Was it coincidence that saw 18 Islanders make the journey to Biarritz in the summer of 1980? I think not. As I heard someone say at the recent film night, the surf club was different then; we all knew each other pretty well from years of surfing together and the trip was arranged as much as a social event as a surf trip.
Having arranged to meet up with Sid, Jake et al at the camp site at Moliets Plage, I arrived there one sunny afternoon and on enquiring at the reception desk about where Les Anglais, Monsieur Jacobs et Monsieur Pitman might be pitched, I was told, after much misunderstanding & arm waving, that they were not registered on the site. Disappointed, I decided to head on to Bidart, where I was sure I’d meet up with them, arriving early enough for a surf before dinner.
I don’t now remember the details, but one by one we began to assemble. I do remember being in the bar at Tamarisk Plage with Sid, Mick Thomson, Magic & my newly arrived brother Steve, when a tremendous thunderstorm hit & all the lights went out.
Steve’s VW CamperSomo
Steve’s VW Camper
I headed off to Somo for a few days to meet up with Rob Clark & enjoyed a few quiet days on the beach there before returning to Bidart. We used to be able to drive onto the breakwater at Plage des Cavaliers & park up in those days & I remember sitting on the rocks lining the breakwater with Sid watching the waves.
The best waves we had all trip were at Cote des Basques. On several days running we had 4 – 6 foot waves peeling fast across the beach in glorious sunshine & warm water on a rising tide. I know Jake was made up with it, especially after 4 o’clock, when the local schoolgirls paddled out for a few waves! The weather was hot & sunny most of the time & poor old Sid’s head suffered a bit with sunburn. Even in the hottest weather, it was common in those days for doughnuts to be sold at the beach. At Bidart, a rather overweight youth used to stagger up & down the beach with a tray slung round his neck, full of apricot doughnuts. These were actually quite delicious and we reckoned that the youth was so fat because he had to eat all the unsold doughnuts at the end of the day.
There were many visits to the cafes in Bidart square & I remember Sid discovering wine in plastic bottles with flip off tops in the local Carrefour for about 30p a litre. The best bit was that they didn’t break if you were too pissed to hold onto them properly!
Cote De Basque
Cote De Basque
Whilst in Bidart, I parked the VW up on the beach road, behind the shed that housed the beach cleaning machine. The advantage of parking there was that you were shielded from the headlights of cars coming down the hill during the night to check the surf, or other nefarious activities; the disadvantage was being woken up at 6 a.m. every morning when the cleaning guy started the massive diesel engine & clattered off down to the beach. Perhaps not though, as an early start always got me into some solitary offshore waves, well solitary apart from Rob Clark who was also parked up at the beach.
Living by the beach at Bidart was one of the most unforgettable experiences. An early surf, followed by breakfast, preceded a walk up to the village (much quieter than it is today) for essential shopping & the first visit of the day to the café. Back to the beach for a sunbathe & a doughnut, followed by another surf before the tide gets too high. Then a long, hot, lazy afternoon before dinner and another walk up to the village for some more serious drinking & maybe a visit to the Pelote au Chistera at the Municipal Fronton before staggering back down the beach path to bed. I remember many evenings sitting on the wall overlooking the beach with Jake, watching the lightning storms over the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, hoping that they would clear by the morning, as they invariably would.
There was also a massed dinner one night at the restaurant by the traffic lights at Guethary, now sadly a double glazing shop, with most of the 18 of us in attendance.
France Crew 1980
The thing from this trip that really sticks in my mind was getting stranded at Cherbourg on the way home by a French fishermen’s strike, which closed the port for 3 days. It was a bit of a bore, but bearable for me as I had all the comforts of home with me in the VW, but for others, particularly families with young children, trying to live in car packed with holiday paraphernalia, parked up in the port with hundreds of others, it was no joke.
I remember the first ship to break the blockade was a Townsend Thoreson ferry which had charged through the picket line of French fishing boats with the fire hoses aimed at the strikers and ‘Rule Britannia’ being broadcast over the ships tannoy! I could even make out one of the officers on the bridge wearing a Viking helmet! This really annoyed the French, though, and negotiations to lift the blockade were brought to a halt, but their action did give us stranded Brits a psychological lift. When the time came, it was a relief to finally get onboard to sail home. The final indignity, though, was being docked 3 days pay for being late back to work!
