Surf pioneers gather for reunion

Back together for the reunion of North Devon's first surfers are Bill Gliddon, Barry Charlesworth, P

Back together for the reunion of North Devon's first surfers are Bill Gliddon, Barry Charlesworth, Paul Latham, Ozzie Gammon, Alan Kift, Peter Sandy, Bob Powers, Tony Cope, Steve and John Latham. - Credit: Archant

The forerunners of North Devon’s surf scene gather for a 50 year reunion.

THE trailblazers of the North Devon surfing scene were back together on Sunday, half a century after it all began.

Today, visitors to local beaches at any time of the year can hardly fail to spot a surfer or 50 and the sport brings millions of pounds into the local economy every year – but in 1963 it was virtually unknown.

Alan Kift, now 76, and Paul Latham, 83, can quite possibly lay claim to owning the first surfboards in North Devon.

“I was already a surf life saver and on a visit to Newquay a couple of guys who made boards were there surfing,” said Alan, who is from Ilfracombe and a founding member of Woolacombe Surf Lifesaving Club.


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“I went straight up to a shop afterwards and ordered one – and when that arrived it was the only board in North Devon, although Paul had one around the same time.

“We were the pioneers of today’s industry, which is said to be worth £10-15million a year these days.”

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Soon a small nucleus of like-minded friends could be seen at Woolacombe, Saunton or Croyde, surfing atop the ‘strange new’ Malibu style short boards and wearing ‘new fangled’ rubber suits which meant they could stay in the water for hours at a time.

Some of them are thought to have been the first to surf the infamous Severn Bore too. Other ‘firsts’ included surfing Lynmouth and Porlock – which could ‘only be attempted with a Force 8 blowing’.

Surfing at Saunton on Boxing Day and enduring freezing spray at Putsborough were among the times recalled when the friends gathered on Sunday at Barum Gate in Barnstaple.

It was a veritable repository of local surfing history, including one of North Devon’s first board makers Bob Powers, Paul and his sons Steve and John, Peter Sandy, Ozzie Gammon, Barry Charlesworth, Bill Gliddon and Tony Cope.

Peter used to cycle from Taunton in the days before the North Devon Link Road, just to surf the beaches, while his wife brought the boards down in the car – there wasn’t room for everything in the same vehicle.

Bill Gliddon recalls: “I saw theses three others surfing and having been swimming a lot, thought ‘that looks pretty good’.

“I was down at Woolacombe and lost my board and did quite well swimming back to the shore. When I got out Kiffy and friend were stood there saying ‘you can swim quite well, you’d better join the surf lifesaving club’.

“The Guinness Book of Records said we were actually the first club to enter the Severn Bore – we didn’t realise at the time, but we were the pioneers.”

Also on hand to record a few images and recollections was Barnstaple photographer Tim Barrow, who is working on a book covering the history of surfing from the pioneers right up to the present day.

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