The Genesis of Barbados Surfing
Born American I grew up Bajan, with sand between my toes!
From 3 yrs old I was in and around the sea of Rockley Beach – freedom like nothing else possible. It was our safe pathway to go from the Hotel Royal at Hastings Rocks up to Crystal Waters or St Lawrence Gap.
Enough said – we grew up in the sea and around boats and were either swimming, body surfing or body boarding when waves were breaking at Rockley Beach.
The grown ups all spent time body surfing or body-boarding so 'shooting waves' was something that was always done!
My parents had joined the Yacht Club and my Dad wanted to sail in the 'Sprat' class so he had the shipwrights east of Oistins build the sailing dingy he called PeeWee. My brother and sister, John and Lois, got to crew with him a few times, but I was ill at the time.
"Don't eat chicken-sh*t mixed with dead sand from under a chicken coup on a dare from your 2nd cousin!"
By about Easter 1964 Peewee had been a bit neglected and had got some rot – John (age about 15) got out his practical engineer self and grafted in a new transom and other bits.
While he worked in the gallery we had the top 100 on the radio on Saturdays - these were the days when the Beatles had from #5 all the way to #1 in the top 10 and many others further down the charts and on their way up – very exciting days – finally music that grabbed you.
Once repaired John set her up with the Seagull outboard engine my Dad had and we were ocean mobile – yeah! We would cruise from Rockley up to Enterprize and we did a trip down to Blue Point near Gibbs on the West coast.
We had seen PanAm travel movies of Hawaii that led us to believe that the waves in Barbados were too small to stand up surf.
This view changed after John saw two guys surf at Rockley. He spent his Easter holidays building 'the red board' and Val and Alan Knowles and William Tomlin and others came by to check it out.
Surfing progressed very quickly with probably upwards of 40 people starting surfing by the end of summer '65. In Sept '65 Surfer Magazine published the article writen by Phil Wilson that covered the surfploration trip of Butch Linden and Johnny Fain from Southern California
We have recently been able to email Butch Linden and Phil Wilson and they confirm that they visited Barbados in Feb 1965 and continued on to Trinidad Carnival - we plan to add more details to this story going forward.
We had felt that the time line was too compressed, but if that's the visit then John would have had to build the 'red board' in Easter vacation of 1965 (we had felt '64) and have built the yellow board before the end of that same year? Seems too compressed.
Can it be that we went from having no boards at the end of Feb 1965 to having approx. 40 active surfers design and build boards and some actually surfing over-head waves at Batt's Rock as in this image below in less than ten months? - Dec 1965.
Image below :- The first image of Bajan surfers that I have in my possesion (I believe taken by Lois Burleigh) - Batt's Rock in December 1965 on the first over-head swell to be surfed there. dec 1965
1965 L to R:- Val Knowles (homemade), David 'Freight' Allan (first fibreglass import), John Burleigh and Alan Knowles (homemades), Highrock, Bathsheba 1965
The First Wave – Wooden Boards and Early Fibreglass 1965 - 1966
John Burleigh, Craig Burleigh, Val Knowles, Alan Knowles, William Tomlin, Chris Kieffer, Geoffrey Kieffer, Donald Duncan, Carlos Duncan, David 'Freight' Allen, Stephen 'Briar Dog' Thomas, Richard Thomas, Peter 'Bugs' Atwell, Stephen Godson, Andy Johnson, Wayne Nicholls, Trevor Nicholls, David Corbin, Peter Corbin, Peter 'Mice' Medford, Steve Lamming, Robin 'Scald Cat' Worme, Johnny Goodman, Mike McCleary, Andrew Watkins, Jim, Bill and Ken Edwards, Don Cole, Kent Cole, Charlie Laverick, Stud Cuke, David Foster, Freddie Gale, Suzanne Gale, Prof Edwards, 'Spew' Manning,
Who am I leaving out!
These were the early days of surfing and we had great days going on surfaris all over the island exploring for new breaks. I was lucky that John was old enough to drive and we had got a green Ford Anglia from Leroy Alleyne in 1965 before we moved to Lammings in St. Joseph.
At first it was Rockley and south coast spots, South Point, Freights, Dover, Ros Trevor, Brandons, West Coast – Paradise, Batt's Rock, Church Point, Sandy Lane, Miramar, Gibbs / Mullins, MayCocks, and into the heavier waves at High Rock or Parlour at Bathsheba and then Soup Bowl and eventually Duppy Umbrella.