I don’t suppose there will ever be another trip like the 1980 trip. That was just about the last year where there was the freedom to park up anywhere (except Guethary, eh Magic?) and stay overnight and before the advent of Ryanair flying vast hordes of horrid English people into Biarritz for £1. Bidart, in particular, has changed almost out of all recognition with development, new hotels, car parks, crowded breaks & hordes of the aforementioned horrid English people, although once on the beach, it is possible to lay back with your eyes shut & drift back to the golden era. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
In July 1980 Dave Williams(Magic), Mick Thompson and myself arrived at Moliet Plage south western france having travelled down in Daves VW Camper, as the advance party for the Isle of Wight Surf Club. We were waiting for Dave Jacobs, Steve Williams, Keith Williams, Ann and Tony Macpherson and there parties to arrive.
Magic and Sid at La Barre
Whilst there we would get acclimatised to the French way of life. Our days started with an early morning surf, followed by breakfast, mid morning surf, followed by lunch, (which usually consisted of Baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, a bottle or two of red wine all for the equivalent of 1£) then a siesta in the sand dunes behind the beach. A late afternoon surf, evening meal with another bottle or two of wine, then an evening surf before bedtime.
Keith, Mick, Sid, Neal and the back of ‘Magic’
This formed the pattern of our days, and as we wound our way through the camp site every morning we would acknowledge a Dutch family camped further nearer the beach with a smile to start with, next day we were greeted with a broad grin, then the day after followed laughter by the end of the fifth morning they greeted our journey with unrestrained laughter. We never did discover what they found so amusing but after the forth day we had run out of milk and Mick had resorted to putting red wine on his cornflakes. Dave never did get the wine rings out of his Formica table top
Back Row: Steve Williams, Dave ‘Magic’ Williams, Jenny Jacobs, Neal Fordham, (Steve’s friend?), Jo Clark, Rob Clark, Keith Williams, Annie Macpherson, Tony Macpherson.
Front Row: Mick Thompson, Paul Jacobs, Mark Jacobs, Dave Jacobs, Kathy Watson (Wheeler), Sid Pitman, Sue Fordham
By 1993 I had a newer VW Camper, it was better equipped and I had surfing a lot. The previous year I had done a trip out to New Zealand surfing at Raglan and Piha and stopping on Oahu, Hawaii on the way home. I was very excited about this trip to France.
This time Shaun Baxter, Mark White and Jo Turner were coming with me and we had heard there was quite a contingent of other Islanders heading to the South of France.
After an overnight stop at Avranches to pick up Jo we set off for the Messanges area again. We arrived just as the sun was going down and I couldn’t wait to get everyone to the beach. It was high tide and only a bit of a shore break, but a swim in the warm Atlantic was lovely after the long drive.
For the next few days we had small waves on a low tide and nothing at high tide. The sun was out and it was very relaxing, but there was only so much sun bathing we could do. It wasn’t long before the sand dunes started to look like they could be fun. I had brought my snowboard with the intention of trying a bit of sand boarding with it. We were soon at the top of the biggest sand dune with snowboard, surfboards (no fins) and a bodyboard. The sand dunes weren’t steep or long enough for the snowboard but were pretty lethal on a surfboard with no fins.
On one trip to Hossegor we bumped into Martin Potter coming out of a café. Jo asked if she could have her picture taken with him and he was more than happy to oblige.
The evenings were spent with a few bottles of French beer or glasses of wine and a barbeque. Mark, Jo and myself were quite happy to chill most evenings at the local bar but Shaun was determined to go clubbing and would often walk or hitch along to ‘Club Le Fun’. He would come back with tales of crazy nights and sexy French girls, until one night he returned much earlier than usual grumbling about ‘elephants’ and ‘too much to drink’ as he went to bed. In the morning when we questioned him he said that when he turned the corner near the stadium he came across an elephant and had turned back thinking he had over indulged in the delights of French Red wine. We laughed at this ridiculous story but when we walked into town later that day we found that the Circus had arrived in town during the night with elephants, tigers and other exotic things. It suddenly made lots of sense and we all saw the funny side of it until we realised the conditions in which the animals were kept. The Tigers were obviously heavily sedated and in cages that were barely big enough for them to stand in.
