The French Customs Story

by Pat Morrell

The story behind the French customs receipt is that is in 1973 Mike Hutchinson and I with our wives and Hutch’s 18 moth old daughter went to SW France for the summer holiday.  We intended going on into Spain hoping to find less crowded surf beaches, but the weather wasn’t good and after a couple of days we returned to France.  Hutch and I knew that some of the lads from the IW surf club were in Bidart but the girls said that they didn’t want to spend their summer holiday hanging around with and talking about surfing with the same blokes that they saw on a regular basis at Compton, so we went to a camp site south of St Jean de Luz.  Of course Hutch and I pointed out that we had to go up to Bidart and Guethary for the surf, so inevitably we got together some of the time with the IW lot.

At that time I had a board that had been made by a guy called Fitz at Westcoast boards based in North Devon.  (Fitz subsequently died, I believe he tried to cool his electric shaper down by plunging it into a bucket of water).  This board was fairly extreme for the day at 6’3”, and was an absolute delight to ride, but I found great difficulty in picking up waves, you had to be much nearer the hook than I was comfortable with and so I decided to sell it.  I approached Tony Macpherson who was spending his holiday in a camper van on the beach in Bidart and suggested something along the lines of that if he would put the word out amongst the French surfers and sell it for me he could have 10% of the sale up to £30 and 50% for anything above that.  However, I knew that the French customs had started clamping down on people selling surf equipment without paying import duty, so I told Tony not to put an “A vendre” (for sale) sign on the board, but just use word of mouth amongst the French guys.  A couple of days later we went back up to Bidart, my board was nowhere to be seen.  “Good” I thought, “Tony’s sold it”.  When I asked where Tony was, no one knew.  All that they could tell me was that the previous evening the police had shown up, and had whisked Tony and my board off somewhere.  When Tony returned a few hours later it transpired that he had put a for sale sign on the board, and the police demanded to see the import documents, but when those weren’t forthcoming they had dragged him off for further investigation.  The result was a fine of 290FF or forfeiture of the board.  290FF was about £30 which was approximately the value of the board, so Tony had told them to keep the board and had walked.

The amount of the fine (£30 or so) doesn’t seem much by today’s standards, but at this time I was earning about £1100 a year which wasn’t bad money, so around £20 per week.  The fine was therefore about one and a half week’s money.  What’s that today?   £600 -£700?  Makes the amount seem  a bit more substantial!!

All the guys (except me) thought this a great story.  I was pretty miffed because I’d lost my board.  I often wondered what happened to the board – some lucky Frenchman got a nice piece of kit.

Pat with the board the previous winter at Ventnor