The endless bummer

I recently returned to England for a visit after living in Australia for the past 30 years. I thought it was about time I got my act together, place my bum on an air-plane seat, and see the old country again. Not only Brighton and Hove where I grew up, but also Cornwall as well, namely Newquay, where a group of friends and I spent a couple of magical summers, enjoying the friendly laid-back atmosphere of Newquay in the sixties.


Great Western, Summer 1963
Copyright © Seasedge Publications
It was a time when the Beach Boys were popular, and a woody was a surf wagon, and surfboards were heavy 10ft Malibu’s that I remember carrying with a person on each end as we trudged through the main street of Newquay, on our way up to Fistral Beach to become the fabled ‘soup riders of Brighton.’ A small but steadily growing band of souls, who would make the journey to Newquay each summer to surf. Even back in the sixties the surf used to get crowded in the holiday season, but would drop away to the locals and a few travellers during the winter months, and would swell again, when the summer came around. It was Newquay unplugged and acoustically’ mellow, not amped up like it is now. (‘But to each his own’)


I first set eyes on Newquay in the summer of 1966 after a long drive down from Brighton with Steve Thatcher in his mini. He managed to get it up to 100 mph with four of us on board, testing man and machine to their limits, any faster and we would have taken off The other occupants in the car to share this moment were Leon (Gunga-din) Smith, an old school friend of mine, and my brother, Tom. Buoyed up with the feeling that this car could make it we travelled on, four dreamers encased in metal, barrelling down the highway Newquay bound.’ We arrived late in the day with no plans or provisions and chose our accommodation in the budget end of the market, spending an uncomfortable night sleeping in the changing tents on Tolcarne Beach. Our feet were sticking out the front of the tent and caught the attention of the lifeguard on his morning rounds, sensing we were freeloaders he moved us on before the paying customers arrived.


We wandered through the town looking for a place to eat, and were eager to check out the surf shop, (we hadn’t seen one before and were amazed to find there were two of them. The first one being Maui, located next to the Blue Lagoon, and was run by Mick Jackman an Aussie. There was a wall sized picture in the shop of his brother Dave Jackman riding the Queenscliffe Bombora off Manly Beach in Australia, and also dear reader, John Conway (Mister Big4 the editor of Wavelength Magazine, worked there as well. A rather fresh faced young lad, who handed out amusing comments along with the surf gear to any of the customers who looked like they needed it, I believe it was an early attempt at customer service, but more than likely it was cattle prodding the Emmets. The other surf shop was Bilbo’s, at the other end of town, opposite the car park, next to the Sailors Arms, and was run by Alan Mac’ Bride.


The Sailors Arms was always a popular pub even back in the sixties and a great place to go to for a rowdy beer after a hard days surfing, and to unlock the vocal cords and belt out a few verses of ‘If I were the surfing type.’ After a few ales it all becomes a blur.


Three more friends arrived from Brighton during the day, Mick Harwood, Trev Parry, and a person who was to become a well known and colourful character in Newquay until his tragic and early death, Mick Whyte, better known as lumpy.’ We headed back to Bilbo’s and took out the hire boards, leaving with Alan Mac’ Bride shouting after us, don’t drag the boards across the sand it wears the fibreglass of the rails.’ What good advice for the care and maintenance of the boards, but we dragged them anyway.


The day came to an end and we found ourselves heading out of town looking for a place to spend the night. We couldn’t risk the changing tents on Tolcarne Beach again and as luck would have it we came across an old barn close to the edge of a field, out near St. Columb Minor. We climbed the fence and dossed down in the barn for the night. Gunga-din drew the short straw and had the honour of becoming a human wedge; by lying against the barn door he would keep the draft off the rest of us. We spent another uncomfortable night till we awoke in the morning to the sounds of grunting coming from outside the barn door. I stuck my head outside and was confronted by the biggest pig I have ever seen, a real ‘porker.’ It was a sow with her piglets; we were on her turf and she knew it. She had us out of the barn and over the fence quicker than a farmer with a shotgun. Getting moved on in the morning was becoming a regular occurrence; even the pigs were on to us.


Viv Wilson, Gt. Western, 1963
Copyright © Seasedge Publications
We sojourned back and forth to Newquay a few times that first year with our numbers growing with every visit, till there were two or three carloads of us Ya’hooing our way down to Newquay. Eddie (Shoulders Clark), Vince Ward, Tony Barmy Bartle, Gren (Wingnut) Miller, Trevor Harty Hart, Doe The Bottler, Russ and Greg (the body) Davis, Big Harry, Gillman. And Phil (Good looks) Sutton with others joining the trail from Brighton to Newquay later on.