The Second Wave – 1966 – 1968:–
Craig sold John Burleigh's original 'Red Board' to Roger Edghill for $40 towards end of '65, Robin 'Buff' Edghill, Doc Burke, Kent Goddard, Barry Barnes, Patrick 'Patch' Watson, Philip Edwards, Jimmy Duncan, John Mike Peterkin, Michael 'Spock' O'Dowd, Adrian and Barry Gale, Maxie Taylor, Maxie Storey, Tony Bowen, Dick Lynch, Suzy Lynch, Old man Lynch, Mark Ward, John Mahon (Gibbs), Chas Jorden, The Brotheren Boys - Brian Corbin, Pile, Emptage; Ian Emtage, Warren McKinney, Art Taylor,
Post 1968 World Championships in Puerto Rico:–
Gary Moreno (Oregon); Annette Hughes (Newquay, Cornwall); Eddy Luersen (Long Island); 1969 Crab Hill visitors - Joe Blair (Hawaii),
The Third Wave – The Bathsheba Crew - 1969 – 72:–
I went to England in Aug 1970 and by the time I returned on holiday in Dec 1971 all the Bathsheba crew were surfing – it was great to get another group of friends and get to know all those people over the 70s
– Edmund 'Rat Race' Oliver, 'Snake' Headley, Punk, Saint, Sea Cat, Fireman, Desmond, Robin Holdipp, Joe Gamble,
I migrated to Barbados after meeting Joe Blair and friends in Puerto Rico during the 1967 world contest. We lived up in Crab Hill and navigated to an unspoiled Duppies through tall cane and kaki clad plantation managers in landrovers. Fortunately I arrived on the island with my trombone and found work in hotels with bands such as the Andrew Hunt group and the VSOP trad band. It was a great time but after 2 years it was time to head back to NYC and my career as a studio and Jazz musician. These days living in hamburg I miss Barbados but unfortunately 11 hour flights are not an attractive inducement. Regards to everyone.
Hey Jerry – great to hear from you. I talked with Joe by phone a few years ago – will have to shout and see how he is. So playing in VSOP you would know Art Taylor – remember when he and Warren arrived in Barbados.
How are things in Hamburg – my mother-in-law is from there and sister-in-law lives in Hanover.
I first went to Bim in ’71 and met some of the early surfers. after 40 visits over the next 50 years I can call several of these fellas friends. Val and Alan Knowles, Briar Dog, Stud, the Edgehills. I remember meeting Snake in Bathsheba. what a delight to stumble onto this sight and see their names and some old pics from our younger days. sadly some have passed on now, but I salute you.
Hey Dack, Great to hear from you – not sure I met you, but probably. I was overseas from Aug 1970 to June ’74 but was around Soup Bowl and Bathsheba from ’74 to ’81. Talked with Snake by phone a few weeks ago. Val is still around – talked with him by phone recently as well. Look forward to hearing some of your stories of your Barbados trips.
So I had commented over on Facebook to Buff Edghill about the main photo at top – this was shot by my Dad when we visited in 1952 –
So you can see the lineup from off the cliff near Lydd House all the way into the bay – nice long left.
In this photo there is a row boat lined up center on the big house. When I was 5 or 6 I used to fish off a limestone breakwater right about where that boat is. The house Serrento was built (approx. 1962) into the cliff by the white wall to the left of the big house.
That breakwater and the small dredged anchorage used to have about 3 or 4 row boats moored there – I wonder if that messed up the break from the point into Accra.
We would swim out to the boats and rock them back and forth and dive off – they always smelt (smelled?) of pee!
Same thing with the huge tamarind tree at the left – a very strong earthy smell around those roots signaling – “if you really need to go we welcome you here!”
Great memories. Thanks for putting this together. A couple of names to add to the original group. Barry and Adrian Gale.
Hi Chris, great to hear from you. Got them in. Do you remember the really big day at Highrock probably in Nov 1966 – huge and clean – I expect you must remember that day! Check my list and see if you can remember who else was there – I think someone filmed some of the day, but not found yet. Someone mentioned that Cloud may have shot stills.
Would love to get the story of your first board – do you remember building it? Also any special days of surfing that were so good you can’t forget them. I know you and Geoffrey were at Miramar when Gary went over the falls onto the groin/pier – do you remember – was that Feb – Mar 1969 or Nov-Dec ’69
what a great read, the big question is how do the waves of today compare to the waves of yesteryear particularly on the south coast?
