The 'Wight Surf History' Project aims to document and celebrate 50 years of surfing on the Isle of Wight. The website tells the story of how surfing arrived and evolved on the Isle of Wight, and the characters involved over the years.
The project has had great support from the West Wight Landscape Partnership and on Friday 13th April 2012 the Wight Surf History opens its first exhibition of surf memorabilia and photography from the last 50 years at Dimbola Museum and Galleries, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight.
The exhibition will show how boards have changed through the decades, from Archie Tricket's homemade wooden surfboard from the early 1960s, Bilbo longboards, the early shortboards and modern equipment, including surfboards from three-times Women's English Champion Zoe Sheath and 2010 British Champion Johnny Fryer.
We also show how wetsuits have changed from the early 'duck tail' two-piece wetsuits to the warm winter wetsuits of today. Other items on display will include Trophies, leashes, wax, Isle of Wight Surf Club sweatshirts and magazines. The exhibition will also have photographs showing many of the characters who have influenced surfing on the Island over the last 50 years.
In the early 1960s, surfing was something a small number of friends had started to experiment with on the Isle of Wight. Many of these pioneers started out with belly boards, while some took to the water on homemade wooden surfboards.
There were small pockets of surfers scattered around the Island, all experimenting with surfing in their own ways, until Roger Backhouse and friends - Susan Ellis (Backhouse), Kevin Digweed, Geoff 'Ned' Gardner, John Ainsworth, Russell Long and Colin Burgess - decided to try and start an Isle of Wight Surf Club. An advert was put in the Isle of Wight County Press and this brought surfers together from around the Island, including Keith Williams, Glyn Kernick, Ben Kelly and Sid Pitman.
The first meetings of the Isle of Wight Surf Club were held in a tent on the cliff tops at Ventnor. They later moved to Mrs Backhouse's (Roger's Mum!) Bed & Breakfast in Ventnor. During the summer Pat Morrell and a 'Woodwork Teacher' Mike 'Hutch' Hutchinson would join them with their homemade wooden boards.
Once some club members had acquired wheels, it wasn't long before trips to Cornwall were arranged and wages and savings were spent on the new fibreglass surfboards that were available. Rob Ward had come back to the Island after being in the Royal Navy and had learnt to surf in South Africa and South America. Rob's surfing was more advanced than many of the island surfers, and in the 1970s, he travelled much of the globe in search of waves. Ex-British Surfing Champion Roger Mansfield and author of The Surfing Tribe once said 'Rob is the most buccaneering, big wave-riding surf export of IOW'.
During the late '60s and '70s, Tad Ciastula and Roger Cooper had started shaping boards on the Island and both went on to become renowned surfboard shapers. Meanwhile, Derek Thompson started making the famous Cosmic leashes.
In the late '70s and early '80s, a young Dave Gray had started to dominate the Isle of Wight Surf Competitions and went on to compete in the English Nationals. Many of today's top Island surfers will say that Dave was a major influence on them and they aspired to be as good as this Island legend. The Isle of Wight Surf Club started its own surf magazine in the late 1970s and many articles joked about other surfers not bothering to enter competitions if Dave turned up, as he only needed to wax down his surfboard to win an event!
In the early '90s, Stu Jones took over the mantle of best surfer on the Island, pushing the limits and starting a new generation of surfers who wanted to do aerials and the other latest tricks. In 1994, a young Craig Sharp took the South Coast Champion crown from Stu Jones and was one of many Islanders who took off in search of waves and adventure abroad. At the same time, 10-year-old Johnny Fryer was just making his mark by winning the Under-14 or 'cadet' category in the 1994 South Coast Championship.
Johnny dominated the Island surf scene until he moved to Cornwall, and he went on to become British Surfing Champion in 2010.
Into the Noughties, and young Zoe Sheath, daughter of Gail (an early member of the Isle of Wight Surf club, who started surfing in the '70s), began to shine. Zoe went on to become English Women's Surfing Champion in 2007.
Many others have made a big contribution to Island surfing, including Barney Barnes, Ceri Williams, Keith and Steve Williams, Clive Richardson, Dave Phillips, Rog Powley, Xav Baker, Joe Truman and many, many more.
More recently, with the help of the Island-based Rapanui clothing company, the IOW Surf Club has been reborn, with Matt Harwood taking the helm alongside Oliver Harvey, as they successfully ran the Frost Bite Series of competitions in 2011 as well as the South Coast Surfing Championships.