One of the great pleasures of ‘writing’ is afternoons spent idly surfing the internet… I mean research… research! I’ve blogged before about how going off on a tangent often leads to little gems which I cannot resist incorporating into my writing, if only as a passing reference. A few years ago I came across the Skewjack Surf Village. I can’t remember exactly how, but it may very well have been via an interview with founding member Chris Tyler on Alex Wade’s Surf Nation blog from 2008 (which you can read here); either way it stuck in my imagination.
Skewjack was created in the early seventies, the concept of a collection of individuals, including Chris Tyler and Chris South. Although somewhat inevitably coming to an end in the mid-eighties, it remains Britain’s only ever surf ‘village’. Based in the far south west of Cornwall, near Porthcurno, it was a community of chalets, bistro, swimming pool and bar; and offered surf lessons at nearby Sennen beach; ferrying holidaymakers there and back in a converted ambulance named ‘Amy’. Coupled with what can only be described as wild partying in the on-site disco in the evenings, Skewjack was a one-off.
Go to ex-Skewjack surf instructor and lifeguard Graham Shephard’s website here for a browse around. It is here, particularly in respect of the fond memories posted, that will give the best impression of the antics that went on. And you can also view the rest of the original and now wonderfully retro brochure. Ironically it may have been exposure on the Holiday ’76 television programme that provided the tipping point that spiraled into Skewjack’s eventual demise. The village may have been unable to meet the demands of increasing attention, but at least it never became an institutionalised holiday camp. When it was all over, the Skewjack premises were demolished, and the site reverted to the more prosaic purpose of a telecommunications ‘switching station’ for the transatlantic cables that come in at Porthcurno. Former adherents could only make pilgrimage to stand in dismay outside the newly installed fencing and gates, and wonder where it all went. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…
I incorporate the legend of Skewjack, a small tribute, if you will, into my current novel/work in progress, but that said, I cannot help feeling that its story would make a fun novel in itself (perhaps I’ll write it one day?), or even better, an amusing film on the fledgling and very idiosyncratic British surfing scene. But what really strikes me is that Skewjack serves as a reminder of how straitjacketed and puritanical our society has become: partying aside, the village was a rare cultural hub for enthusiasts at a time when surfing was still relatively counter-culture. Sadly, I suspect that fusty attitudes and increasing curbs on freedom made by those shackles Health and Safety mean that (whilst there will still be surf schools) we will never see the like of Skewjack again. It surely deserves its place in British surfing history.
Indeed memorabilia from Skewjack has been donated to the Museum of British Surfing which opens its doors tomorrow, 6th April 2012, in Braunton, North Devon, with its inaugural exhibition ‘The Art of Surf. http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/