Glad you enjoyed the post – would be nice to be able to compare – in all my years surfing in Barbados I remember Brandons being about 8 ft as the maximum I ever saw it. Inside the bay at Freights probably a bit less than 8ft ever.
I think Soup Bowl and Highrock as well as the West coast breaks don’t change too much – the biggest and best that I ever saw Highrock was that swell that we believe was from Lois in mid-Nov 1966 – 20 ft faces and perfect conditions.
Best Soup Bowl I’ve had was 8-10 ft – but my favorites were always dawn at Soup Bowl at a smooth 6+ ft with a few people out enjoying the atmosphere of that ‘heaven’.
I remember those days watching the guys out Brandons as I lived right there.
Then I started surfing myself with Brandons as my home break. The guys would leave their boards under my parents house so we could do the dawn patrol.
Was an honour to have surfed with lots of those pioneers you mentioned including yourself.
Hey Noddy – I remember you (am I right your Dad is Col Banfield? check historic section). So how are things – we sure had some good times. I haven’t been surfing but am thinking I need to get off my butt and get back in. Must run will check back later
Hi Noddy, long time man. how ya doin’ ? all the best, say hi to Dons. Dack.
This was such a good read. Thanks.. generation before me
Great to meet you Zed – you’ve been keeping busy with your surfing and teaching! Awesome. What a great life you’ve built – congrats on finding the in-between – living your life right in the surf but having done the work to setup your Surfing Adventures which has the benefits of a constant supply of new friends and of business support! Will be sure to visit next time we’re down (which better be soon as all of this Barbados website work is getting me very hungry for a dawn surf at Soup Bowl and to meet up with all the people that I’m getting to know or re-know through the site). Keep on walking o water!
Thanks. Look forward to meeting you. I am terrible with names I guess due to the amount of people we have seen the last 10 years. But always great to meet new people
In the picture 1969 joe Blair.
Who are the 2 people.
Hey Zed – Joe Blair on the left – check him out at https://www.jblairsurf.com/
and can’t remember the name of the other guy – they were travelling buddies as far as I know – Joe was the frist guy I saw surf Duppy at 20+ feet by himself – was a big swell in ’69
Was his last name Walsh
Maybe Mike Walsh.
I was never more than a body surfer. When John left Barbados, after being drafted, he left his board with me. I had an orange VW and would stick it through the sunroof as I didn’t have a roof rack. I took it to Rocky to try my luck, fell off and the board hit my head.. Thus ended my surfing days. If I recall he collected it again when on leave..
Nothing wrong with being a body surfer! Love a good session at the Crane. Unlucky with the head hit. I remember my Dad trying to surf on the original ‘red board’ that John had made – we seem to have established he made it in Easter holidays of 1965 – and wiping out and pulling his back – he didn’t try it again – a pity really ’cause he wasn’t even 50 yet and he water skied etc – should have just tried it for two more days!
Hey Jim – I think I have a photo of you while you were up Ra II’s mast – can’t remember if B&W or colour – will be making another push in the not too distant future to get an inventory and proper organization of my photo catalog and I need to scan a few images that I need to improve to print large on canvas. Will scan your’s when I find it.
I first visited Barbados in 1968 and surfed off Rostrever (St.Lawrence Gap) with Robin (Buff) Edgehill, then moved to Barbados in 1969 to work at the Island Press for two years.
Hey Cloud – so good to hear you – been seeing your posts and beautiful pics! I must have met you pretty much right as you got there – hanging out at Miss Pilgrim at Accra. When did you have the black MGB-GT with the spoked rims – what a beauty! I remember your place at St. Lawrence Gap.
Hey Cloud – how’s it going – still trying to find out if there are any images or video of that big day at Highrock – we think if was in mid Nov 1966 and someone thought that you were doing photos – any recollections?
Actually Cloud didn’t arrive in Bdos until 1968 so no pics from 1966!
Thanks so much for sharing. Thoroughly enjoyed the memories. Btw thought of a couple other names Jimmy Duncan and Steve Lamming.
Hey Kent – how are you doing – actually I don’t think I have you in there and I think by 1966 you were surfing?? Did you surf Rockley mainly or also Brandons when you were starting. I seem to remember both ends of Rockley and then Cacrabank Sp? and Dover and once transport was available or else boards were left at friends near the break – like at Kieffers when they lived at Enterprize / Freights – I could either ride my bicycle (the earlier days) and then hitching along Hwy 7 usually with Chris and Geoffrey Kieffer – which was much faster!