Mark took to preparing and cooking food straight away and we were more than happy to let him as his meals were lovely. Jo got stuck in with the chores too, I tried to keep using the excuse that I did all the driving but they wouldn’t put up with that for too long, while Shaun did the washing up.
While the swell was small we went down to Hossegor to watch the Rip Curl Pro. When we arrived Luke Egan was on fire in his heat against Millar with some powerful moves. The next heat saw Shane Beschen beating Thomas and then we watched Dino Andino go through against Rob Bain.
The final was between a young Rob Machado and Damian Hardman. Damian’s experience proved too much for Rob and he went onto become the 1993 Rip Curl Hossegor Pro Champion.
With small waves we had time on our hands and Mark became very creative , making himself a nose protector from kitchen foil. Shaun had hit shops coming back with some John Lennon style mirror sunglasses.
Mark’s cooking got better and better, especially at the bbq. I remember lots of great meals using only the small hob in the van and the bbq, he would cook anything from rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous.
Earlier that year I had bought a couple of old longboards from Clive Richardson. The largest of which came to France with us just in case it was small. It was huge and very flat so I could catch the tiniest ripples with it. The only problem was that it was so heavy and the walk to the sea over the sand dunes carrying it on my head was a killer. I only managed to carry it over the dunes for 2 sessions on it, preferring to struggle on my shortboard, than carry that longboard. It made me appreciate what it must have been for surfers years a go with the big old logs.
The swell had improved and we had started to get a few good waves but it was now time for Jo to head home as she had to prepare for university. We dropped Jo at the train station in Bayonne, and noticed the pressure chart on a local newspaper. It looked very promising for good waves in a day or so.
The next couple of evenings we would always be found sat on the top of the sand dunes searching the horizon for the new swell as the sun went down. We weren’t the only ones and soon got chatting other surfers, Rich from Hayling Island who worked for Haven and his friends, Pete, Phil and others….
After a week of tiny waves we made a sacrifice to the surf god Huey. Mark made a tree mobile and donned zinc war paint (sun block). We lined up the boards and made a sacrifice of our most prized surf magazine that we’d brought with us.
When the swell hit it was epic. On the morning of the swell when we got to the top of the sand dunes and our first sight of the swell with corduroy lines to the horizon it almost had Shaun and myself sprinting to the ocean. As we started to put our leashes on at the waters edge we realised that Mark was missing. Looking back towards to sand dunes we saw Mark still standing at the top, mouth agape staring at the swell.
Initially the swell wasn’t big but it was solid and Mark said they were some of the fastest waves he’d ever had. Sadly later that day Mark was hit by some idiots board which bruised his kidneys and he was forced to seek medical attention from the local Doctor.
The swell grew over the next few days with the left really putting on a display and a couple of perfect ‘A’ frame peaks between Vieux Boucau and Messanges which broke as good as I’d seen before. These were my favourite breaks as you could sit just behind the peak and get barrelled on take off.
After a few great days of surfing we sat on the dunes with new friends Rich, Pete, Phil and others and watched this huge storm moving towards us. The wind seemed to hit us all of a sudden with no warning and we only got back to the bar before the rain started. The storm really hit that night with the most dramatic thunder and lightning show that only someone who has camped in those pine forests on the edge of the Atlantic will appreciate.
For the rest of the trip we had predominately on shore winds so spent a lot of time down at Capreton surfing in between the groins and enjoying the great fish restaurants and café’s or I would try and tempt Shaun and Mark to run down the beach and get as close to the shore break as possible for a photo. We also bumped into a gut called Liam who worked for Sola down at Capreton.
Another thing about surf trips is the music you listen to at the time. I remember listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and a couple of great compilation tapes that Esther (The National Trust warden at the time) and an old friend of mine had done for me (I feel the need to download those tunes from ITunes, now where are those tapes)…