dog & drew the conclusion that Ned had been on his hands & knees at the time! Ned also had the endearing habit of calling everyone ‘Gilbert’.
Bob Ward’s family ran the Bugle Hotel in Newport & I have fond memories of having days out with him & Rusty Long, chasing waves. I don’t think Bob had a car at that time & Rusty would occasionally pick him up as well as me on the way out to Compton. Bob could be a bit brash at times, but he was a better surfer than Russ & I put together, and then some, and he would always ask us up to his room in the hotel when we got back & order up a huge tray of tea, toast & marmalade in a catering sized tin for us all. I remember one big swell at Freshwater when Bob decided that it would be easier to paddle out from the beach on the west end of the bay, rather than out from in front of the Albion. It took him ages & I didn’t think he would make it as he was getting hit by every wave. He was determined, though, and after about half an hour’s paddling, he made it outside.
Clive Richardson is another guy that deserves a mention here, not necessarily because of great adventures shared, but for the many, many laughs we had together. Remember the Pork Scratchings, Clive?
Then there was Dave Paddon, again, gone now for many years. Dave was a hardened smoker & could often be seen knee paddling out on smaller days with a cigarette between his lips. He even took to wearing a wide brimmed hat, which he said kept his fag dry if he had to punch through a lip!
There were, and are, of course, many, many others, too many to mention individually, but I thank them all from the bottom of my heart for making my life so much richer than it may have otherwise been.
Up to Date
In the early 90s I injured my back & had to lay off surfing for a couple of years until it got better. When I restarted, I spent about 9 months trekking out to the coast in search of waves, but there seemed little to be had. One weekend, the weather charts looked good for Sunday, & it was an early tide so I dragged myself out of bed and pulled into Compton by 6 o’clock only to be faced with a swell of about 6 inches. “That’s it” I thought, “I’m not going to waste any more time or money on this” and so more or less gave up surfing on the spot. As it happens, my back problem recurred shortly after and has only receded in the last year or so.
When I look back to the 60s, it’s a wonder that anyone surfed on the Island. None of the essentials were available locally, you couldn’t even get baggies (are they a thing of the past now?) & surfing sweatshirts on the Island. Perhaps that’s why so many people made their own kit & why Rog Cooper, Tad Ciastula & Derek Tompson eventually became fairly major suppliers in the industry.
They say that there are Surfers, and people who surf. I’ve always considered myself to be a Surfer and still do. I still go to the Basque country for my holidays when I can, and I still manage to boogie & bodysurf in the nice warm waters down there. A holiday isn’t a holiday unless there are waves to be had. I still have my 9 foot BoardWalk board and harbour some ambition to make a serious attempt to start surfing again when I have more time on my hands. I can’t think of a better way to keep fit into retirement; I’m sure that my years of surfing have helped me to keep reasonably fit until now.
I guess I’m old fashioned in that the modern trend for tricks, aerials, 360s etc is not how I want to surf. For me Surfing is about joining with nature, harnessing its power and going with the flow (typical ‘60s hippy outlook!), and not about obliterating the wave and trying to become absolute master of it. Humans will never become masters of the sea, it may allow them to utilise it for their own ends for a while, but they will never truly be its master.
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.
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.
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.
From the Virgin Islands they traveled onto America, working their way across to the west coast. They stopped in North Carolina to stay with Barney’s sister Rosie who was at university there. Word had got around about Barney and Chris’s travels through Europe and across to the Caribbean and onto the U.S.A. and the university president had questioned Barney’s sister Rosie where they would be staying. When he found out that they were staying at her small flat he made arrangements for them to stay at his mansion. The staff were never to remember Barney and Chris’s name properly and they soon became known as Bonnie and Clyde by the them.
Here is an excerpt about the Isle of Wight from Roger Mansfield’s new book ‘The Surfing Tribe’ A History of Surfing in Britain’ Roger Backhouse and his friends Mike Hutchinson, Sid Pitman, Ben Kelly and a handful of others are attributed with being the first island residents to start surfing in 1964. They picked up […]
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