Posts Tagged ‘South America’

UNDERGROUND EXPLORER: ROB WARD

The story of British surfing would not be complete without reference to its underground surfers – those who passed up competition, fashion and media exposure for hard-bitten travel. These are the “soul” surfers such as Rob Ward and the late Nigel Baker. Rob Ward was a lover of French waves. “The early days surfing France had to be the best time of my life. I was totally focused on riding big waves at Guethary,” says Rob. “In 1967 I lived in a tent in the Cenitz valley, then in later years stayed in a villa with early Newquay immortal Alan McBride.” Rob was a standout big wave surfer and a hard-core adventurer. “Growing up on the Isle of Wight, in the south of England halfway up the English Channel, I never saw anyone surf,” says Rob. “But one day in 1961 I found an article on glassing a surfboard torn from a magazine and lying on the floor of a garage at the back of my dad’s hotel. I tried to make a board upstairs in the hotel, but lacking the right tool or materials, it was not a happy experience, and I never finished the board.”

Educated at the Nautical College at Pangbourne in Berkshire, Rob went on to become an officer in the Royal Navy. “In 1964 I was a Midshipman in HMS Jaguar on the South Africa/South America station,” says Rob. “I’d been pestering a South African lieutenant aboard with the question of whether people surfed in South Africa. I had a day’s leave on the Friday of the week. I took a taxi to Cape Town from Simonstown naval base and arrived just after the shops had closed. I found a shop with a surfboard in the window and banged on the door until they opened. They gave me a board and took £30 pounds (a month’s wages) from me. The sporting taxi driver shoved my prize halfway into the boot of his car and drove me back ‘home’. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen—brownish, distinctly bent and with the name Sunsurf announced by an orange sticker with an impressionist rendering of the principal feature of our solar system near the nose.”

“I surfed in South Africa, South and Central America and returned to the UK,” says Rob. “During my third year at the Britannia Royal Naval College (in Dartmouth, Devon), I tendered my resignation with some trepidation. I had, after all, been in an institution since I was six. Within a few months, a friend and I had bought an old diesel van, some blanks from a defunct surf business in Newquay and, after building a dozen boards in the Isle of Wight, headed down to Guethary. Then followed nine months of bliss. We built a small factory on the outskirts of Bayonne with a French partner. I grew my hair for the first time in my life and surfed every day it was possible. At first I entered in the competitions that the French Surf Federation had newly inaugurated. I won an international paddle race taking Felipe Pomar’s record for the course by five minutes.” 1965 World Champion Felipe Pomar was a go-for-broke Peruvian big wave surfer, famous for his power paddling.

Later Rob turned his back on competition, travelling extensively in California, South Africa and Australia, often seeking the more obscure, high quality big wave locations as his hang out, such as Outer Kommetjie in Cape Town, Margaret River in Western Australia and Cactus in Southern Australia, many years before these places were reported as make-the-barrel-or-die big-wave breaks. Rob also had an innovative attitude towards surfboard design and had a long relationship, spanning decades, with experimental shaper Tom Hoye, Precision Equipe, in California, who would ship him his latest, sometimes quirky designs, to ride wherever he was in the world. “I recall in 1972 coming from the surf in the desert in South Australia. There had supposedly been a large shark sighted. But the waves were extraordinary,” says Rob. “I spent an hour alone with both fear and elation and when I came from the water I actually fell on my knees and thanked God for my existence. It was the sort of peak experience that will carry you through a lifetime of the normal, and less common, trials. Bliss indeed. Thank you surfing.” In one of those impossible to predict moments in an obscure place on the planet, who should Rob bump in to during a spell at Cactus but ‘Moby’ – Dave Patience, one of Newquay’s earliest surfers and Guethary pioneers.

In the ‘80s Rob lived in Cornwall and ran a surf shop in Newquay called Ocean Imports. “During that period,” says Rob, “a friend encouraged me to buy a 26 foot boat with him and smuggle hashish from Morocco. Of the six-year prison sentence, I served four years. I had no excuses. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I was grateful for the opportunity to study Romantic Poetry at the Open University.” Upon release, Rob started building 40 foot catamarans. In the Orinoco Flo he made a global circumnavigation, financed by paying surfer passengers for the surf break stops along the way. These included pioneering visits to the Easter Islands.

