Ballies are just loving all these old pics we've been finding, mainly thanks to Jonty Hansford for the bulk of them. So decided to catch up with Jonty and ask him a few questions about that golden time in our surf history back in the 70's - when Fence cooked, so did Millers, Avo's had sand, JBay was all about camping in the bush, and Seals was a full-on mission to get to. Those were the days...mythical Fence cylinders, classic beefy shortboards, and wetsuits that looked like they'd rash you to death.
Let’s start at the beginning – were you a born n bred PE local?
No, born and schooled in Camps Bay, Cape Town. It was only after the Army in 1971 that I came to PE.
What was the go-to spot back when you started surfing here?
I think Fence was possibly the most popular break then, with Millars and Pipe also up there.
And who were the local rippers at that time?
The local rippers back in the early 70’s were Peers Pittard, Mush Hide and Gavin Rudolf. John Davies also displayed some fancy footwork and board control.
Weapon of choice?
Coming out of the Army saw me dispense with my solid, trusty, 9 foot 6, Seal Point board, in favour of a 7 foot 6, Clive Barber, and I think it was a fairly standard length for the time – they were all still single fins though. The popular tail was a rounded pin, and the noses were fairly broad. After the Clive Barber, and for many years thereafter I rode Larry Levin’s boards. For those with a good bank balance, there was the classis Whitmore and Safari.
It looks like the wetsuits were, to put it lightly, rudimentary! Some even looked like dive suits!
Coming from a childhood where your Cape Town winter wave kit consisted of a well inflated lilo, a good pair of Cressi flippers and a tight woolen jersey as a wetsuit, it was just paradise to play in the warm PE waves. I took a hammering here though in the winter months, so my dad got me a sleeveless Bodyglove vest with a zip up the front. Suits were big, thick and heavy, and I hated the way they restricted your movement. The popular suits at the time were Banzai spring suits, and Reef who began marketing a bigger range.
What was the deal with leashes in those days…did you have them to start with…and then when they came in, where they pretty similar to what we’ve used to today?
Leashes were a blessing and eliminated the slashed feet and constant rock-dance of previous years. If I recall correctly, leashes began in the early 70’s. They were ultra-basic. Picture this: Firstly, drill a hole at the back of your fin where it meets your board. Then take a stiff nylon cord of about 2m and thread it through the hole and tie a knot. Then take the other end, and make a slipknot for your ankle. I don’t recall how many fins I had ripped from my board as I plunged over the falls at solid 8 foot Supers. Gradually we got wiser and I remember Larry making streamlined fiberglass lugs near the tail of the board. We had also reinforced the cord, which then ran inside surgical rubber tubing. They were equally as destructive though, as a bad wipeout would cause the cord to wrap around the board and cut through the rail, sometimes right up to the stringer. Happy days!
The absence of leashes to start with must have put certain spots we consider normal today outta bounds to you back then?
In a way, yes. Millars was still surfed a lot though, and the lack of a leash forced you to surf in a fairly conservative style, and dive like crazy to catch your board in a wipeout. Spots like Avalanche were a no – no, especially with a new board. But I remember surfing there with a hammered old, cord-less stick, and not being particularly phased when the rocks began splintering it to pieces.
Did you guys used to make the mission to Seals and Jbay? Musta been pretty different back then. Real undeveloped? Uncrowded too?
Getting to Seals was a major undertaking. I had seen it featured in the classic 1966 movie, Endless Summer. Soon thereafter, I came on holiday with my folks to PE by car from Cape Town and I managed to twist my old man’s arm to take a detour down to Seals. The gravel road was a nightmare, passing through many flowing drifts, and corrugations so bad, that before we lost our entire undercarriage we had to turn back. It was 10 years later that I first got to surf there. Jbay was easier to get to, but still very underdeveloped with pockets of surfers from all corners of the world, camping in the bush.
Saw a few shots of you in a camper van – was that the deal for outta town trips back in the day?
I fell in love with Seals the first time I surfed there, and decided there and then that I needed a Kombi. It was the ideal vehicle for taming the lengthy gravel road, and like a tortoise, your bed was in the back. Many surfers had them, and in those days the Feds were pretty ineffectual so we camped on the point and only sneaked into the caravan park for the odd shower. The van served me well on many out of town trips to Cape Town, East London and the Transkei.
How did the photography bug bite? Were you into it before starting to surf, or was it something that evolved from surfing?
I think for me, the surfing and photography bug grew simultaneously. I was lucky to get a lecturing job in the Photography Department at the old Technikon where we had the darkrooms and materials to help me expand my creative side. To surf or to take photos? - it was always a difficult decision to make when the waves were cooking.
Water photography was pretty unusual back then cos of the limitations of the equipment. Take us through your camera set-up and water-proof rig.
Back in the mid 70’s my brother got me a waterproof, Nikonos, film camera. It had no lightmeter but was easy to use and very strong; it had a fixed, 35mm focal length lens, which captured a fairly wide angle of view. It took me a while to get used to this, as a lot of my earlier shots had the surfer too far away, and consequently too small in the frame. I then got a perspex water housing for my Canon F1 camera. This was magic. I also had a few lenses, so I could change the focal length, depending on what break I was shooting. Unlike today, zoom lenses were pretty rare and good ones, very expensive, so I stuck with the fixed focal lengths. After a year of having the housing, I was offered a good price for it and being a bit short of cash for an overseas trip I sold it. Thereafter the travel bug had bitten well and I was constantly saving all my spare cash for overseas travel.
And no such thing as nipping off to the local Kodak shop to get your prints done…did you develop your own negatives?
Yes, I processed and printed all my own black and white films. I shot very little colour negative film though, as the printing of those negs was a real mission, so most of my colour work was shot on slide (transparency) film. The technically superior Kodachromes had to be sent to Doornfontein for processing, and then after about 2 weeks you received the mounted slides in the mail.
Collect any boards to the pip? Looked like you were pretty close to getting scalped in a few?
Yes, there were a few very close shaves but generally I warned the guys that I was bobbing around in the line-up, and they had better keep an eye out for me.
It looks like the photography bug bit properly – you ended up making a career outta it?
Yes, after a fairly low achievement at school I took an immediate liking to the art and design environment, and by 1975 the Technikon offered me a lecturing post. The academic year was pleasantly interrupted with lengthy holidays, which suited my desire to surf.
Any last words on the surf scene back in those golden years?
You know, possibly each surfing generation will view their era on the waves as the epitome of the art of surfing, and the ‘good old days’ will just repeat themselves. But even though I only arrived here at the age of 20, I sensed a tremendous camaraderie amongst the surfing community, and in no time, after surfing all the local breaks I got to recognize just about every surfer in town. There was a definite pecking order and the kids knew the consequences of a careless drop-in, so it very rarely happened. But they were keen to learn and loved to surf out of town. I remember heading off for a day at Seals with 10 up in my Kombi and at least half were kids. Now they are the senior generation and their kids are doing moves we hadn’t even dreamed about.
But that’s the fun of the game.
Thanks Jonty! And thanks for all those lekker pics! Wanna see more of Jonty's shots?
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