Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Rob Ward

I am heading off into the South Australian desert in a week or so to Cactus. If you Google Ceduna South Australia and go west 60k to Penong, Cactus is on the coast 20k roughly south. Nothing there except vast ranges of dunes to the west and the extensive Point Sinclair where there are 3 lefts and one of the best rights in the world. Cactus is only the surfers’ name for the area. It is not on the map as such. I’m figuring out the intricacies of inverters, solar panels and deep cycle batteries. In the 1970’s I went there about four years in a row for period of up to 3 months.

I don’t know how the writing will go at Cactus. I am taking a table I have made (Foam Sandwich/Carbon/Formica) , and hope to be better set-up than I have ever been in the past. But I’m not an electrician and my ability to write ANYTHING (pen and paper? Are you kidding me?) is contingent on my yet-to-develop competence in assembling the deep-cycle battery, the inverter, the alternator and the 2 solar panels (when they arrive) in an order that is not mutually explosive. Or, even, that produces a trickle of usable MACjuice.

There is no broadband or telephone reception there and I shall have to do a ?weekly, ?Fortnightly trip to Ceduna to hook up.

There is some resistance to surf photography at Cactus these days. If you look on any website that speaks of Cactus (any that I’ve seen, anyway) you’ll be pushed to find a decent wave. A brilliant bit of reverse propaganda. Dunno how they do it. Violence, I suspect.

I have a lot to do between now and the next 10 days finishing off work at “Mermaid Composites” and preparing the Ute.

I wonder if you have read Fred Mew’s “Back of the Wight”. That’s more or less the Old Testament when it comes to getting into the surf. Of course, this was largely about getting in with rowing boats at night in horrendous storms to pull people out of sinking or grounded ships on the IW SW coast (the “Back of the Wight”). That, and smuggling and a little messing up the excise man.

I’ve lived in California and South Africa as well as sailing around Australia (whilst I was circumnavigating in Orinoco Flo) and I’ve driven across this country 3 times in cars costing from $50 to $200. But it is no pose to say that a great wave at Freshwater or Compton, for being so rare and beautiful and for its almost bizarre context and improbability remains as much of a thrill in my memory as any waves I have surfed around the world. And I do suffer a small nostalgia for Sid and the boys and girls, who so wisely and happily continued to make the lovely Island their home. I have a friend in Western Australia, Glyn Kernick (and his wife), who was also an early (and conscientious) member of the IW Surf Club and may be able to help you with pictures and memories.

I built Orinoco Flo with a heroic small crew of surfers whom I did not pay. (Even at £10 an hour, 15,000 man-hours was going to break the project!) I did what I could with caravans and work-for-dole projects and whatever it took. But they were all champs. I’ll spell out the money for you one time but be quite certain that, when I sold Midnight Hour for £35,000 it was less than 1/6th of what was going to be needed. God is Good and I knew none of this before I started and (Allah be Praised) never employed an accountant who may well have made discouraging noises. I started her in 1992. I had built a less technical 35’ catamaran; Midnight Hour in the late 1980’s mostly alone, although a surfer from Sandown, Pete Singleton, came down from his job in London as a despatch rider to help every other weekend. The object was always to get to surf, though of course the boat building travelled under the guise of “commercial enterprises” but no-one was deceived, least of all the first ex-wife who moaned fairly constantly. With Midnight Hour I spent a year in the Canaries chartering, mostly to surfers before going round the Atlantic and selling her to a Welshman. We had good access to Isla Lobos off Fuerteventura. It’s essentially just a volcano with a brilliant lava bottom right point break peeling down the west side. One South African described it as, “more fun than Jeffrey’s.” I’d agree with that. I lived at Jeffrey’s Bay for 6 months in about 1975 having gone there by boat from Western Australia. A Newquay surfer, “Moby” (David Patience), travelled with me. I had met him in Newquay when I was at the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth after my midshipman’s year. But I didn’t know him very well at that time. After the winter in Jeffrey’s we cycled about 1000k to Cape Town, mostly along the Garden Route, but also via some inland areas like Oudtshoorn where (if I remember right) ostriches are bred. We made some good mountain passes like the Outeniqueberge and the famous (for being a bastard) Schwartberg Pass.

I finished an Honours in well, all sorts of things like The Romantic Poets (Distinction! eh?), Shakespeare, The Enlightenment, Modern Art and Modernism and so on and so forth. Yes, it was done at about double the Open University usual speed. This degree was the counterbalance I needed after being battery-reared in the sciences to further my lost career in the services. The Navy took me to South Africa and South America where I had started to surf and that was the rest was my life. Not the one my parents imagined or wished for.

Flo was the biggest thing I have done and my best memory of all that is the achievements of the young surfers on the build who went on to get jobs in France and Spain as top boat builders. Andy Rose married a beautiful Spanish lady (Teresa… daughter Zoe)) and worked on the build crew for the Spanish Americas Cup. Luke managed a boat builders yard in France and they both did major parts of the circumnavigation. Andy the first half and Luke the South-about round-Oz and Indo leg. I built Flo with two experimental flexible rudders that I built like Tuna-tails. The new owners of the Oricnoco Flo are mostly surfers and she has done 17 Round-the-Atlantic voyages (about 9,000 miles each) to charter in the Caribbean each winter. And last year she completed a second circumnavigation.

