Bilbo Dreams

Bilbo Dreams – by Tom Major

Although it doesn’t tend to turn girls’ heads in the street or accelerate up hills on the link road, my little 1.2 Punto has served me pretty well for a first car. Like a road trip with 4 of the lads and their gear in the back. However, it felt like I was towing a bus on the short stretch from Si’s house to the beach with himself in the car and his Bilbo on top.

I wasn’t sure the thing would even float as we got out of the car to see 1’ Westward Ho!, but, nevertheless, I was strangely looking forward to giving it a go. I don’t know if Si thought I was joking when I suggested we walked like surf school students (after he told me the best peak was “that one!”, half way down the beach…), but I was the one lugging the damn tree across what felt like a desert -whilst all he had to worry about was his camera- and I honestly would not have any less male if the next day someone posted a pic of me having help carrying a surfboard on Seaweed. The scene from The Endless Summer where they trek over the dunes to Cape St Francis must be a hoax. Still, we made it to the water’s edge, and- thankfully for my back- the thing paddled like it had that turbo my car had needed on the way down. However, surfing the Bilbo wasn’t so easy —the waves were weak, it turned just like girls’ heads to my car and seemed to go faster than it just gliding. I couldn’t get the hang of it. It wasn’t like riding modern, progressive longboards that move more where you want them to—you had to move more with it.

After a few waves I started getting a feel for the board. Like modern boards, the key to getting to the nose was timing your steps, but what was getting me was the glide of the board. I found I had to start walking earlier than with boards I’m used to, as the girth behind the beast made it sit further out of the water and would raise you off the back of the wave if you didn’t get to the nose sooner. The board really needed you to work around it, keeping it level on the wave face and not relying on the board moving down into the wave with your weight. At 10’ and in slow, weak waves (and being a bad noserider!), the board would gain too much speed whilst on the nose, so I was constantly running back to the tail, stalling dropping down to the bottom of the wave and then setting it up again back in the pocket. Riding the board I could see where the traditional style of the age came from.

I’d surfed a beach a bit further down the coast that morning. It was about twice the size but a bit of a one-manoeuvre-before-closing-out session, yet on a progressive board it was good off the top and floater practice, and good to have something with a bit more speed. Surfing the Bilbo later at the Ho! was unsurprisingly very different, and I asked myself which I preferred. After taking so long to just get to the point where I was no longer constantly falling off the Bilbo I thought the choice was clear, but after spending some time swapping with Si to get in the water and try my hand at that arty stuff, having a good giggle at each others’ wipeouts and having some good rides I realised that it didn’t matter—we were in the water enjoying ourselves, just like the last session where we found a treat of an uncrowded, solid, wedgey right-hander.

Looking at the progression in moves is a testament to the technology going into boards today, and trial and development in terms of shapes and sizes. The urge to surf has led to using jet skis to surf bigger waves and flo riders to surf in the middle of America, and the boards vary accordingly. If I was surfing back in the day when this board was made, it’s what I would have ridden. The feeling you get surfing it is the same as when surfing anything.

Words by Tom Major.

Photos – Simon Mitchell.