Newquay vintage surf meet coming soon ....

Newquay vintage surf meet coming soon ....
We buy interesting old boards 60s/70s/early 80s in good condition. Email alasdairlindsay75@gmail.com . Also wanted - Surfing UK , British Surfer and Surf Insight magazines .
Above photo - copyright Rennie Ellis photographer archive

Monday, 3 December 2012

Biography of a fish

' I am one of those surfers fortunate enough to have hung onto their first surfboard, never wishing to part with its associated memories. In my case a 5’9” fish. I learnt to surf as a child in the 70s around Harlyn Bay, North Cornwall and bought the board secondhand from a local shaper, lifeguard and legendary surfer Tigger Newling – the 1973 British Champion. (cont. below)
 I was told, while buying the board, that it had belonged to Jimmy Blears who had won the 1972 World Championships with it at Ocean Beach, California and that he had left the board as a gift after a trip to the UK. To an eager grommet this remarkable story became my mantra to anybody who asked. I have remained curious about the board’s history and have often wondered if my memory had played tricks with the facts. I recently decided to look into it further and discovered a revelatory old advert for Fresh Fish surfboards. The ad’s stylistic artwork matches succinctly with the distinctive decal on the bottom of the board. (cont. below)
I also got in touch with Tigger Newling, now living in Australia, who generously supplied a number of illuminating new details and context. Tigger could not recall meeting Jimmy Blears in the UK, but said that they did meet and become friends at the 1970 World championships in Bells Beach, Australia. In 75 Tigger was invited to compete in the Hang Ten American pro at Sunset Beach, Hawaii where he stayed with Jimmy Blears and his family at their Makaha home. Tigger recalls returning to the UK with a 6’10 Lighting Bolt board, but alas not a fish. (cont. below)
 The dates certainly match up and I have since read that Blears did make a UK surf trip but whether this board was the actual one ridden in the World Championships of 72 may never be known as he sadly passed away last year. Whatever the board’s true history it can be seen as part of the chronology of British surfing and of the evolution of surfboard design. The board is now in it’s forties, no longer in the best shape and permanently beached for its own sake. A fish without water seems morally wrong, so a few years back my then three-year old daughter re-christened it with a few waves.'

By Nicholas Charles Williams, Newquay.
I was having a look at Tigger Newling photos on google when I found this story Nick had written for the Hickorynines.com site, and asked him if I could reprint it on the blog, and hopefully elaborate a bit on the history of his potentially legendary board. The 1972 Worlds was a notorious contest,a low point of the contest scene, when competitive surfing was looked upon as uncool in favour of 'soul surfing'. As a result of this, many of the worlds' best surfers didnt even turn up, plus the surf was junk (favouring the fishes), and the contest organisers virtually ran out of money.                                    The contest was a victory of the fishes, with Blears and Nuuhiwa coming 1st and 2nd on their new fish designs inspired from Steve Lis kneeboards . The locals were outraged that Nuuhiwa was riding a fish, they saw it as a rip off of their own design, and his board was stolen, broken in half and hung off the pier before the contest started !
After the conest was over,many were even more put off by the contest scene, and surf travelling and exploration  became alot more popular. The British team took part in this contest, and surfer shapers like Steve Harewood, Charles Williams, Graham Nile and Chris Jones all took note of the twin keel fish and some put them immediately into production, notably Steve Harewood at Freedom.
 Anyway, back to Nick's board. Here above is a photo I found of Jimmy Blears' original 1972 world contest winning board, also made by Fresh Fish surfboards of Ocean beach. Its of a very similar plan shape to Nick's and even has an almost identical spray with the smiley fish. They certainly look like they've come out of the same quiver...
 Jimmy Blears at Pipe 1971
So if Nick's board is one of Jimmy Blears personal boards - and I think it is - then how did it get over to the UK in the 70s ?
This Wavecraft could be the link. Jason who used to own this board says-  'I believe Hawiian Jimmy Blears who was world champ in 1972 (the one where someone stole and then nailed David Nuuhiwa fish to the pier) shaped at Wavecraft for a while in the early 70's and I presume his influence had something to do with the template on this board as it is miles off any other fish i have seen from around this era.'
So if this is right, Jimmy Blears came over to Cornwall, with a board/s , befriended Pete Mitchell who was basically a one man show at Wavecraft in north Cornwall, and either shaped some boards , gave designs or mabye even gave his board as a template. The resulting boards, like this green beauty are very accomplished for the time (1973ish ) and have a definite Blears/Lis influence.
Pete Mitchell sadly passed away last month, and not a lot has been written about his role in British surfing. I hope to improve on this with help from his daughter Emma, and hear more about Wavecraft, Pete and hopefully Jimmy Blears.
 
 Early 70s Wavecraft kneeboard, 5'4 twin keel
Fishes made over here got a mixed reception - some loved them, some said they ruined stylish surfing. After a couple of years they fell out of fashion ,and some were even convertd back to singlefins (like my Tris) . Original UK twin keels are very rare to find now. Even though the plan shapes were good, they didnt always surf great because the fins were often uncanted so they were hard to turn. The fish boom of the last decade has seen these designs hit the sea again in big numbers, similar plan shapes but much more evolved bottoms and fin placement.
 
Thanks very much to Nick for sharing his story. If anyone out there knows something about his board ,leave a comment.
I've had one last thought - if Nick's board and the green Wavecraft dimensions are a perfect match then thats pretty strong evidence for this whole story. Mabye they can be brought together one day...

4 comments:

  1. That Fish looks very familiar....
    A guy from Looe " Petroc Dan" had a fish that had come over from the states & I'm almost 100 percent that this was his board for a few months.
    I got to have a blast on it & ended up with a 5'10" Fish from Grahem Nile's shop in St Austell made by Wavecraft.
    I loved the way no paddle take offs were the norm riding these boards.
    I then progressed to a Rocket Fish 6'4" built by Graham Bunt which I took to West Australia & had to leave there when I returned back to the UK
    Had another Rocket Fish made by Gavin Bassett in the early 80's & surf this board constantly in France, Spain, USA, Barbados, Portugal, Ireland & the UK.
    Have now passed this board on to my Nephew & it's great to see another generation ripping on these boards..
    Certainly the talk of the beach when they see those two huge fins instead of the small ones nowadays..
    "Fish Rule".....
    Bristle (Lez Arkell)

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  2. hi Bristle, I think youre right about Petroc Dan. In fact Alex Williams has a photo of him riding it ( well 90% sure anyway ). We've had a Wavecraft fish on the blog which sounds like yours - did it have green underside and ply fins ? Al

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  3. http://nuuhiwa1960.blogspot.com/

    http://davidnuuhiwa.blogspot.com/

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  4. I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

    Balsa Surfboard & Balsa Wood

    ReplyDelete