This great book by Reg Goddard is a must for anybody interested in Pembrokeshire’s surf culture.
Chapter 1 – The Early Years
It feels strange looking back after all these years on how the surfing scene in Pembrokeshire came about.
In our little corner of Wales we had no surf films to watch; just the odd news bulletin about some surfers riding the ‘Cribbar’* or such like, but slowly and surely it was evolving. My early memories of Pembrokeshire surfing are as such.
I can always remember being drawn to the sea and had my first surf on those ply wood belly boards that were in use in those very early days of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
I remember seeing two surfers walking down Newgale beach and thinking I’d like to try that. They had Malibu surfboards under their arms – the first I’d seen.
“Soon after, I heard there was a big surf contest on at Llangenith on the Gower; so off we went. The surf was big, the Beach Boys’ music was blasting out and there were gorgeous girls all over the beach. I got caught up in the whole magical world of surfing.”
I knew that the lifeguards in Whitesands had some Malibu’s so I was off to Whitesands, near St David’s. I had no car in those days and I used to thumb a lift down. They were a friendly bunch and LLew, the Head lifeguard, took me under his wing and taught me the basics.
The first board I ever rode was made of canvas stretched over a wooden frame – it weighted a ton and was always leaking water out, but I managed to eventually stand up. The lifeguard hut was on the right hand side of the car park: an old grey railway wagon.
It took me longer than most to be able to stand due to not being able to fully bend my right leg, following a motorcycle accident when I was 15, but I can remember that first wave I caught and I was hooked and I could see myself planing along big green walls.
Surfboards in those days were mostly made by Bilbo and Tiki from Cornwall. There were no local board shops and the place to get one was The Mumbles in Swansea so after saving up and borrowing some cash from the old man it was off to Dave Friars’ shop in the Mumbles to buy my first board.
Shorter boards 7 to 8 ft. were just starting to come in to fashion, but I wanted a long board and bought a 9ft Bilbo for £33. It weighed a ton, but I got on very well with it and it had one of those thick nylon type fins.
My brother Stephen had also got the bug and County Sports in Haverfordwest had got a few boards in – the first surf shop I suppose, so we bought him one. We used to go to Newgale in the evenings to surf, but he had a scare one day and ‘lost it’. This was in the days before leashes and he wiped out and found himself outside on his own and got a little frightened and didn’t do much after that.
Early surfers were Pete Jones, from just outside Solva, a very good long boarder, who used to knee paddle. I can see him now taking off in his lazy style, but he never made the transition to short boards.
I learned a lot from Pete. A good few others deserve a mention, too: Dennis Cooper, Alan Williams, Andy Roberts, Bob Rogers, Llew Llewellyn, Lyn Perks, Martin Hughes and also from Tim and Simon Harvatt. Martin’s Mum made the best spag’ bol’ ever and she used to bring it down the beach for us in a big pot and we’d heat it up on a gas stove. Bless you, Margaret.
“We were the pioneers of the early Pembrokeshire surfing years.”
Wetsuits were very poor in those days and we used to make our own, buying the neoprene from the Exchange and Mart, cutting out the pattern and then glueing the pieces together with Evostick, taping over the seams with yellow tape. We had the beaver tail diver style and the 2 big studs played havoc with the decks of the boards, so some hardy souls wore heavy sweaters and cut-off jeans.
Judy Jones, Pete’s wife, started making wetsuits which were lined and a lot better than the ones we had; they were stitched together and lasted quite a long time.
There was no surfing on the TV in those days. If we wanted to see a surf film it was off to Cardiff or Swansea University. As you sat watching the film all the surfing audience would be swaying back and fro with the surfer on the film. Then, down the Antelope pub in the Mumbles for some food and a pint before driving home. Happy days…
The surfing standard was pretty low in Pembrokeshire in those early days, having no good surfers to watch, but every now and then Swansea lads would turn up and we would see some new moves to try out.
We were a tightly knit bunch and we used to sleep down the patch in our surfers’ vans by the now Pebbles café. No police bothered to move you on in those days. It was great to go to work in the morning after surf. I always made sure to watch the BBC midday weather chart to see if there were any low pressure areas about. We would then be waiting for the swell to hit.
Soon, surfers from other parts started turning up in their vans and motor homes – mostly self-converted vans.
Some have remained friends for life: Knobby Redman and Mick Robbins, to name two. Knobby always turned up in a different van each year and we got through many toasted loaves late at night in his van and, of course, we always talked a load of rubbish: Girls, surfing and Politics.
Boards were constantly changing and I made quite a few. My shapes were OK, but the finish was never great. I used to go to Cornwall and bought a lot of the materials from John Conway, built my own shaping and glassing rooms, made some templates and bought an electric planer.
Some rad’ shapes were soon being glassed, but I was always looking for new designs from the surfer magazines. If you remember Reno Ablera hyper nose, soon I was doing these – bending the noses with a concrete block till the resin went off. They were shit and the finish on my boards were not the best!
Bob Rogers and Paul McHugh also made a few boards – their finish was good, but the boards were very weak due to the light glass they used.
We would surf our brains out, then have a session in the Duke. Great days – the surf parties are things of legend.
Bob Rogers was always going on about Freshwater West.
I remember the first time we went there: the waves were peaking. I’d never seen peaking waves before – only the long walls of close out Newgale. Unbelievable, and it was always bigger than our side of the county.
It was an eye opener and I would go every chance I got, stop off in Johnston, pick up Bob and off to Freshwater West.
In the early days, we used the ferry crossing to save driving round the road, The Cleddau King; it went 20 to and 20 past the hour and I think it was 4 shillings and sixpence – 22 and half pence of today’s money!
Once the bridge was built it was so easy to get to Freshwater. We started to surf Rocky point on the army range as it was always bigger than Freshwater West.
We took Mike Conlon over one day and told him and it was a secret spot. Ha ha, not for long – the next week about 30 surfers could be seen with Mike in the front heading for Rocky Point – I think he charged them 50p each!
Middle Bay was also happening, and a few of us were eyeing up the pole. Myself and Bob surfed it – pre leash days!
Thought it was really hairy and I had to rescue Bob’s red Freedom board when it was ripped around the right hand side of the wave – it was a long walk…and a long paddle!
I remember sending ‘Dave the Wave’ out there at low tide – about 8 foot – he came back cursing the hell out of me.
“I can always remember sitting in the Duke being surfed out with a beer in front of me, thinking, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this,’ – and it never did.”
Grab your copy or this book and you’ll be helping the charity, Prostate Cancer UK – and specifically their work in Pembrokeshire