We weren’t the first people from Brighton to surf in Newquay, the Marn’e brothers, Sean and Jerry and some friends of theirs were already surfing, and had been for a couple of years; and were no strangers to Newquay.


Tom and Steve were the first among us to buy their own boards, at a cost of 20 pound each. Steve’s was a custom job, and Tom’s was a 10 ft pop out, which he tried to ride through the pylons of the West Pier on Brighton Beach (like they do at Huntington Beach in California( and failed; he cut his back up pretty badly but at least he was the first Idiot to try and do it. (There was honour in that.


Late July found us back in Newquay again, sitting on our boards off Great Western Beach. England had just won the world cup from West Germany, and a roar went up from the beach, their cheers carrying out across the water to us. The neck oil was to flow profusely in Newquay that night.


We stayed in a tent this time, pitched on one of the local camp sites, socially acceptable while still maintaining that surf bum feeling, slowly climbing the ladder of creature comforts that would eventually lead to a hotel room. At least we didn’t have to face the ‘Pig of the Baskervilles’ again.


Winter came upon us and we left Newquay for Brighton, returning again in the summer. Tom was working in the Blue Lagoon as a kitchen hand, and I held the same position, along with Phil Sutton at the Beresford Hotel opposite Tolcarne Beach. Being seasonal work they provided accommodation for you in the staff quarters at the rear of the hotel. Working there was like being in an episode of Fawlty Towers, the hotel guests used the front door enjoying the services their money had paid for, meanwhile at the rear of the hotel it was a different story. There was an endless stream of non-paying friends coming in the back door for a free breakfast and shower, and somewhere to sleep for the night. Lumpy, Wingnut, and Shoulders were dossed down in my room till the night watchman surprised us all by conducting a search and evacuate raid on the staff quarters, in the wee-small hours of the morning. He shone his torch through the window and lit up four pairs of startled eyes looking back at him, instead of one pair, and as ‘Basil Faulty’ would say, ‘That’s it the games up. Stripped of my apron and scourers, I was shown the door by Roy Brewer, the owner. ‘Get out ya’ Bugger and never come back.’ And I never did.


I spent Christmas in the Canary Islands with Lumpy, Wingnut, Tom and a couple of guys from Newquay, Hang-ten John and his friend, (who didn’t surf but liked to drink. We sailed on the Begonia an old Spanish cruise ship and passed the time away playing deck quoits and throwing up, till we disembarked on Gran Canaria. We stayed in a hotel room off Santa Catalina square, the main plaza. and acquainted ourselves with the area. We had spotted some nice peak breaks a short trip away and Lumpy had found the cheap vino place, everything was looking good; till I fell through the hotel awning, causing a fair amount of damage. It looked like concrete when I leapt off the balcony but it turned out to be fibro, (you can’t help bad luck can you) I managed to climb back up and we fell about laughing in the Hotel room, even the manager had a smirk on his face when he presented us with the bill. Every one chipped in to pay for the repairs; but it sure cut my trip short, I never even got my board wet. Wingnut bailed out with me, and after getting repatriated by the British Consul, we sailed back to Blighty’ together. The others stayed on, going down to Maspalomas and had some great waves so they kept telling me.


Gt. Western, 1963
Copyright © Seasedge Publications
One of my favourite spots for watching the surf from was the lookout at the top of Great Western Beach. I spent many a happy moment there, looking down on the surfers, watching them walk their boards as they slid across the waves. There was and I believe there still is a shop at the bottom of the slope where we used to get mugs of hot horlicks, to warm ourselves up with when we came out of the surf We must have been a hardy lot back then as most of my friends didn’t have wetsuits and surfed mainly in just board shorts. Steve and I had neoprene vests that kept us psychologically warm till the horlicks kicked in, Winter surfing was something else again; no amount of horlicks could ever tempt me in.


Keith Paull was in town the last year I was there. It was 1968, and he’d just won the Australian Championships, knocking Nat Young off his perch, and was in England for some R and R. We met him in the pub not long after he arrived and he needed a place to stay, so Steve let him crash out in the back of his kombi. (To this day it’s still Steve’s one and only claim to fame. There were a few other Aussie surfers staying in Newquay at the time, a group of four of them living out of an old ambulance that they travelled round in, and then there was Chris Cannings better known as ‘the Animal’ who appeared more placid than his name might suggest, (at least I never saw him eat anyone) and his friend.