Rob’s surfing passion has always been focused and intense. He possesses a driven quality recognised among that breed of surfers like Laird Hamilton who “have to be there to ride the big waves.” Well-educated and highly articulate, Rob has also been able to share his love of surfing. His performances have been inspirational, and he would have been better known, but for his low level of interest in surfing contests. Even in current surf sessions he sets a high international standard for his age. “I just completed a 27 kilometre paddle race beating paddlers 20 years my junior,” says Rob. “Now 60 and looking back at 40-plus years dedicated to surfing – seeing that I abandoned a naval career my father had set his heart on for me; considering the jail term that I served as an arguably direct result of the economically barren years in the back of a van in Mexico and California, a station wagon in Australia and under the stairs of a villa falling down a cliff on the Chemin des Falaises in Guethary – I suppose I should harbour some regrets. A surfer will know that I do not. Joseph Campbell, in one of a series of interviews made shortly before his death, declared – ‘Ah, fortunate is the one who finds his Bliss.’ It’s an odd phrase but that is what surfing has been (and remains) for me. And I feel fortunate indeed.”


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………..


The Lost Art of Communication

After about an hour two other guys paddled out. One of them was a huge middle aged guy on a longboard and the other a kid on a shortboard. I could see the guy on the longboard was getting some good waves and after I’d had a long one I paddled back past him and introduced myself. It turned out he was an ex marine and now taught surfing on the north coast but this was his local break and to his mind it was better than what the north coast had to offer anyway. I asked him if it was always as empty as this and he told me that most people go to Praa Sands 20 minutes down the coast, they like to be seen. Ahh the herd mentality. I kept asking him about this little cove we had all to ourselves and he told me everything I needed to know about it. Best state of tide, rocks and where to go if it got too big to get out. We let each other have waves all afternoon. No hustling required! After the session we exchanged e.mails and I thanked him for his help. The next day it was maxing and try as I might I couldn’t get out. The guy had told me where at Praa I should go to avoid the crowds and a long walk. The private road he’d given me directions for brought me out at the other end of Praa sands. There was about half a dozen people out on perfect A frame peaks and when I looked right to the main beach about a mile away there was about 200 people out. The road he sent me down is no big secret but without him telling me I’d have probably ended up in Praa sands car park and been just another sheep in the herd. The art of communication at work!


