History of surfing at Holywell Bay
Although Holywell is fairly quiet when it comes to surfers in the water, there has always been a solid and dedicated crew of locals constantly evolving throughout the decades. Holywell hasn’t always been recognised as a beach with quality waves, that said, it’s not all about the surfing, it’s about the crew you grow up surfing with which makes for some fantastic memories and stories to tell…
This grainy photograph captures the moment an intrepid adrenaline junkie became the first person in Britain to surf – in 1929. Lewis Rosenberg pictured surfing Holywell Bay, Cornwall, with a homemade 8ft board he carved out of balsa wood. It is a national treasure as it shows the earliest recorded footage of surfing in Britain at no other than Holywell Bay!
1960’s & 1970’s
Words by Richard Hartley
Early memories of surfing at Holywell Bay during the hippy 60’s are pretty sketchy! Plywood belly boards were all the rage at the time with the guys dressed in early Speedo’s and the gals in full swimming cossies and frilly bathing hats.
The first board riders that I recall were Stan Yeo, Dave Burton, Ronnie Broad and Dave Humphries, amongst others, all riding “Bilbo’s” or locally made “Keo” pop outs. Leaky Long Johns were the choice of insulation and full suits were only affordable for the mega rich! Townie tourists stretched out across the dunes and they would often look up and wonder why on earth these long-haired weirdos were wondering around on a hot sunny day dressed in black rubber – little did they know!
Into the seventies and a new bunch of groms started to show up. The Green brothers, Brian Smith, the Tomkinson brothers, Freddie Hooper and I, to name a few, were watched over by Perran lifeguard and shaper of strange (at the time!) watercraft, Pete Gaisford.
Longboards and super heavy pop-outs were beginning to fade away and new lightweight, multi-coloured or muralled boards with one (and sometimes as many as two!) fins were starting to appear and a whole new style of surfing was starting to develop.
The dress code was cut-off jeans or mega wide flairs, rubbish flip-flops, long, bleached hair and surf beards and we all carried a pot of coconut oil around for maximum tanning and zero protection!
Surf contests back in the 70’s were a definite no no! We were all far too cool to be bothered with any competition!
1980’s & 1990’s
Words by Lee Griffin
In 1983 the new school crew consisted of myself Tristan Perry, Martin ‘Widge’ Ansell, Chris Tubb, Ian Tubb, Jason Farr, Lee Ansell, Neil Terry and Darren Bassett. My first recollection was buying a stand easy surfboard from Tony Allsopp, a current lifeguard at the bay. It took me the whole summer to stand up properly. You’ve got to start somewhere! On many occasions we would turn up for a surf to find our boards had been rented out by the lifeguards and would be back ‘drekly’… ‘here’s 50p for the inconvenience’. We were forced to take rubbish over the dune and received ‘clubbie punishments’ for not washing up, or being cheeky. I remember bunking off school in the summer and going back up the hill on the school bus washing every ounce of salt off our faces before going home, parents oblivious to the days shenanigans.
Penna’s and the corner cafe were busy little cafes back then and trips back and fourth for ourselves and the guards were daily rituals. Lionel at that time had only just expanded his empire from ice box too trike bike back then so seagull pasties were not yet on the menus… Thank God!
Through the mid 80’s our junior crew had grown to about 20 regulars with the likes of Mark Wilde, Claire Wilde, Antony Onions, Rhet Oliver, Matt Dixon and Barry Plechowicz. Our clubbie days were spent surfing all day at the bay with odd trek to Penhale with skate sessions at Holywell Bay leisure park on the flat days. The older crew were now the likes of Richard Hartley, Bob Code, Adam Coad and Rod Oliver with lifeguards the likes of Simon Harrison, Martin Allsopp, Tony Allsopp, Mark Bond with Greg spray, Paul ‘Gibbon’ Dye and Josh Keep, coming in 88/89. Greg helped push us younger crew with competitions and club patrols and introduced the paddle board to Holywell Bay which was a great change from the reel and line. We did lots of demonstrations in the club in the late 80s early 90s most Sundays on the high tides involving all the juniors available. I also remember the Cubert and Holywell bay carnival and a very non road worthy land rover with no hand brake going up Holywell hill. Great entertainment!
As we slipped into the 90s people came and went the core group now Consisted of myself rig mike and Smurf along with new groms peanut and Harold.. I started work in the beach June 1990 and had a heart attack victim within 1hr of working FUN with Greg Spray and Rolo Deards. All our crew were working saving pennies for trips to far away dream surf destinations having been drip fed tales of mystical surf in boardshort on dessert islands by Greg Spray.
In November 1990 myself and Rig got the ball rolling and the trips to Indonesia and Australia began for the H-Bay boys. By the mid nighties pretty much most of H-Bay had graced the shores of Indonesia exploring up and down the archipelago. So the saving ritual began for many crew at the bay surfing and life guarding in the summer and traveling in the winter with the likes of Mike Gough, Smurf, Peanut, Rig, Richard Lewis and Harold all putting some time in. By the late 90s most people drifted off into different jobs (real jobs) but we’re still fixtures at the bay. New crew by then we’re Stuart Londesborough, Matt Clough, Whippit and Ben Neary followed by Jeeks, Noodle, Dan Clapp and Jamie Cliff Climber. Us guards had the pleasure of dishing out our own club punishments on them all, with naked runs being the new junior initiation and great entertainment… Juniors was also very strict with Richard H in charge amd constantly armed with a polyurethane flag which proved to be a great discipline tool for any junior being cheeky!!! Although surfing during juniors was not uncommon when the surf was good, so the balance was good!
Words by Andrew Griffin
Throughout the early years of the millennium H-Bay had a handful of dedicated youngsters with the likes of Noodle, Dan Clapp, John Benney, Dan & Adam Herman, Jim and myself surfing on a daily basis, amidst the older guys which mainly included Trigg, Rig, Stu, Harold, Mike and Peanut. Clubbie beatings were a daily occurrence with a lobster pot being a stand out recognition, which Noodle and Jim probably still have nightmares about today. If some of the punishments that went down 10 years ago happened today, I think there may be one or two questions asked by the authorities, but it was all in good jest and it made us in the people we are today… Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not sure!
Trigg was still the cat amongst the pigeons when it came down to the annual surf comp, taking the open title on several more occasions, before me, Goffo and Jim all managed to gain a few engravings for ourselves making for some very closely fought finals and quite often amazing waves… for Holywell at least.
A few controversial decisions in the longboarding event caused discrepancy amongst some competitors, with nudity being the focal point, which is fairly inevitable for H-Bay. Despite this, there were some exciting moments, with a high standard of longboarding (amongst a shortboarding crew) with titles going to Mike, Rig, Stu, Peanut, Jim and myself. Unfortunately as the years passed there weren’t many up and coming clubbies who surfed resulting in the bodyboard and junior divisions of the H-Bay classic being cancelled for several consecutive years.
In more recent years there has been a new spout of regular groms with the likes of Tom & Harvey Peck, Rosalie & Jay Longman, Joe & Jess Knight, Mischa and Iwan all spending the majority of their time in the water, if not surfing, on body boards, paddle boards or what ever water craft they can get their hands on. Trigg started up a grom club in 2013, which has proved to be a huge success amongst the whipper snappers, with their surfing improving rapidly.
Today Holywell has the largest number of surfers the club has ever seen with a fantastic group of regulars ranging from nippers to the over 60’s. On any given day in the summer the club will be buzzing with a healthy number of locals constantly ruling the lineup, so lets hope that this continues for many years to come!