If you’re on the Island and looking to get into surfing, or if you’re about to launch a trip across the water, here’s some inspirational shots from the history books and a gear guide featuring Isle of Wight designed and built items to chuck in your boot so you can maximise fun on the UK’s Island-sized surf spot. Before we get started, take out your watch > hit settings > adjust > and then select “tube time”.
Pic: Paul Blackley / Wight Surf History
At 20ish miles across and set offshore in the channel, the Isle of Wight is a mix of chalk cliffs and clay slopes that has some fun UK surf if you’re patient enough and equipped when it turns on. Separated by a few miles of water, that gap seems to reduce the number of people around, particularly in the week, and keeps the all-round vibes a unique character.
If you’ve never been here before, the Island isn’t barren like Orkney. It’s not much different to the mainland on the surface actually. Infact you can see it from Lymington harbour, and people swim across the gap all the time. Still, that stretch of water does seem to make a difference – and we don’t just mean there’s no Nandos. In Autumn and everything goes eerily quiet: In Winter it can feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Emptier, quieter and slower than the mainland, just a few miles into the wilderness of the “West Wight” you’re into some proper backcountry with only grass, mud, cows and a the occasional loose cannon for company. It’s an amazing place if you’re into the outdoors.
And whilst the ferry will set you back close to a trillionbillionzillion pounds, for those that live and surf here there are advantages to being on an Island. For starters, it’s hard to get lost. At 24 miles ish across, just keep driving and within 40 minutes or so you’ll get to one end of it.
Pic: Paul Blackley / Wight Surf History
Like our 5 mile long railway with 6 stations, or the 800 meter long dual carriageway, everything is smaller on the Island. Which makes the West Wight seem a long way away. If you’re venturing out of the safety of the villages to the West coast for the first time, civilisation becomes sparse.
Make sure you bring survival bag with extra frazzles and a spare can of fanta. The lack of a Londis on the Military Road can really catch unprepared surfers out and has killed off many days that could have been double-dips.
But seriously, if you survive the journey, an almost-empty national-park sized area awaits, with beautiful rolling green hills running down into red and white cliffs that meet the sea – That of course, is where the party starts.
The whole West coast of the Island faces South-West, directly into the slot between Cornwall and Biscay on the trajectory for Atlantic groundswells and with a mix of clay, rock and chalk cliffs giving a mix of beaches, reefs and little wedgy things. Whilst most people stick to a few main breaks, there are opportunities to find a quiet spot if you look for it.
If you’re just learning to surf, the guys at iSurf run an incredibly popular mobile surf school with such an infectious enthusiasm that walking past you half feel like chucking in the posh gear, grabbing up a swelly and going to get pounded by whitewater all over again.
If you’re already up and riding and have your own gear, we’re always hearing good vibes about Eddie Cole Surf Coaching – a good option if you’re on the Island in pursuit of your first turns through to big airs.
For pros, it’s almost never as good as the pics, but the West coast can be incredible when it comes to life – there’s a mix of beaches and rocky peaks all the way down the military road starting a short walk from our place, where our brand is based at the Rapanui factory. The more consistent spot at Compton carpark is where most people go surfing. It’s a wide open sandy-bottomed beach break. All the way up this road there’s potential that regularly goes unridden for adventurers willing to have a look around each cove, walk a bit or or wait for the right tide.
Pics: Paul Blackley / Wight Surf History
If the swell is super huge or the Westerlies get in the way, the diamond shape of the Island is handy: Cruise round the South for rocky rights and bowls, or if that’s a bit much get round to Sandown bay, which has miles and miles of sandy beaches curved round to suit different wind directions.
Like all south coast surf spots, the Island does turn on, but perfect days are rare, and it can feel like chasing an enigma. That sort of makes it special.
Extrememly important things…
Obviously you need to be equipped, and we don’t just mean fins and leash – it might just be an Islander-on-tour thing but countless surf trips have been tainted by focusing too much on fin selection and different varieties of wax whilst forgetting that the most important quiver you’ll pack is undercracker shaped. We ship a 7-pack organic cotton boxers including business colours for business days and party pants for the weekend. If you’re single and on the Island looking for love, N.B. our more outrageous colour schemes have been designed with local tastes in mind (see photo) – you’re welcome.
Boards wise, the waves on the Island travel further and are weaker than you’ll get in the Westcountry, so bring something with more volume. We’ve been designing boards in collaboration with Luke Young in Plymouth that feature modern flat rockers and performance outlines, blown up with a little extra width and an extra quarter inch foam through the chest and front foot.
We’re a brand built on making more sustainable products using organic cotton in an renewable energy powered factory, so the project started as an attempt to make surfboards more sustainable.
Luke’s dedicated Isle of Wight shape collaborations are made using recycled polystyrene EPS blanks and bio-resin. Massively lower impact, but also they’re miles lighter, stronger and surf better than the oz quivers that come down in vans and promptly sink.
Looking to tool up for South coast missions? Like the idea of becoming a real life Tug Boat Captain? Get on the VHF to rear admiral Young and ask him about the Rapanui Tug Boat project and get your feet under something fast, floaty and Isle of Wight proven – It’ll help you keep up with the locals who specialise in sloppy brown beach bumps. Ahoy skipper, etc.
Change the way you change
Naturally you’re going to want to change in and out of your suit, and on an exposed Westerly facing carpark full of Islanders, the last thing you want to do is accidentally drop your towel mid change. We’ve been making our own surf towels out of super lush organic cotton terry loop towelling which is softer and more absorbent, and we’ve put in a handy kangaroo pocket to warm your hands or store your wax in. Plus, surf towels in the past were way too boring – we’ve mixed up some cool 2 tone schemes to keep you looking like the legend that you are when bent over double tripping over your half taken off booties. Hardcores out there sometimes scoff at change towels, then try them and accept that really it’s the future and comfy and nice and you’re never going back etc. Grab yourself one, pull up in Compton carpark, blend right in, change warmer and get more waves: No brainer.
Coastal Blue Steel
Whilst we’re here, our new collection of flannel shirts are designed right here on the Isle of Wight and made in beach-bum ready colours. Our middle weight organic cotton and quality tailoring gives a well fitting, built to last feel. And there’s just the right balance to keep out a light offshore breeze whilst being breathable for everyday wear at work (whatever that is?) – Plus, shipping is free on these badboys right now – or if you wanted to come and visit us (please we’re lonely) you can launch a store collect and grab yourself some new threads between sessions on the Island.