In 1971, a surfer from Cornwall bought a disused RAF base near Land’s End and set about crafting it into the country’s first surf village.
The result was ‘Skewjack’ a now-legendary holiday destination that welcomed thousand of revellers through the doors over its 15-year lifespan.
Situated on an old RAF base between Sennen and Porthcurno, it provided the perfect site for different surf options depending on conditions.(Image: Skewjack Stories by permission of Ron Bishop)
The concept was simple. Every day, owner Chris Tyler would pile guests into an old ambulance and cart them down the hill to the nearby beach of Sennen, before returning back to the camp to party the night away. With the exoticism of surf culture in full ’70s swing and the promise of ‘two girls for every guy,’ plus equipment, tuition and accommodation all included for the princely sum of £1 per night, it’s easy to see why the camp became such a roaring success.
Now, 50 years on, a series of events are taking place in Newlyn to celebrate the history of Skewjack and the impact it had on the development of surf culture in West Penwith.
With repainted chalets, caravans and tent pitches it was cheap and cheerful promising surf, disco nights and ‘no hassle’ … all for £1 a night (Original brochure by permission of Suki Bishop)
There’s an exhibition at the Jupiter Gallery, featuring imagery and recorded stories from those who worked at and visited the village in its heyday, which runs from the 10th-21st August. There’s a tribute film night to the late great John Adams, surf filmmaker, pioneer of Porthleven and owner of the Winter Gardens nightclub on Friday 13th August. Then, a screening of ‘75 surf classic ‘Freeride’ on Sunday 15th August. The following Friday, the 20th August, there’s an evening of discussion on the power of stories, with an esteemed panel and finally, a big closing party on Saturday the 21st August, featuring resident DJs Bruce and Jamie, spinning a night of ’70s and ’80s bangers alongside a psychedelic light show.
If surfing wasn’t their thing, punters could take part in beach games or just sleep off the hangover. Cliff walks, horse riding and rock climbing were also on offer. While rainy days were for ‘mystery tours’ (pub crawls) in the van.(Image: Skewjack Stories by permission of Chris South)
Here’s what the curator Rachel Yates had to tell us about how it all came together:
“Skewjack Stories came about after I worked on the First Wave oral history project, which was a Museum of British Surfing collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund and other organisations to chart the history of surfing around the British coast. I was collecting audio stories from surf pioneers in west Cornwall and put a shout out to friends for suggestions in case I’d missed anyone. A mate suggested Chris Tyler, who ran Skewjack. Chris was living in Bulgaria and wasn’t one for the limelight anymore I was told, but I got in touch with his son Essex to see what could be done. Essex ended up doing the interview from his own perspective as an influential character in the UK’s surf history and touched on his upbringing at Skewjack.
I left that day knowing I’d just heard the tip of the iceberg and that there was a bigger story to tell. Not just in terms of surf history and Skewjack’s central part in it, but also in terms of the changing face of surf culture (and culture as a whole in 70’s/80’s Britain) and the anecdotes. experiences and stories of people who lived, worked and stayed at the village. So Skewjack Stories was born and I set about spending time with and recording the stories of people who had a connection with the village. It’s not about writing a history textbook about Skewjack – it’s about telling the story of the place through the stories of those who were there.
Being the 50th anniversary of the village opening I couldn’t not mark it in some way and when the opportunity at Jupiter Gallery came up it was too good to turn down. The event is a two-week look at the roots of the surf village and its place in ’70s and ’80s surf – and non-surf – culture.”
Each morning it was back to the beach, with the Sennen lifeguards also on watch. Big Wednesday had nothing on these guys. (Photo: Skewjack Stories by permission of Barbara Freshwater)
As always, I’m grateful for the input and support of everyone for the project, in particular the Tyler and Bishop families. Former staff members and punters have also been brilliant, and there is in fact a team of ‘Skewjackers’ and Skewjack children supporting me with getting the exhibition together. I can’t wait to get it all in place and meet those who come through the door.”
Find out more about the events here.