Random #Bluffhistory notes

Ringo Mentasti at Ansteys

Grosvenor Boys’ High was synonymous with Bluff surfing

RECORDS in my possession dating from 1972 to 1986 regarding surfing and surfers on the Bluff indicate that that era produced some of the province’s greatest surfers.

Of course, the Bluff was also home to South Africa’s internationally famous surfboard shaper, Spider Murphy.

In 1972, as a second year university student, along with Spider Murphy and Linton Ryan, who, in 1971 had formed War Surfboards, I organised what was called the Bluff Surfing League based on a directory of Bluff resident surfers. The directory had 63 names.

Among those were: the Cawtha brothers, Brad and Gavin, the Cowan brothers, Bugs and Arthur, the Arndt and Graham brothers, Ivan and Peter Labuschagne and the Pearces, Jeffrey and Mike.

Four contests were held between July 23 and October 15, 1972. Top scoring surfers were Ringo Mentasti, Brad Cawthra and the Labuschagne brothers. Although the record is not clear, it seems, based on the cumulative scores, that Ringo Mentasti was the winner of the custom-built War surfboard.

Arthur Cowan

School level

Between 1976 and 1986, one of my extra-mural duties as a teacher at Grosvenor Boys’ High was being in charge of school surfing. The reports I filed in the annual school magazines serve as a history of the growth and achievement of Bluff surfing and show that Grosvenor was synonymous with Bluff surfing. Five names stand out – Rudy Palmboom, Arthur Cowan, Gavin Spowart, Rake Jeeves and Clyde Martin.

In 1976 Rudy Palmboom, then in matric, lost out on becoming SA schools champion by one point at the nationals held at Nahoon Reef near East London. In 1977, Rudy placed second in the SA champs held in Cape Town. Although very much junior to Rudy then, Gavin Spowart and Arthur Cowan showed huge potential. In September 1977, Arthur Cowan, then in standard 9, became SA Schools Surfing Champion at the nationals held at J-Bay.

From the inauguration of the inter-schools surfing championships in 1974, Grosvenor dominated the senior division, winning it for five years running until in 1980 when our boys, accustomed to the power of Bluff surf, failed to find the juice in the knee-high surf in which the school champs were held on Durban beachfront.

Rudy Palmboom at Cave Rock. PHOTO: Des Basnett

Beyond school

1978 was the golden year for Bluff and Grosvenor surfing. Arthur Cowan, then in matric, was awarded Springbok Colours for surfing and was part of the six-man Springbok team that participated at the World Amateur Surfing Championships held at Nahoon Reef, East London. Arthur was also part of the Natal team which won the SA Schools Champs at J-Bay on 30 September 1978.

The accolades continued in 1979 when Gavin Spowart, then in matric, placed seventh in the SA champs held at St Michaels and ninth overall in the Gunston 500. Gavin, along with Alan Sewell and Wayne Hardman, (who, sadly, have both died, Alan in a road accident and Wayne through cancer), secured the Safari Shield for Grosvenor in 1979. After leaving school, Gavin made the Springbok team in 1981, becoming national team captain in 1983. After doing his national service he turned pro in 1986. His best performance on the ASP world ratings was 35th.His older brother, Mark, who sadly died late in 2012, became a renowned surfboard shaper and also excelled at provincial level, although specific details could not be obtained.

Surfers who excelled in the inter-house surfing contests from 1980 to 1984 included Rake Jeeves, Alan Gibb, William Mullany, Craig Davidson, Paul Duncan, Gunter Derer, Leland Johnston, Bradley Goodwill and Chris Osborne. Chris was runner-up in the August 1984 Natal inter-schools champs and achieved fourth place in the SA schools champs held at J-Bay. William Mullany participated in the 1983 Natal schools finals and was selected for Natal to surf in the 1985 SA champs but military service denied him that opportunity. He now lives in Australia.

Alan Sewell and Gavin Spowart

Two other Grosvenor boys who would go on to fly the Bluff flag high were Clyde Martin and Rake Jeeves. In 1982, Clyde placed seventh out of 40 surfers in the Natal inter-schools. After leaving school in 1984, he made surfing his career and currently is a director on the international pro-surfing circuit based in northern Spain. Rake achieved Natal provincial colours three times, making it through to the semi-finals of SA champs once when he placed fifth overall. Along with Rudy, Rake has become a veteran Bluff surfer whose first waves date from 1974.

Of all those who excelled, however, Rudy Palmboom has become a legend, particularly at Cave Rock where nobody takes off later or gets deeper in the wave than Rudy. In 2006 he secured fourth place in the World Masters’ Championships held at Rincon in Puerto Rico. His children have followed in his surfing tracks thus sustaining the Bluff’s place in the annals of South African surfing.

Duncan du Bois

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