Isle of Wight Surf History

Here is an excerpt about the Isle of Wight from Roger Mansfield’s new book ‘The Surfing Tribe’ A History of Surfing in Britain’

Roger Backhouse and his friends Mike Hutchinson, Sid Pitman, Ben Kelly and a handful of others are attributed with being the first island residents to start surfing in 1964. They picked up the idea from a holiday to Cornwall and returned with a couple of surfboards knowing that waves struck the beaches of their island home on occasion.

Hutchinson, who was a woodwork teacher, shaped himself a balsa wood board which he ambitiously then coated in resin to seal it without using any fibreglass. It had a short but effective life!

Meanwhile Pitman and Kelly constructed hollow wooden boards which reputedly became heavy very rapidly as they took on water. After surfing it was a long wait at the waters edge while the water drained out through the bung-hole before the board could be lifted up the beach.

Image by Roger Powley

By 1965 they had formed the I.O.W. Surf Club based at their home beach of Ventnor, although by then they were aware that Freshwater and Compton Bay on the south west coast received bigger and more frequent waves.

So keen were they to promote the sport on the island that they advertised meetings in the island paper to attract new members which drew a young aspirants like Glyn Kernick and Keith Williams into the sport.

Keith remembers, “ The club became very much the centre of all surfing action rapidly drawing in some disparate small groups of individuals who were already having their own experiments with surfing on other parts of the island.”

Their motivation was raised by the return briefly of an island son, Rob Ward, who as an officer in the Royal Navy had travelled globally and learnt to surf whilst in South Africa. His experience and ability was very high setting a new standard of achievement in the waves for other surfers on the island to aim for.

Ward abandoned his sea-faring career and the island to become a world travelling surf explorer, which earnt him some esoteric recognition as Britains first big wave rider.

By 1969 friendly links with the new surfing fraternity developing around the Bournemouth stretch of the south coast resulted in a communal event called the South Coast Surfing Championships taking place at Compton. IOW won the team prize and team member, Roger Cooper, the individual title of the first South Coast Champion.

The Isle of Wight has been the breeding ground of a number of significant creative talents in British surfing who ultimately migrated themselves to the mainland to make more of an impact upon the sport and its followers.

Derek Thompson, who transplanted to Cornwall, provided many of southern Britains surfers with their first professionally made ‘Cosmic’ ankle leash in the early 70s, in so doing, liberating them from long swims to the beach after wipeouts.

Roger Cooper and Tad Ciastula both became nationally respected surfboard shapers and board builders, both finding reason to move to the mainland to sustain a viable working surfing lifestyle in south Wales and Newquay respectively.

Todays high profile island surfing son is Johnny Fryer who has been experimenting with pro-surfer status since the new Millenium. (beat Stokesy to win Animal event in Newquay 2006)

The quote ‘Roger Backhouse and his friends Mike Hutchinson, Sid Pitman, Ben Kelly and a handful of others are attributed with being the first island residents to start surfing in 1964’ as we understand, is not entirely true. If you have any information as to who may have been the first to surf on the Island or have any stories from around this time please let us know. You can contact us by email or by using the contact screen.

Roger Mansfield was British Open Champion in 1970, he took the British Masters title in 1989 and then the English Longboard Title in 1991. Roger was also a founder member of Surfers Against Sewage. If you would like to know more about Roger or if you are interested in his book ‘The Surfing Tribe’ then you can go to his websites via the links page.