My longest-serving Island friend is Marcus Lloyd from Sandown. I met him on my return from South Africa in 1970-something when he was 14. I was getting up a business in jewellery-making and used to take him out to the West Wight. Marcus was to be making this trip to Cactus with me and continuing on to Western Australia.

We recently agreed that a trip we made in (Oh, you know.. “back in the day”…) to France, Portugal and Morocco, taking the entire winter, was one of the best times of our lives. And the beginning of mine once I left the beaten path

France was my break-out and the crucible in which I transmuted from a young, middle class, would-be naval officer to a committed lifetime surfer. It is a pleasant interlude to recount and if you will be patient, I will write it for you as well as I can. Your other references I shall put straight where needed. I should start by saying that others made the real contributions to surfing huge Ireland. I did go there for my honeymoon as the customs had temporarily removed my passport. A Vietnam war vet loaned us his caravan at Easkey (damned if I can remember the Gaelic spelling but it had at least 5 x the number of vowels). And no doubt rendered properly all the subtleties of one of the dozens of Irish accents. I surfed big Easkey alone. Except for some really big sharks. It’s at the mouth of the river and they were no doubt gathered for the salmon run. I almost doubted my eyes but others will tell you that, at Spanish Point, (in the pub?) you can find fotos of huge sharks and the anglers that caught them off the beach. Also, when I got out of the water my wife who was warming my undies on the car heater and pouring an Irish Whisky for me, said “Did you see those sharks?” Before I married, I drove around all of the UK and Ireland when I returned to the UK from Australia, selling jewellery. I made three circumnavigations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, living from a Fiat van.

I did a lot of surfing by myself. I don’t think many people could truthfully say that they really enjoy surfing alone. I did so on Lanzarote long before there were locals there and of course the place is fairly intimidating. But I had a lovely surf on the huge beach just south of Malin Head. I had spoken to a local woman in a cottage and she said that there could be surf there that extended to the horizon (or some like Irish exaggeration) but there was none the day I was there. I’d come over on the ferry from Scotland where I’d been surfing as well as (er?) working. So I went for a run and halfway up the beach (a mile?) I came across a beautiful 5′ peak, light offshore in clear blue water. So! I ran all the way back to my van, got my board, ran all the way to the peak and surfed 2 hours with the 1000′ high cliffs disappearing, blue to the south. Magic day.

We all had people who influenced us and perhaps gave us the courage to make a break with what we were “supposed to do” with our lives. I’ll mentioned one or two I’d like to credit as we go.

I followed your links and it is bonkers how nostalgic it is to see the old fotos and the old faces. Please do send my very warmest regards to Sid, Rog and Sue Backhouse, I always remember for their brilliant house at the bottom of which cliff? where? Rory I remember for the green ? Bilbo with the terrific arrow on the deck. I swear it made the board go twice as fast at Compton Fields. John Ainsworth was a lovely, gentle fellow and a good surfer. For the record, I’m as full of admiration for those people who made the Island their home and the centre of their surfing existence, as for any emigrants from the Island! Of course, Islanders took their adventures in the wide world. But they returned home to a place unique in the world. Has anyone else seen the Shingles Bank going off? I did once at about 6-8′, from somewhere near the Needles! A left and a right peeling down each side.

Today is Saturday. I’ve got some clients coming to pick up a race paddleboard and surfboard I’ve built with Chilean Myrtle veneer and a vacuum-bagged epoxy laminate with some carbon. I really only make boards for my own amusement. I can’t get properly paid for that sort of work but I am past bored with what I call (with reference to the band), “Average White Boards”. The board’s a quad. I veneered the paddleboard too which was shaped in Styrofoam. I’ve got to get a lot of stuff ready for the 5000k round trip drive to Cactus and I’ll enjoy writing the story if I get my electrickery spot on.

I’ll start with France as it launched from the Island………..


BHC Hostel and Training Centre

Alan Hunter contacted me last year and told me about the apprentices from BHC (British Hovercraft Corporation) back in the 60’s being some of the first guys to start surfing. Earlier this week I met up with Alan and he told me a few stories from those times.

British Hovercraft Corporation (B.H.C.) had an apprentiuce hostel and training centre located in the old Naval Hospital in Whippingham on top of the hill in East Cowes and near to Osborne House. There were dormitories, workshops and a drawing school in the old wards which was a row of long buildings connected by a covered walkway. The dormitories were probably a bit like old being in a boarding scholl with rows of beds along the sides and lockers in the middle. Each dormintory could hold about 30 apprentices.

This is where Alan Hunter, Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner, Derek ‘Cosmic Leashes’ Thompson, Tad Ciastula, Dougie Clark and Bob Booth started their working lives as Apprentice Engineers. The other apprentices were either from the mainland or came from parts of the Island where there was no sufficient public transport to be able to get them to work on time so they stayed at the hostel. The apprentices were a mixed bunch with Islanders, ex public school boys and lads from the ‘Metal Box Company’ in Croydon, London and the ‘Metal Box Company, Carlisle, Scotland who did their first years apprenticeship at the Training Centre on the island.

