Roger Cooper started out as an apprentice with Dave Bulford working on Tractors and Combine Harvesters. Dave saw some magazine article about making a surfboard. Roger and Dave saw some postcards in Cornwall with surfboards on but didn’t see anyone surfing so based their first surfboard design on what they had seen on the postcards. These boards were made using polystyrene and sealing them with cascamite and then resin resin.
While shaping their own boards they didn’t realise that there others on the Island like Roger Backhouse who were already surfing
Dave dropped out as he took a long time finishing his surfboard and had lost interest in the idea. The following year Roger Cooper started travelling in search of waves.
Roger soon got to know some of the other surfers on the Island and remembers Jon Jon Ainswoth, Rog Backhouse and Sid Pitman being the very good. Roger says that ‘Jon Jon stood out from the rest making walking the board look easy. He was brilliant.’
In 1966 Roger bought his first surfboard from Bilbo. At that time the new thing was the radical v-bottom boards and so while waiting for his Bilbo, Roger started making his next board with a v-bottom.
Roger started shaping on the island in a small shed at home. Roger says that getting blanks and resin was difficult and all had to come from Bilbo until Bob Groves started supplying them which made it much easier and better. Roger used to make about 20-30 or more surfboards a year.
Roger’s early boards had many names, Sister Sticks, Yamma, Zippy Sticks to name a few. Roger says there were so many he can’t remember them all. ‘Back then you didn’t use your own name, it was all about coming up with the next brand names,’ said Roger.
In 1968 Roger took his first surf trip to France with Rusty Long in his car Cortina with BH Rusty and Dave Botterill and one other person but can’t remember… They had planned to spend the time camping but also rented an apartment as the weather was so awful.
The next winter at the end of 1968 Roger set off to Morocco with Rob Clarke, Pete Barden and spent the next 3-4 months away surfing.
When Roger came back he met Sandy and the two of them would work the winters and then go away for the summers surfing in France. They carried on doing this for about 4 years. This meant they were away for the famous 1970 Pop Festival in France but Sandy’s Grandfather was there and painted the amazing painting of the 1970 Pop Festival that is up at Dimbola
Roger and Sandy moved to Wales in 1974. Roger says he had great trips to Wales with IOW Surf Club, great waves, lovely country and obviously a bigger surfing population so it made sense. Determined to shape more boards and build a successful business and start to live the life. Roger would shape all summer and go away surfing all winter.
While away he would lots of great ideas and couldn’t wait to get back start shaping again. ‘Travelling was very inspiring’ says Roger.
The Zippy Sticks range was born in Wales. I asked Roger why nearly all the Zippy Sticks I’d seen were orange. Roger laughed at this and didn’t realise but said that orange was one of the easier colours to do. Dark blue was difficult but orange and yellow was easier. Roger joked that he made his early boards too well.
Rogers had his first factory for 6-7years but it burnt down while away surfing in Hawaii. He had his 2nd Factory for 6-7 years too but now has settled into his latest factory and says he’ll not move again
Roger is still surfing, Aberavan is one of his favourite spots in Wales, a left hander which is really good, sometimes sensational, also gets down to the Gower, Porthcawl, breaks in Pembrokeshire and Llantwit Major
Roger remembers bumping into Rob Ward in France and says his surfing was so much better than all the others. Roger said they met up with Len Haworth in Europe and he showed them around much as Rob had done with Len in previous years. Roger says it was almost like walking in Rob’s footsteps.
One memorable day was at Guethary at double overhead and closing out, when they got out there, they just got absolutely killed, said Roger.
Roger also remembers some guy from Ventnor who was a great surfer but couldn’t swim, when wiping out he would grab hold of his board for dear life but eventually, probably after a couple of near misses he gave up. Does anyone else remember this guy?
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