Part 2: The Surf Cub is formed.
It was at about this time (1966) that Jake came to me at work one day with the news that he’d seen an advertisement in the County Press saying ‘Isle of Wight Surf Club now formed. Write to The Secretary, Albert St, Ventnor’ This looked interesting.
After an exchange of letters, (this was back in the dark ages when not everyone had a home phone, let alone a mobile or email) I went to my first regular Friday evening Surf Club meeting, the first of very many.
The club met at Clare Cottage on Spring Hill in Ventnor which was the home of Sue Backhouse’s parents (? Grand parents) They didn’t use the house as they lived above the family shop & very kindly (foolishly?) allowed the club the run of the place.
I remember going up the steps for the first time into the small garden to be confronted by a group of people on the lawn looking at 3 or 4 boards which were lying on the grass. These were ‘proper’, ‘bought’ Malibu boards from Cornwall.
This was more like it!!
Sue came up & introduced herself and I remember her asking my girlfriend if she wanted to become a full member or just a ‘beach bunny’. That was the start of the best period of the Surf Club for me. In a matter of weeks the membership had grown to 90+ due in no small part to the CP ad. Friday night was the highlight of the week, with Clare Cottage bursting at the seams for the club meetings. Very soon there were movies being shown, mostly taken on 8mm by Dave Bottrell, and skateboarding down Spring Hill. I well remember Sid remarking that Merry Hughes (a quite well endowed young lady) had done a 6 point landing having fallen off her board halfway down. Hands,knees & boobs for those with no imagination. Also, a decision was taken as to where the club would be surfing at the weekend. Bear in mind that the majority of members had no board & were reliant on the good will of the established members, mainly the Ventnor crew, to borrow boards, thus meaning that everyone had to turn up at the same place at the same time. My belated thanks to Rog & Sue, John Ainsworth, Rusty Long & Colin Burgess.
There was a club board, half & half yellow & red with a black stripe down the middle, heavy as lead and so wide you had a job to fit it under your arm. Only those desperate to get a wave would venture out on that. I can remember one day lugging the wretched thing along the beach from Compton to the Fields because it looked better at that end & being so exhausted when I got there I couldn’t get the damn thing out through the break. Later, in the mid 70s, Doug Saunders tried to convert it to a sail board, complete with a pivoting skeg as a rudder!
At that time, any self-respecting surfer that owned a car, had a ‘Murphy’ decal in the back window. This was a cartoon character from ‘Surfer’ magazine. Colin Burgess was working in London for a while & he told me that one night he thought he was being followed whilst driving his car. He got a bit scared and tried to outrun his pursuers, but was baulked by traffic lights. Suddenly there was banging on the window and a crazed looking individual looking in & shouting that he was a surfer also & just wanted a chat!
I remember meeting Rog Cooper for the first time on the beach at Compton (which was a bit odd as he only lived 2 streets away from me during our youth), he had a homemade board about 12 feet long with a 1/8” thick aluminium fin which looked like it could sever your leg if you got in his way. One way to prevent drop-ins, I suppose!
I never did complete my own board, I sold the Cascemited blank to Brian Loader, who was a friend of Tony MacPherson, and bought a blue Bilbo popout from Kevin Digweed for £12.50. I don’t think Brian ever completed the thing either!
Those early days were just so exciting, with so many of us starting out together, learning to surf, learning to read the weather and the various beaches. There was something tangible changing in my life and I embraced it wholeheartedly. Even today, something will happen to trigger a memory of those far off days so strongly that I can almost taste it.
As time passed the club became affiliated to the British Surfing Association and got more organised, with chequered flags to mark out the surfing area during the increasingly busy summer months and the leasing of one of the wooden bungalows at Compton for board storage & changing. The Hut remained a focal point for the club even after we had to move on from Clare Cottage. The Friday meetings continued at a variety of venues, including the Folly Inn and the loft above the Cross family’s stable in the grounds of Camp Hill Prison, where Mr Cross was the governor, before slowly dying out. I remember Lorraine Paddon giving haircuts to members for 10p towards club funds in that loft.
I had become firm friends with Rusty Long, whose family had moved from Ventnor to Wootton. I only had a motorbike for transport, so the club Hut was a boon for me as I could leave my board there. This was not much good if the surf was up at Niton! Rusty, now having to go past my house on the way to Compton would pick me up on the way. We spent many happy hours driving around the Island chasing surf & girls and I remember him telling me that in one week he’d clocked up 748 miles going to work, picking me up, meeting girlfriends, checking out Compton each evening etc etc. Mind you, petrol was only 4/6d a gallon then (22.5p).
Another life long friend was made when Rob Clark turned up at Compton one day to try his hand. I remember him saying that catching his first wave was the ‘best feeling I’ve ever had’ as he was drying off after his first attempt. Rob had a Bedford CA van, the one with the sliding doors that was always known as a Bedford Dormobile. We used to have a few beers on a Saturday night & sleep in the van at Compton in order to get into some waves early the next morning. Rob had a weird sleeping bag which he called a Schmoo Suit. It was like a full size baby-grow including a hood & padded like a sleeping bag. I recall him getting up & walking out to the cliff edge to check the waves whilst still inside it, looking like a weird version of the Michelin Man. Prior to the Bedford, Rob had an ancient Austin A50 with a column gear change which he absolutely hated & he would get me to drive the thing at the weekend when we, plus the Kernick brothers Glyn & Chris, were driving around the Island chasing waves. I remember stopping at Calbourne Garage for a gallon of fuel & a gallon of oil for it one day, with the oil being hand pumped out of a container as the car seemed to use as much oil as it did petrol.