Rod Sumpter, Fistral 1967
GB Championships
Keith nearly up-staged Rodney Sumpter (the British Champion) in a contest on Fistral Beach. Sumpter was riding his Union Jack board and looked like getting beat, here was this unknown from Australia who nearly took the title home with him as a souvenir while on holiday. Sumpter hung on and won the contest by a point. (Well we couldn’t let the Aussies have it could we?)


Sarah Newling, Watergate 1967
There weren’t that many women surfers around that I knew of (apart from Gwenith Haslop) but that doesn’t mean to say that there weren’t any there. Sarah Newling surfed and was well known, along with her brothers, and they lived up the coast at Treyarnon Bay, which was were I stayed with Shoulders when I made this epic return to the Mother Land. We stayed in a tent on the campsite (just like the old days) not for any nostalgic reasons; the place was chockers with holidaymakers and we couldn’t get in. ‘Wow’ what a lovely place I’d never been to Treyarnon Bay before, but I intend to go back again. I sat out on the headland at night with Shoulders and watched the sun going down, like a big yellow disc sinking in to the ocean, turning the sky a brilliant red before it faded in the twilight and the night closed in. For sheer rugged beauty, the Cornish coast certainly has it.


Watergate Bay – then as now
Copyright © Watergate Bay Hotel
I travelled down to Newquay on the bus from Constantine Bay, which is next to Treyarnon Bay taking photos out the window as I went. Watergate Bay looked as spectacular as ever with the Hotel set against the lines of surf rolling in across the sweep of the bay; and the charm of the Cornish countryside, resolute as ever, resisting the change to wider roads, still asking the traffic to move over and allow the bus to pass, as it makes it’s way down the winding coastal road to Newquay. I stepped of the bus into Newquay at peak season I couldn’t believe the crowds, so many people, so many shops; it was hard to find a place on the footpath to walk in. ‘No place here for a couple of dreamers from the sixties,’ carrying a ten foot Malibu between them, idling their way up to Fistral Beach. If you survive the footpath, then you have the cars to deal with. Newquay has certainly picked its game up since I was here last; but it was good to be back.


I would like to take the opportunity to clear up a mystery that occurred when Tom (my Brother) was working at the Blue Lagoon in 1967. He left the premises late one night, together with the chef in his car, under the influence of a few good jugs of Cornish ale, with a car boot load of rotten chickens; which they deposited at will on various doorsteps and mailboxes around the streets of Newquay. So for those of you who received a stinky chicken over 30 years ago, and wondered where it came from, I would just like to say. No, it wasn’t ‘Aliens,’ it was the kitchen staff of the Blue Lagoon, covering their arses by disposing of the evidence before the boss found out. Another example of where truth is stranger than fiction Looking back on those old day’s now, to an easier time in the pace of things, Newquay had a Great soul about it. Being one of only a few centres of surfing in Great Britain at the time, it attracted many travelling surfers and some of them were great characters in their own right. With the occasional surfing legend turning up as though he had ‘sprung to life’ from the pages of a surf mag; ‘having a beer with you’ at the Sailors Arms, or Great Western Hotel, making for a colourful History in a unique period and time, in the History of surfing in Great Britain.


Not that we didn’t have the makings of our own local legends and characters at the time; we certainly did, with Chris Jones, Roger Mansfield, Robbie Wilson, Alan Mac Bride, Collin Chat, Rich Trewellan, Terry (Switch Foot) Mac Lean, Pinky, Denis Canniford, Moby, Martin Geary, John Conway, and Peter Russell (who was one of only a few people to ride the Cribber, back in the sixties,) to name but some of the people who were around then, and the countless others, who came to work and surf for the season. And sadly though, the ranks have been thinning over the years, and some of the people mentioned in this story are no longer with us, my Brother being one of them.


Chris Jones and Roger Mansfield were part of the team to represent Great Britain in Australia in the seventies. I remember that, as I was already in Australia at the time, having left England in 1968. They stayed with a house full of Brighton surfers in Carlton Street in Manly, and Roger gave me his official Team Member board shorts, ‘Yellow with a blue band in the middle,’ I think he was glad to off load them, as they all looked like a load of clones walking down the road together. Well, we all come to the end of our piece of string sometime, so with the candle flame flickering, and the tale almost told, ‘faithful scribe that I am,’ I think I shall leave it here, and lay the pen to rest, till it is summoned again to service.


I still like to surf and I guess I always will, and having passed the half century mark a couple of years ago, it’s still good to be able to take to the waters on a sunny day and let the world go by.