I ran this classic sequence of vintage Denvils recently. Solid 6ft freight train barrels! Which is kinda ironic given that today Denvil’s is the “learn-to-surf” beach! I caught up with Malcolm Turner - the surfer in those shots, to find out a bit more about how good Denvils got back then - as well as to hear some great tales from back in the day. Like him witnessing one of the first surfs ever at Supers, catching chickens at the Beach Hotel with fishing rods; and finding mysto spots along the coast. Let's start with that Denvil sequence though....
How come you used to surf there so much?
In 1970 I was employed at the Oceanarium in charge of the dolphins. With lots of free time & being right on the spot, I was able to surf all the best days. Used to get perfect Fence and unbelievable body surfing at Humewood (no one rode boards there in those days). Denville had very little sand in those days and was a sort of semi point break. The take-off was outside the furthest rocks to the right and the wave would peel off towards the MacArthur wall. The day these shots were taken was one of the biggest and was holding up well in a strong offshore. Luckily one of the surfers was on hand to record it! The guy swimming out is Trevor Dalton one of my colleagues at the Oceanarium.
You were one of the first PE surfing crew – what got you into it?
When I started surfing in about 1966? (Could have been 65), there were quite a few surfers around, mainly associated with the two lifesaving clubs Kings Beach and Summerstrand. Guys rode polyurethane boards and some of the older lifesavers used canvas and wood surf skis. The surfers were split into 3 tribes; the Fence, Millers and Pollock guys, with Jeffrey’s being the neutral meeting ground. I was introduced to surfing by Durnford Paxton, a Summerstrand member so I gravitated towards the Pollock crowd.
Durnfords Uncle Trevor Gelderblom was keen on surfing and used to take us to the beach when the wind was right. There were only about 4 surfers in our school at that time. I remember Andrew Austin bunking school when the surf was up and one day the vice principle went down to call him out of the water! The school teachers were not too keen on surfing as it was not a team sport. I soon got hooked on the sport and bought my first board from Trevor for R80.00, it was #22 Seal Point board, a magnificent 9ft 6in three stringer with a nose and tail block.
You guys were amongst the first Saffa’s to surf Supers – take us through that story.
The PE surfers were regular visitors to Jeffrey’s and most surfed at the Surfer's Point (what we know as Point today). When it got good the better guys would surf Tubes. We never saw anyone ride at Supers or the “Point” as we called it then. We simply knew that when the “Point” started breaking we could expect a set at Surfers Point soon afterwards. The first time we ever saw anyone on the wave was Easter Weekend 1969. Keith Paull, a travelling Australian surfer was visiting Jeffrey’s and he had the latest “short Board’, a 7ft 6in plastic machine. We had never seen one before, and when we saw him riding what we now know as Supers, we (all 5 of us) got out of the water and watched him riding from the sand dune. The swell was glassy and medium sized.
A few days later a violent cold front came through and all the fishing boats had to seek shelter in the bay. Keith went out again, but this time the swells were a solid 12 ft. We sat in awe as he caught rides right through from Supers to almost the Point. Suddenly the Glomar Sirte drill ship came close into the “point” and proceeded to drop anchor, she was so close that we could hear the chains as she lay anchor. Two Australians jumped off the ship and paddled into the break and joined Keith!
I remember that they had rugby jerseys on and were wearing tennis shoes for traction! When I saw that they were riding 9ft 6in boards I decided that if they could do it, so could I. The other guys didn’t want to go out, so I went out on my 9ft 6in Ron Board, and caught some amazing waves. The rides were so long that after each wave we got out at Surfers Point and walked back to Supers as it became known. In June I went to the Army and when I got out in June 1970, quite a few surfers were starting to surf there, though it remained fairly uncrowded for the next 3 or 4 years.
Super’s used to be on a guy’s farm, right?
The whole area from Kabeljaauws River to opposite Super tubes parking spot was a farm. The first gate was just past the Kabeljaauws houses and the other gate was opposite the Supers Car Park. Since the 1950,s the farmer had established a camping ground close to Surfers Point, and the area was popular with shell collectors. The whole part along the coast was thick indigenous bush, and when out in the water you could smell the bush and see the odd monkey or buck on the beach. The only human activity was the shell brick factory opposite “Impossibles” and the donkey cart which collected the shell grit off the beach. There were also the famous octopus catchers who plied their trade at low tide.
My first trip to Jeffrey’s was in 1966, and I remember going through the gate with Durnford and his father in a bakkie and having to push the vehicle out of thick mud on a couple of occasions. When we got to Surfers Point we erected a huge bell tent and had the most fantastic 3 week holiday. Over the years we often camped there. I remember lots of PE locals who used to camp, such as Larry Levin, Gavin Rudolph, Mush Hyde, Buddha Horn, Jamie Cowie-Shaw, Dave Smith, Donald Bell, Hartland Wilson and others I can’t remember. When the surf was down we got up to all sorts of mischief.
