PENINSULA LIFE • OUR HERITAGE
Every community has its local legends be that artists, high-achievers or sports personalities. Here on the Peninsular, we boast a plethora of celebrated persons achieving accolades in numerous disciplines across the board. But in the sport of surfing, we are lucky to be graced with multiple decorated surf heroes. Among the star-studded cast is former European, British and eight-time Welsh champion Peter Jones, better known as PJ. Although his competing days are behind him, he still lives in the village of Llangennith on the most western edge of the Gower coastline.
The whitewashed stone walls of PJ’s Surf Shop have become an iconic landmark in the heart of the village. For over forty years, regulars, tourists and old friends have been welcomed into the shop by that well-known grin, framed by that well-known moustache. It’s a family affair with Pete’s wife, children and grandchildren putting in shifts behind the till. It’s never a quick visit to PJ’s as Pete is not only master of the waves but also an adept storyteller with countless tales of the golden days of surfing ready for a listening ear. His son James, also former Welsh champion, coined them as the only father-son duo to both win the highly coveted title. Not only does James work alongside his dad in the shop, he’s recently founded his own brand Gower Hueys.
As lovers of Gower, both Pete and James have been patrons of the Brewery for over a decade. James was sponsored by the brewery in his competitive hay day, sporting some retro Gower Power branding on his shortboard. We couldn’t pass off the opportunity of sitting down with the pair to get an insight into their surfing history.
"I am from another planet, no, I am Pete Jones but they called me PJ. When I was in Bishop Gore grammar school in 1958 there were so many Jones’ and I’m Pete John Jones, so I got to be known as PJ and it’s just stuck. This building used to be a village shop with a chip shop upstairs many years ago. I remember back when I was 20, having chips up there, looking out of the window and thought to myself, god, imagine living here and owning this… I was absolutely broke; I had no money and had no ambition and now I've ended up owning it. So it's fate, I think."
"And I’m James, son of PJ. I run the shop when Dad is in the sea. It’s a proper family run business, we both work here with my mum and my sister. We’re open seven days a week so between us we all keep it going. We’ve had the shop for forty four years and been in this building for thirty years now.
We’re based in Llangennith in the commercial centre of the village with the pub opposite and the church. It’s a cracking spot as it overlooks the beach and we can see the surf from the shop window. It’s such a fantastic location as we’re right on the best part of the gower for surf."
PJ smiled and raised both hands, "I must say something now, because without James’ mother Carol, my lovely wife, she is the queen behind the business because without her cooking for me, you know I’m only little, she cooks so well, if I hadn’t of had her as my partner I’d probably end up like a ball as I’d just eat chips all day long. But without Carol in the business it wouldn't have been as successful."
James cut in, "because we always went surfing so mum ended up being here doing the shop!"
"You’re not wrong. James is a great surfer and I did worry about James because of my history of competitive surfing. I didn’t want that pressure to be on him or for him to say ‘oh I want to be like Dad and I want to do this,’ but James shortboarding, he’s better than I have ever been. But longboarding…no."
Laughing, James adds, "we are the only father and son to both be Welsh surfing champions. So that’s quite cool. I grew up surfing and began competing doing all the junior contents. I won a fair amount up into my teenage years but always wanted to be Welsh Champ. I ended up taking a few years out because I got a bit fed up with it all. Then I won that title in 2007 and managed to win it again a few years later."
"I won the welsh numerous times between 1972 and 1983 so I was wildly competitive in those days. But when I won the European championships, that was it. It was simply fantastic because I was Welsh Champion at the time. During the contest, I got to the finals and got a phone call from my wife; she’d just had a baby boy - that was James! So I paddled out in the final and I’d suddenly become a dad. For me I felt so stoked and it made me quite emotional. As I paddled out I thought, right I’m going to win this and I did. So I won the European and then the British after that.
But competing was my little man ego just wanting to prove it. Now I’m old, just to be able to surf is fantastic. It’s good for the mind and the body, it's just so good. The world we live in now is so full of sh*t - but you go surfing and nature’s energy is all over us and you realise that we’re just human beings. We think we’re so powerful but we’re really not. Nature is the powerful thing which I love. If I didn’t have any money and just a van, my surfboard and my guitar I’d still be just as happy as if I had ten million pounds in the bank.
You see, as I competed right through into the 80s, after my wife had James I thought that I'd better get a job and earn a bit of money. So, what am I going to do? This is way back and in those days there was no internet and I knew everybody around the world from competing so I thought I'd sell wax and leashes and start the business off. I’m lucky enough to do a job that’s my hobby. It’s so difficult for young people now. You need to have a degree, you need to know what you want to do and whatever. But for me, I think you need to do what you love to do whatever it is and you will be successful.
I’ve lived here since 1973 as I’m a Brynmill boy originally. My wife and I lived together for three years and then I went to Hawaii for a big surf contest and when I came back, she met me in London and asked me to marry her and I said yes. We got married without telling anyone and on the day I surfed Langland in the morning, we went to Swansea Registry Office at 2pm in the afternoon and then were in Aberafon for the afternoon high tide - and we’re still together now, 50 years… And I've got a lovely daughter, Lucy, who was born in 1981.
I do what I do because when I was a teenager me and my father didn’t get along as he didn’t like my long hair and he wanted me to get a real job. I thought, I’m never going to get a job I don’t want to do. I love surfing; I’m mean and just want to do what makes me happy every day. When you get up in the morning I don’t think, ‘oh god, I’ve got to go to work in some office.’ Luckily having James and Lucy means that if the waves are good, I can go surfing for an hour then come back and work - it’s perfect. Well there are bits that are not as easy… VAT and tax!"
James said, "I’ve lived on Gower all my life. I do what I do as I was lucky enough to grow up surfing, linked to the family business and there really is no better place to be. Especially when the sun is out and I've got a cold beer in my hand. Besides it’s the only job where I’m allowed to drink whilst I'm working - one of the benefits of being opposite the pub!
The peninsula is great as there is so much variety. There are the endless bays, the marsh on North Gower which I love, probably more than the south coastline, but mostly I love Gower because Gower is home."
PJ added, "I quite like the fact that there is only one road in and one road out. I love the space and it’s very much like it was a hundred years ago really in many ways. I love the Gower. I love the word Gower, it’s got an almost posh ring. I love the Gower because I love the weather because it’s a peninsula, in any wind direction and you can get a good wave. I love Gower sheep."
The hour or so we spent with Pete and James was full of more nonsense and laughter than anything else. Not only did we share a beer or two, Pete serenaded us with an original piece on his guitar. The song encapsulates his love for surfing, the sea and hazy days gone by. We asked both Pete and James to to describe their life on Gower in three words, although there was no final agreement, Pete stated the three things he loved most on the Peninsula:
Waves. Pubs. Churches
Immortalised in stickers, hoodies and tees, ‘Surfing is Living’ is the melody to which Pete lives his life and it’s easy to see why. If you’re ever passing through Llangennith, be sure to stop by the shop; you won’t regret it.