During the early sixties it wasn’t just the boys enjoying the waves, there were some pretty hardcore girls surfing on the Island with no wetsuits or leashes too.
One of those was the young Susan Ellis (now Backhouse) who became the first Isle of Wight Surf Club Secretary in 1965.
In the September of 1965 the Isle of Wight Surf Club held a competition. The Women’s event had 3 entrants; Susan Ellis, Victoria Freer (Nee Pickering) and Rita Long. Susan Ellis was to win the event becoming the very first Women’s champion on the Island.
Although the boys all had girlfriends, very few of them actually surfed. Gradually a few of the girlfriends had a go most notably Merry Hughes. Merry was a budding artist who painted Roger and Sue’s Split Screen VW Van in glorious huge coloured flowers. Merry wasn’t afraid of big waves and would be seen out in some big swells at Compton, Niton and Freshwater Bay. Merry’s father was a Pilot for the boats in the Solent which may have been a big influence on her love of the ocean. Other girls to follow were Judy Bull and Wendy.
The Easter of 1967 saw all of them travel down to Crantock. Sadly on the 18 March 1967 the Torrey Canyon ran aground on rocks between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles and leaked its cargo of oil into the sea. The 974-ft (297m) tanker, which was carrying 100,000 tons of crude oil, hit Pollard’s Rock in the Seven Stones reef. In the weeks that followed the accident, oil escaped and spread along the shores of the south coast of England and the Normandy coast of France. The worst hit of the Cornish beaches were Marazion and Prah Sands, where the sludge was up to a foot deep. Up to 70 miles (113km) of beaches were seriously contaminated. More than 20,000 sea birds were contaminated by the oil as a result of the disaster. The vessel was bombed for two days refusing to sink, finally sinking on 30 March 1967 and the oil slick was eventually dispersed by favourable weather.
The group of friends were camping right at the end of the runway at RAF St Mawgan and were kept awake all night by the Shackleton Aircraft taking off and landing constantly for 24hrs.
The girls liked to surf at Little Stairs beach and Hope beach before the sea wall was built. It was a smaller, good shaped wave with a long ride which was sheltered from the wind and not too far to paddle out. Initially the girls used to borrow the boys boards but eventually most of them bought boards, mainly pop outs which meant they didn’t have to wait for the boys to finally let them have a go.
Once the boys had wheels and they all had boards they would travel everywhere the boys went surfing Freshwater Bay, Compton, Niton, Steephill Cove, Ventnor, Shanklin, Sandown, White City, Whitecliff Bay and even Ryde.
The girls also enjoyed many trips to Cornwall and Devon, surfing at Crantock, Fistral, Watergate, Bude, Constantine, Woolacome, Lynmouth and even a few surfs along at Bournmouth and Kimmeridge.
Sue and Roger Backhouse got married in March 1968 and drove to Galway, Ireland. Sue was probably one of the first women, especially English women to surf the Atlantic Coast of Ireland. Sue and Roger stayed in a really posh hotel, Sweeney’s Oughterard House. One morning they had to ask Rolls Royce and Aston Martin car owners to move their cars so they could get their little Mini out and catch the mornings tide and go surfing. Roger and Sue surfed at La Hinch, Shigo and Renuyle.