It was a melting pot of different people, many of whom went onto great things. All around the hostel were the old Saunders Roe Test Centre, with test tanks, windtunnels and various works. At the back of the dormitories was a big tin shed which would always be a hive of activity. The apprentices would spend their free time working on there own personal projects from bikes, motorbikes, scooters, cars, fly by wire model aeroplanes and shaping surfboards. This tin shed was just as essential to their learning as the Training Centre was.

Alan remembers that Tad came from Winchester School and that Tad’s father was a designer on the Saunders-Roe Skeeter, a two-seat training and scout helicopter. The Skeeter has the distinction of being the first helicopter to be used by the British Army Air Corps.

The apprentices were paid very little and out of their wages was taken rent/keep for staying at the hostel too. So on a friday morning they would trek over to Cowes to sign on as the government would subsidise apprentices wages. Some of the apprentices were lucky enough to some cash work on a saturday morning reapiring hovercraft skirts for the Seaspeed Hovercrafts. Alan remembers being told of a story of when Tad was winching up a hovercraft to get at the skirts to repair them when the winch malfunctioned and tipped the hovercraft on end. Alan said if it had gone completely over the hovercraft would have been completely written off.

The apprentices were paid on a thursday and with what little they had, they would always be seen crossing the fields behind the hostel and around the back of the St Mildred’s Church at Whippingham and down to The Folly Inn. Geoff ‘Ned’ Gardner was fondly remembered as a real character and for entertaining the other apprentices with impressions while they were at the pub. These were your normal impressions but were amazing impressions of outboard motors. Alan remembers his impression of a Seagull Outboard Motor being started up being particularly good.

Sunday nights were also spent at the Folly Inn, usually sitting out on the decking listening to the Goon Show on the radio and drinking scrumpy. On a few occasions Alan remembers Tad, Dougie, Derek and himself taking a couple of rowing boats from the slipway at BHC and rowing to the Woodvale Hotel in Gurnard for a few drinks.

Alan remembered buying a huge old Bilbo surfboard from Dougie Clark in about 1968/69 but admits he never really got into surfing. Dougie on the other hand made surfing his lifestyle, deciding to no longer wear shoes or socks as he wanted to harden his feet for surfing, and also decided he wasn’t going to wear a shirt and tie anymore, opting for a sweatshirt. The managers at BHC went absolutely mad but Dougie would not budge on the matter and insisted he would not wear shoes or a shirt and tie anymore.

In the tin shed/workshop at the back of the dormitories Derek Thompson brought in his old Lambretta Scooter anouncing that it looked really tatty and the spent weeks hand painting it in the workshop. When Derek it was finished Alan says it was the most amazing paint job on a scooter he had ever seen. Derek jumped on the newly painted scooter and rode off down the road. After a few hundred yards one of the panels fell off and scaped along the raod getting really badly scratched. Derek was gutted.

Tad and Dougie spent some of their time out in the old tin shed designing and shaping a knee board like the one George Greenough rides in Crystal Voyager with a scooped deck. Dougie had an old 105E Anglia car and Tad and himself would always be driving off to the beach at Compton when they could to get waves or just to be at the beach.

In the dormitories Tad used to do this thing where he would stand on the edge of his bed and fall forward only putting his hands up in front of his chest to catch the fall as he landed flat on his bed. One day on the beach when Tad went back to the car Dougie and Derek dug a huge hole where Tad had put his towel and then carefully laid the towel back down again over the hole. When Tad came back he stood at the bottom of the towel and dropped (just like he would on his bed), but this time he fell straight through his towel and into the huge hole. Alan says it was very dangerous and Tad was lucky not to have broken his neck, understandably Tad was furious.

Alan remembers one day Ned getting a really nasty gash across his head that needed stitches after pulling into a barrel at the bay.

Another surfer Alan remembered was a girl called Merry Hughes who went off to the south of Fance and Biarritz for a whole summer. When she returned from France Alan says that all of a sudden she got lots of attention from the boys as she had blossomed into an absolute stunner.

I told Alan that I’d been in touch with Tad and was hoping to speak to Bob Booth soon toobut wondered if he knew the where abouts of some of the other apprentices. Alan says he remembers Dougie Clark heading off to Morroco to teach English language but hadn’t heard from him since and the last time he saw Derek Thompson was at Alexandra Palace at a Wind and Surf Exbo in the late 80’s advertising his leashes and Mountain Bikes. At the same show he said Tad had a special booth where he was shaping boards, which would have been about the time of Vitamin Sea surfboards.

Alan said he always used to try and keep in touch or at least find out was all the old apprentices and it was great to see the write up on Tad and Sue and that they were still living the dream.

Alan also remember one day down at Little Hope Beach waiting for the waves to pick up when Carrots came flying down the hill right from the top on his skateboard until he hit the curb at the bottom and ended up in a heap.


Q&A with Johnny Fryer

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