Apparently Gavin Rudolph was quite good at fishing for chickens back then?
Suffice to say that the guys camping at Surfers Point were partial to grilled chicken every now and then, and a natural source of that delicacy was the “hok” behind the Beach Hotel. Some well-known surfers were adept at venturing out of a night and snaring them off their perches by means of a snare at the end of a fishing rod, if it was done properly the unfortunate bird did not have time to “squawk” but sometimes all hell broke loose and the staff were not impressed, resulting in an exciting dash to the beach in the dark!!. In the sixties Jeffrey’s consisted of two towns - Ferreira Town and Jeffrey’s, with a dirt road between them. One could hire horses from the farmer and ride into town. It was like a Wild West movie with the mayor sitting on his stoep in the main street and greeting us as we rode past. One day we galloped through town and were told to slow down.
You’re pioneered a few other spots too. Tell us a bit about surfing Tofinho in Moz back in the 70’s.
When in the army (State Presidents Guard 1969-1970) I made friends with the famous racing ace Kenny Gray. His folks had a house at Tofo Beach in Mozambique. We planned a trip up there and for four years I visited Tofo every June. I started surfing at the little point north of present day Tofinho which was a superb wave. In 1972 myself and the late Rob Berman took a trip up to Tofo in February, and while surfing at the point we saw the most amazing surf breaking in the next bay, which in those days was called “Goat Rock”.
When I went out to surf it, locals from a nearby native village came down to watch us and judging from their incredulous reaction we were almost certainly the first guys to surf there. The wave breaks close to a shallow sandstone ledge and gets incredibly hollow. In those days there were no houses on the point and the only way was to walk from Tofo Point or travel along a thick sand track. On our return to PE Rob passed away from cerebral malaria, which he picked up in St. Lucia, where we had slept on the beach. Mozambique in February is not a good place to be, the heat was almost unbearable.
There’s a shot of your classic old VW Kombi with a really short looking board on top, what was the story there?
That Kombi was a real old dog, but it took me to Beira once. Local surfers were quick to follow international trends and when the short board revolution started we simply cut our boards down. We also started using leashes. The board on the roof had about 2 ft. shaved off; boards became ridiculously short and then went back to a more respectable size. It is interesting to note the leash made of plaited ski rope, if you look at many old boards from the 70,s you will see the scars where the rope cut into the tail of the board. Later on we used surgical cord which had a bit of stretch but on a big wipe out it normally snapped.
Love the shot of your beach buggy overlooking the wild side at Seals. Were you doing some surf exploration?
Surfing was only one of my interests, and when there was no surf I used to look for and explore wrecks. In those days there was no bridge over the river, and to get to Seal Point you had to take the Oyster Bay road from Humansdorp and turn off onto the long road on the north side of the Kromme River. This shot was taken on one of those flat days and the bay is the site of my favourite wreck HMS OSPREY about 3 km west of Seal Point light. You can see my rudimentary salvage gear crammed in the back of my Kart Kraft buggy.
So you were into wreck diving. Anything interesting wrecked off our stretch of coast?
There are lots of great wrecks along our coast; the most valuable were the tin wrecks such as the L, AGILE a little west of Klippen Point. I dived on many wrecks in the PE area and found many interesting artefacts, many of which I still have. There are over 300 wrecks between Cape St Francis and Blue water Bay. Diving along the Kouga coast was extremely difficult due to the endless surf that that stretch of coast gets pounded with.
And find any secret spots whilst you were exploring the coast for wrecks?
The very nature of wreck sites make them good surf spots, I saw lots of potential surf spots such as the beautiful left which breaks over the OSPREY. I saw an incredible left breaking on Bird Island, plus many others probably never ridden. I often put my boat in danger and nearly lost it on a number of occasions. The worst experience was on the wreck of the LYNGENFJORD at Huisklip (west of Oyster Bay), when a huge clean-up set nearly swamped my boat! My surfing experience definitely came in handy when anchoring over wreck sites!
Still get into the water these days at all?
I try and surf most weekends, my favourite spot is upper Seal Point and in PE I like to go to Rincon. I enjoy Loch Ness in the winter when the berg wind blows. Currently riding a 7ft 8in board by Dennis Ellis. I also love body surfing when the water is warm; usually I go to Sards or Pollock. I don’t get all that many waves these days, but every now and then I get a good one and it’s a great feeling. Surfing has become very aggressive and egotistical, which is a contradiction to the true ethos of surfing - I'm more of a soul surfer!
Just love to be out in the water!
Thanks to Hans van de Haar for his kind assistance in digitizing the slides. If you need any slides turned into digital images - contact Hans <here>
For more of Malcolm's shots, and other classic images, check the Vintage section <here>