A history of surfing in Jersey - 1

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Nigel Oxenden in 1923

This article first appeared in the Jersey Evening Post as part of the Pride in Jersey series, marking the Island’s 1204-2004 celebrations.

In the 1970s three quarters of the British surfing team were islanders and Jersey was one of the few places in Europe to make boards.

At that time thousands of people used to pack St Ouen’s bay for the continent’s annual championships.

Things have changed since then and Jersey is no longer central to surf culture, but it still holds its own as a place to come and catch the waves.

Surf School

The Island Surf School of Jersey was set up in 1923 by Nigel Oxenden, who learnt to surf in South Africa, Australia and Hawaii. It was arguably Europe’s oldest surf club and although it no longer exists, surfing has kept its base around the Watersplash in St Ouen’s Bay where the club was originally started.

The early Jersey surfers were bodyboarders and some of the very first balsawood boards made in Jersey in the 1930s were created by Mr Oxenden. The boards had painted heraldic designs on them and were complete with rope leashes.

The Occupation put paid to any surfing because the Germans mined the beaches. It was not until the arrival of a group of South African lifeguards in the 1950s that the sport was revived. It was also around that time that long boards were introduced to the Island.

Jersey-born surfer Andalusia Richardson was one of the original bodyboarders who took part in the sport as a teenager in the 1930s.

It was in 1957 that she went surfing in St Ouen’s bay and spotted two Australians with long, thin Hawaiian surfboards that had metal tips at either end. South African lifeguards who were brought over to patrol the area of beach in front of the Watersplash also brought over huge heavy surfboards and became the Islands first stand-up surfers.

In 1959 the Jersey Surfboard Club was formed with Dr Peter Lea as the first president. The modern boarders began to use the surf at St Ouen and were soon encroaching on the waves of the body boarders.

Bodyboarders v longboarders

The Jersey Body Boarding Association was set up in 1961 in a fight to keep the area in front of the Watersplash reserved for the bodyboarders, who had used it area since the 1920s. The association was not dissolved until 1973, when Mrs Richardson gave up her fight for the area in the face of increased competition from longboarders.

The first surfing championships took place at the Watersplash in 1963, the same year that the polystyrene bodyboard was introduced to the Island. It was around this time that the the bodyboarders moved down the bay towards El Tico and surfing in the Island was at its peak.

In the 1960s and 70s Jersey was a surfing mecca, hosting European surfing championships when there was less competition from other places. In 1968 five out of six of the British surf team who travelled to Puerto Rico for the world championships were Jerseymen and over the next two years the club staged the first two European Championships, both being won by Jersey’s Gordon Burgis.

In the 1970s Jersey was also one of the most important places for building surfboards. Steve Harewood started Freedom Surfboards when there were only a couple of other places making surfboards in Europe. In the Eighties it became big business. The JSC continued to thrive into the 1980s, with Dave Grimshaw as president. During this time it continued to produce both British and European champions and in 1986 Mr Grimshaw became the first ever vice-honorary president of the European Surfing Federation. The mid 1990s was the most difficult period in Jersey surfing history as the Island struggled to keep up with the emerging European surfing nations.

However, the recent formation of a Channel Island Surfing Federation, incorporating members from Guernsey, has increased competition among the younger surfers in the Islands and encouraged the continuation of the sport.

In 2000 the JSC played host to its largest event ever, the Junior European Surfing Championships, which attracted teams from nine European nations.

Jersey continues to maintain its strong European links too, with Islander Doug Creedon recently being elected back to the position of president of the European Surfing Federation.

Surfing in Jersey has gone through its ups and downs over the years as the sport has developed and evolved. But one essential difference stands out from among all those changes for Island surfing pioneer Mrs Richardson.

‘They all wear wet-suits now,’ she says. ‘Wimps.’

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