Jack Bridge is the original Porthcawl Christmas Morning Swim Father Christmas and was a co-founder alongside Arlon Owens back in 1965.
During October 1965 and after a Chamber of Trade meeting, Arlon Owens and I were standing outside Woolworths in John Street, discussing things from the meeting. Arlon, as always thinking about swimming and ways of publicising Porthcawl suggested how we could have a swim on Christmas morning and give away some cheap toys to any children attending.
The conversation went on into the early hours of the morning. After deciding that he could be ‘Coco the Clown’ and push me off the pier dressed as Father Christmas (Arlon said he would get the lifeguards to save me) we made our separate ways home.
It became a Chamber of Trade function (helped by interested parties) for over 20 years before being taken over entirely by the Christmas Morning Swim Committee.
On Christmas morning Coco and Father Christmas in a boat, towed by my brother’s car, made our way to the pier. There was not a soul to be seen, although we noticed a few people at Coney Beach, so that’s where we went.
Half a dozen lifeguards, of which I only remember Victor Davies and David Thomas (I am 85), forced me into the freezing cold sea.
There were a dozen or so children waiting for a bedraggled Father Christmas to come out of the water, most of them saying “Hello Mr Bridge”. I owned the toy shop so all the kids knew me, not Father Christmas at all.
I distributed the few toys and that was the end of the proceedings for 1965. Whoever thought that it would grow to what it is today? 1966 was much the same, Coco and Father Christmas arriving on a platform on top of Theodore’s Land rover, a few dozen people but the same procedure. In1967 there were a few more swimmers and a couple of hundred spectators.
WHOEVER THOUGHT THAT IT WOULD GROW TO WHAT IT IS TODAY?
1968 and we were really getting organised, many in fancy dress, collecting tins, fire engine and a procession, not that I saw any of it as I was at Stormy Down preparing to hitch a ride in a glider. We took off but at 450 feet the winch stalled and down we came. No problem, we were hitched up again and quickly up in the air, 450 feet again and down we came. The cable had broken so there was nothing I could do except have a lift by road. I was not excused from a dip in the sea though; they were very rough with Father Christmas in those days.
1969, Stormy Down again, this time no problem, up to 900 feet; the pilot ditched the cable and we were over Porthcawl in no time, we still had 900 feet so out we went to sea and came in over the harbour to land in Salt Lake car park. Many times after that my good friend Arlon teased my wife Barbara about me not being insured. 1970 was my last year as Father Christmas, I think bronchitis took over, so I spent my time on the committee and helping on the day. Organising is so much better than getting wet, although a few years after my days as Santa it was considered improper to get the old soul wet and bedraggled.
The Porthcawl Chamber of Trade organised the Swim for about 26 years, although the Swim Committee was more and more involved and doing a splendid job.
On our 21st year Arlon suggested giving a mug to all the children attending the Swim – which wasn’t many years before 1000 mugs were being distributed. I still enjoy going to the beach every Christmas morning