1952 rockley beach cr cprt

The Genesis of Barbados Surfing

1964 flora flood peewee lois john mike craig john david gray

Flooding from Flora in 1964. PeeWee - Lois, John, David Peterkin, John-Mike, Craig? 

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!"

1961 mar kuvera 01 carlisle bay bridgetown
1962 craig on peewee

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 Malibu in Southern California -

Phil Wilson's Surfer Mag Article Sept. 1965

The Endless Summer Press Kit


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

First image I have of Bajan surfers in overhead surf
1965 val freight john alan high rock best

Image Above:-

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),

1966 craig ron john homemade yellow highrock

1966 craig ron john homemade yellow highrock

1969 joe blair my7 6 from 9 6 ron crab hill

1969 joe blair my7 6 from 9 6 ron crab hill

1965 dec batts rock epic day

1965 Dec Epic Day at Batt's Rock

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, 

craig soup bowl 1975 joe blair 7 6

craig soup bowl 1975 joe blair 7 6

Saint at Soup Bowl

Saint at Soup Bowl - circa. 1978

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Barbados Fishing Boat Taking Shape - Skeleton

Shipwrights of Shermans

by Jackie Faine & Craig Burleigh  
July 1977

Boatbuilding must have been necessitated from the time of the early inhabitants of Barbados. For St. Peter's Shipwright Selwyn Douglin, his career began in 1937, and for this generation of ship builders, boat building has been booming since then. Demand has been growing with time. "When things begin to roll fast, everything gets faster, even in the building of boats," Selwyn Douglin reports.

Mr. Selwyn Douglin brings a new Barbados Fishing Boat into shape July 1977 cd1-1-11

Mr. Selwyn Douglin brings a new Barbados Fishing Boat into shape July 1977 cd1-1-11

Many of them have had no formal schooling in a craft that is as old as civilization. Some of them have never, and may never experience a fishing trip at sea, and their labours may keep them away from knowing what it is to eat a fresh fish at sea: that is eating a fish as soon as it is caught; before it begins to deteriorate on the floor of the boat. Fish that when you start to clean it the heart is still beating.

But without them, hundreds, perhaps thousands, would be without a livelihood. Thousands of pounds of fish would still be in the ocean. Those who could afford more than $30,000 would have to resort to fibre glass crafts, or import their fishing vessels at a much higher price.

Prospective owners commission the shipwrights to build their boats at $25 a day, or less, depending on the financial status of the owners. Boat building is a craft few Barbadians now possess; a craft fewer are willing to learn. For the shipwright is an almost forgotten man, ignored until one hears the beating of his hammers, the grating of his saws, or watches him carving out of raw, crude timber, sea-worthy vessels to exploit the sea and bring ashore, sometimes large catches that feed an estimated 238,000 Barbadians.

Boats in Various Stages of Construction cd1-2-26

Barbados Fishing Boats in Various Stages of Construction cd1-2-26

Shipwrights are scattered around Barbados; at the south at Oistins and Silver Sands in Christ Church; to the east at Bath, St. John, and at other locations where villagers make a living out at sea. Shermans in St. Peter, is one of the oldest and still the main boat-building centre in Barbados.

Correspondents Craig Burleigh and Jackie Faine visited the area and talked to the boat builders there, and reported on the fulfillment shipwrights at Shermans enjoy.

Boatibuilding must have been necessitated from the time of the early inhabitants of Barbados. For St. Peter's Shipwright Selwyn Douglin, his career began in 1937, and for this generation of ship builders, boat building has been booming since then. Demand has been growing with time. "When things begin to roll fast, everything gets faster, even in the building of boats," Selwyn Douglin reports. 

The Curves of a boat hull 1977 cd1-2-19

The Curves of a boat hull 1977 cd1-2-19

The life of a shipwright is a particularly interesting one; from the selection of the wood they use, to the launching ceremony that is spiced with a gallon of locally—blended rum.

Their choice of timber comes from pine or green heart (Guyana); mahogny (Barbados), or sometimes white wood from St. Vincent or Dominica, which the shipwrights say, is well rated. "The sea water almost seems to preserve it," they say. The idea is to use a hard wood. Pine, usually imported from Belize, is used mainly for constructing the keel and planking. Green heart is used at the base of the keel, as this timber is extremely durable and can take the wear when hauling in or launching the boats.
Mahogany, which is felled locally from plantations, gullies or woods, is used for the stem, dead woods, horn timber, stern post, frames and transom. It absorbs less water than most woods.

Mr. Douglin and tool box he shares with another shipwright

Mr. Douglin and tool box he shares with another shipwright cd1-4-07

Mr. Babb cuts a rib by hand - these have multiple angles to maintain

Mr. Babb cuts a rib by hand - these have multiple angles to maintain cd1-1-07

Shipwrights of Shermans - Mr. Babb July 1977 cd1-2-14

Shipwrights of Shermans - Mr. Babb July 1977 cd1-2-14

After the keel is placed on a level, the stem, dead woods, horn timber, stern post and transom are constructed in that order. The centre frame is made up and placed. The shape and curve of this frame is used to determine the shape of the following frames. Battens, thin strips of wood, are placed temporarily, running from the stem via the centre frame to the transom, nine or ten battens to each side. These form the basic shape of the hull.