Come Surfing – by Robert Ward

The sport of Hawaiian kings originated using huge Redwood boards is now practiced on a lighter more manoeuverable piece of equipment , made of plastic and fibreglass, and the challenge is as great as ever. The greatest surf is found where the final issue of the storm at see expends its might; the steep sloping beaches of the world. The beautiful North Shore of Oahu, the middle Hawaiian Island. The rocky Pacific coast of Peru; Australia’s Queensland coast-noted for cyclonic surf; the misty California coast. The Basque coast of France where the gulf of Gascogne leads the continental shelfto within a few miles of the land capturing swells from the North Atlantic depressions. Here are the Eigers of the surfer. Here men can still play a dicey game of catch with nature itself, ptting coolness of mind and fitness of body against the inscrutable wrathchild of storm and sea; the wave.
The most sought after wave is the long lining glass green swell held steep and smoothed by an offshore wind. It peels fluently along its length as it is tipped by an underwater point, a reef or sandbar. Good spots where the sea bottom disciplines the swell correctly are not common and are well known throughout the surfing world. Their names are often poetic. The aboriginal beach names of Australia: Avalon, Cronulla, Narabee and Dee Why point. Hawaii’s Waimea, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. California’s urbanely tagged beaches – Los Angles 42nd Street, Pacific Pallisades, Huntingdon Pier and further South the Spanish names of Malibu and Rincon del Mar (Little Corner by the Sea). This wave, produced by storms thousands of miles distant, smooth, regular and powerful is a far cry from the local wind swells for which a surfer has no love. Especially if the wind is still blowing on-shore the wave is rough, flat and slow. Meaning to the surfer no speed, no place to go – the wave breaks everywhere.
Let us go to the home and paradise of surfing; Hawaii in the winter. In the North Pacific storms are churning angrily, like big hands dipped in the sea they send out gigantic trains of swells. The swells march south and waiting for them is the coral-volcanic bed of Sunset beach. From the south the Trade Winds blow over Monaloas blunt peak. Milleniums ago a fault formed a deep channel at Sunset which runs directly seaward. To the right of the channel the swells are refracted and concentrated on the under water point. They are peaking four hundred yards out. They tremble, hiss as the offshore wind tears spray back off their tops and finally collapse, hurling their burdens forward. The waves are tubing as they break, trapping a tunnel of air which compresses and blasts a cloud of water vapour out of the tube. From the shore one hears a continuous roar punctuated by canon shots from the outside reef. The surfer is standing on the beach, his 11 foot board under his right arm. He is scared – this is big even for Sunset.
He waits for a lull – throws his board in and paddles hard. If he is caught in the hard breaking shorebreak, board and body can be damaged. A rip current is running from the right to the left, hitting the channel and runninf out to sea at four or five miles and hour. He paddles into it. Waves seldom break in the rip.
He strokes out until the waves are breaking inside him. He paddles further yet. He is familiar with the bluebird or loomer twice normal size that sneaks in and plucks him from his board. The resulting ‘wipeout’ may throw him twenty or thirty feet under water leaving him starved of air as the rest of the ‘set’ of maybe five waves repeats the process, then there is the swim in.
Now he examines the ‘line-ip’ carefully. Watching the waves as they peak up, feather and crash down. He must position himself in the Lion’s mouth if he is to take a wave. Now is the time when he must really desire to ride a wave. If not he will certainly call discretion the better part of valour and paddle in. The noise is tremendous, the wvaes obscure the horizon, as they march in. The people on the shore are no bigger than sand crabs. As he gingerly paddles into the line up from the channel, he rises and falls as a set goes through and explodes inside. Outside the sea darkens in four green lines and the horizon shudders as if shaken by an unseen hand; it is the top of the biggest wave of the set. The first wave rears , its face wind hollowed and sheer, to fifteen feet. It threatens to crash down on him. Judging that the wind will hold it he paddles across to the point through which the peak of the crescent swept through. The wave holds and collapses ten yards inside, drenching him with spray. Number two is his wave – it lines up like number one but it is bigger. Some fourteen seconds behind number one giving him just enough time to paddle out ten yards to meet it. He swings round to face the shore. Prone on his board he paddles for all he is worth. Now the critical seconds – the surfers moment of truth. A glance over his shoulder tells him that he is well lined up, he feels the swell lift him, strokes down the face. Suddenly he starts to drop – almost free fall. He has swung to his feet. He hits the bottom of the wave and leans right hard; the board sweeps into a turn and the wave drops where he was a second ago. The wave is peeling fast and below him. The wave threatens to break ahead, the surfer walks two paces down the board and crouches into a ball – he accelerates through. He walks back and kicks off the now flat shoulder of the wave. He screams with exhilaration. The initial thrill of surfing won’t have worn off yet, he’s only been at it for five years.
This is Surfing. Skiing a fluid mountain carved for you only once by nature. An avalanche on a moving mountain of green glass. A unique experience – no two waves are the same.
Mark you it is not always like that. Sometimes conditions are bad. Sometimes the waves are small as to be puny. This is when surfing becomes more light hearted fun. No crushing wipeout to fear. No half mile swim. Now the surfer concentrates on hard turns, a radical style of surfing. Walking on the board, noseriding – controlling the board from the front tip; touchy and fun. So surfing has chameleon moods and surfers talk the common language.
It is hard to capture on paper the ethereal excitement and poetry of surfing. But if you want tangible proof, take a surfer down to the sea on a good day and feel his pulse. Better still, take a board and join the club. You’ll never look back; there is no such thing as an ex-surfer.
The Isle of Wight Surf Club

About a year ago six or seven young people on the Island realized the possibility of surfing locally with Malibu boards. They formed the Isle of Wight Surf Club on April 11th. Roger Backhouse was chairman and his surfing fiancée the club’s secretary. Rodney Sumpter the British champion accepted an invitation to become the club’s honorary president. He has brought much prestige to the club by becoming 5th in the World Championships at San Diego in California. The founder members were John Ainsworth, Colin Burgess, Geoff (Ned) Gardner and Rusty Long. Now only 8 months from its conception the club numbers at a cool 74.
Every Friday the club meets at Clare Cottage, Springhill in Ventnor, but now they face the task of finding new premises as the cottage is required by its owners. Any suggestions? The meeting is invariably held in audible enthusiasm whilst Roger clinging precariously to the chair reads the weeks correspondence and outlines the coming weeks business. From time to time there are films. The last met a full house of eighty (in one small drawing room!) The rest of the meeting is not “organised” and generally one can find members chatting about the past weeks surf, the possibilities of the weekend to come, wrangling over the finer points of board design or recalling ‘hairy’ wipeouts. When it comes to shop talk surfers leave golfers and sailing types cold.
Many of the club are planning trips abroad to surf and viable targets include France and Ireland. The U.S. is on the list too and some members have had good fortune to surf in South America and South Africa.