Jersey has been a surf destination for eighty years and for a few years was one of the most important surf spots in Europe. At one stage, as difficult as it is to believe now, Jersey was considered to be the surf capital of Europe. In the 1960’s thousands of people packed St Ouen’s bay to watch the British Surfing Team (which was over 50% local) riding boards made locally by one of Europe’s only board manufacturers, Freedom Surfboards. The first Jersey Surf Club was created in 1923 by Nigel Oxenden and a group of freinds, this was probably Europe’s First Surf Club and surfing is still taught in the same place today.
The first Jersey surfers were actually bodyboarders and did not stand up on their boards but lay down on them. The first surfboards and bodyboards were made from teak and lighter woods like pine and ash during the 1930s by Mr Oxenden. These boards had hand painted heraldic designs on them and non elastic rope leashes. Archie Mayne made an 8 foot board in the 20’s and surfed standing up occasionally although paddling an 8 foot wooden board must have been very difficult. A 10 foot Pacific Homes Wikiki surf board came to Jersey in the late 40’s or early 50’s a Dr who lived in Californina brought her he was seen surfing in front of the Watersplash in St Ouens. During the war the Germans mined the beaches and surfing stopped until in the 1950’s when a group of South African lifeguards arrived. Surfing as we know it started as it was at this time Long boards were first used in Jersey. In 1959 the Jersey Surfboard Club was formed with Dr Peter Lea elected as the first club president.
The first surfing championships in Jersey took place at the Watersplash in 1963. In the 1960s and 70s Jersey was a surfing mecca, hosting European surfing championships. 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. During the 1970s Jersey was one of the most important places for shaping surfboards. Steve Harewood started Freedom Surfboards when there were only a couple of other places making surfboards in Europe, Bilbo and Tiki in the UK and Balin Rot in France. It must be noted that in the early sixties Silva Yates also made boards in Jersey as well as Tommy and Richard Bates. Although Freedom no longer make surfboards the shop is still there selling the modern surf brands and boards.
During the 1990’s Jersey as an Island struggled to keep up with the emerging European surfing nations.
Surfing has kept its base around the Watersplash in St Ouen’s Bay where surfing originally started and since the formation of a Channel Island Surfing Federation competition among the younger surfers in the Islands has increased and we are starting to see a new group of young Jersey men and women go and compete and win in surf competition in Europe.
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