It takes about 20 frames, one foot apart, for the construction of an average fishing craft, and a metal rod, which is used as a flexible template, determines the shape of each frame.
While wood–working tools are a must for shipwrights, their eyes are the most important asset of their profession. The curve of each boat is checked by sight.

Mr. Douglin shapes a rib

Mr. Douglin shapes a rib cd1-4-10

They conform with Government regulations, a floor, which must be kept painted, is built in the boat, so that catches cannot be contaminated with diesel used to operate engines.

Shipwrights not only construct boats, but theirs is a responsibility too, to maintain them, and every year, during the month of August, at the end of the traditional fishing season, the boats are hauled from the sea, checked for defects and repairs made.

The floors are painted; the interior cleaned and repainted, and the boat bottoms, which collect crustacea, mosses and other microscopic marine creatures cleaned. If there is a leak, cotton wick, soaked in ordinary paint is forced between the gaps to make the bottoms water tight again, and then dry putty applied and later painted over with a special anti~fungus marine paint.

Shipwright Mr. Douglin shapes a rib

Shipwright Mr. Douglin shapes a rib cd1-4-05

Since the late fifties, there has been a marked transition from sail to engine. While half the cost of building a boat (between $26,000 and $30,300 Bds), is spent on the engine, it is found that engines are safer than sails, and no one today dares substitute the idea of an engine with sail.

Sails threw away too many lives, and on very windy days it was not unusual to lose one or two boats. Engines are reliable and are often checked. Some owners have their own mechanics, and Government engineers also check to ascertain the sea-worthiness.

Boys who help haul out the boats get to have a ride! cd1-3-28

Mr. Babb gets the curve for next rib cd1-2-10

Mr. Babb gets the curve for the next rib cd1-2-10

Mr. Douglin - Another Day at the Office! Aug-1977-cd1-4-14

Today, there are less than 40 shipwrights in Barbados. Few of these are young adults. There seems no interest among the young in learning the shipbuilding skills. A few have tried, but they all get weary and disheartened and give up in resistance to the great physical exertion needed, as well as patience.

So as Mr. Douglin puts it: "All young people want to do is push a button." Boat—building requires patience. It is all manual labour, but the perseverance of the shipwright is striking. His is a skill and artistry that should not be allowed to die.

Government tractor perpares to haul out another boat cd1-3-29

Government tractor perpares to haul out another boat cd1-3-29

A Barbados Fishing Boat awaits an engine and some finishing touches. July 1977 cd1-1-20

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Sun Hand, Cattlewash, St. Joseph. bsn1-16-781223
Land & Sea

Sun Hand, Cattlewash, St. Joseph

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The Sea in our Veins!

The Sea in our Veins!

Rockley Beach - My Childhood Playground

Today is the 12th Dec, 2019 – the last full moon of the decade and my 68th birthday! I don't know how time has flown so fast as I still feel like I'm about 19 or 20.

It gives me a chance to reflect on where I came from and where I'm going and I've decided it's time to start recording some of my history - I have a bunch of images sitting in photo albums and my photography files and like the tree that falls in the forest – if no one sees it or hears the stories did it really happen?

Rockley Beach, Christ Church parish - the place I lived from 1955 to 1965 - watched the roof of Torrington Guest House (in the far right distance in the top image) fly off into the sea during Hurricane Janet in Sept 1955!

Walked down this beach with Chris and Geoffrey Kieffer to go to school at Mrs. Smith's Primary School.

Going down to the swimming hole at the Hotel Royal and stopping in at Aunt Dos Brown's - getting juk with a nasty cobbler, Lois breaking her pinkie after slipping on the mossy steps at the Royal - ouch!

Skin diving for shells and sea fans, cruising along the coast in Peewee with John at the helm with the Seagull outboard and David and John-Mike Peterkin in their flat bottom dingy.

1961 Apr John, Craig and Lois Sandy Ways, Rockley x1566

Belly boarding on plywood and learning to stand-up surf on the red board that John built during easter holidays 1965

Memories of tree houses in the almond trees and almond battles with the Kieffers and Donald and Carlos Duncan; the beach boys hanging out - Erskine the ace fisherman and waterman of the area, going fishing sea eggs with David Peterkin and collecting huge bags for later cleaning.

Watching a huge sea turtle laying her eggs one night and the baby sea turtles hatching and running for the sea; moon light beach walks with my Mum on many a night.

Guy Fawlkes Night - Nov 5th - bon fires on the beach and burnt toes from sinking into soft roasting sand too close to the fire – running to be first to get the sticks falling from the rockets; man-o-war stings from small and large.

It sure was a fantastic place to grow up!

For More on Growing up in the Sea
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