Are you all still at that beautiful property Hanson that you poured your blood, sweat and tears into – I remember you showing me all the hard work you were doing to rebuild it!
That’s my Dad – Alan Knowles 🙂 thanks for sharing these pics!
Thanks for your comment – glad that you can finally see this photo – I also have a few from William Tomlin that I wish to put up if he is OK with that. Were you in Salisbury? If so I’ve met you!
Your Dad was the most stylish surfer I’ve known – he had a way of moving, even just walking, that was cool – and when he got on a board he was smooth arcing turns and very precise movements – like a cat is how I would describe it. And his wave judgement was very good – on the biggest day I’ve seen at Highrock that we think was mid-Nov 1966, he was one of the few that was handling it like a pro along with Freight Allan and Stephen Thomas.
Hoping to get some of the other surf people to join the conversation here – William sent me quite alot of info. I wonder if Lorna knows / remembers / if she was there on the big day at Highrock in ’66.
Oh! And he had the best knee knobs from knee paddling!
And in the blurry photo from Batt’s Rock in Dec 1965 I was out there but didn’t catch any waves, I remember my brother John telling me he had seen Alan standing full height in a huge tube – just perfect! Wish we had some movies – I have something of John and me at Highrock, but the surf was borderline.
Is that Sasha that went to Kolij?
Enjoyed reading this, it brought back great memories of surfing from dawn to dusk when there was a swell and no school. I loved Freight, Brandon and Sandy Lane.
Hey Steve – hope you all are doing great. I remember loving the summers because you got that extra bit of time before dark – usually dark in winter by 5:30pm and in summer by 6:45pm. It really is the daily change and constant ebb and flow with weather, tide, great times with friends and so much more – I don’t think there is anywhere in the world I’ve felt more alive than standing in ankle deep water at Soup Bowl in the dark before going out for a dawn surf.
Hi Craig, we’re all well, hope you, Jackie and Kevin are all keeping well too. Not long been back from a trip home with all the family, first time in three years due to covid. It was great to get back and catch up with all the family there. Haven’t surfed for about 15 years.
Hi Steve – Neil was mentioning that you were down – very happy you could do that. I am the same – haven’t been in the water since my last time in Barbados in Jan 2010 and I really don’t have a good excuse apart from the cold water up here. Waves are not more than half hour drive away. Mavericks will soon start working again for the winter – will go and have a look this year. In 2008 I went out on a boat for the contest – very nice – have to set back up the photos as they were displayed with Flash which is history.
Regarding the blurry image of the two surfers – this was Batt’s Rock in Dec 1965 – the first image I have in my possesion of Bajan surfers – and the first time Batt’s Rock was surfed over-head. Lots of people were there. I remember that some of the hot surfers that day were Alan Knowles, Freight Allan, I think Bugs Atwell – anyone remember the day.
Prof Edwards dislocated his shoulder in a wipeout (he had a problem with that from fast bowling for Barbados and the W. Indies in cricket).
Really enjoyed reading this. So many names I knew and so many no longer with us. Memories are made of this.
We played at a few Surf Parties at Freight’s home in Atlantic Shores also.
I can still remember Tony doing the drum solo for Wipeout! That was a good party and you all had a good elevated stage. That was a beautiful house that Freight had. I found my old Barbados phone book the other day and looked up Freight and gave him a call – still going strong and very together for 82 or whatever he is now. I remember going surfing with Tony one afternoon – I picked him up at Maxwell and we went to Freight’s – must have been early ’69 as I still had my 9′ 6″ Ron but I could drive!
I think Kevin has some new music videos going live soon – will send a link when I get them.
You know you all in the Caravelles were the rock stars of our lives! Andrew Watkins and I came to a band practice at your Navy Gardens house when you were working on ‘Lucy in the Sky’ – what a thrill for us! And the Miramar Beach Bar fete with ‘Sounds of Silence’ playing as we walked in – memories being laid down!
Right at that beach bar is the best left surf break on the west coast (in my opinion!). A big day that feels like it was early Nov ’69 – will have to check the historic storm charts – I left Lammings at 4am and drove to St. Lawrence Gap to pickup Buff Edghill – at Payne’s Bay the waves were splashing into the road. We surfed Sandy Lane really big but difficult to get on – Miramar was much better – maybe tide had changed a bit by then. Gary Moreno went over the falls onto the submerged concrete groin/pier and busted his knee properly. I remember Chris and Geoffrey Kieffer were there.
Actually I think it was Feb – Mar 1969 not Nov.