Posts Tagged ‘The Bugle Hotel’

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.”


Keith Williams & Friends

Personalities

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.

Surf on.