Australia is the largest surf country in the Southern Hemisphere with surfing roots dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. If you’ve wondered how the surfing sport came to Australia and at what pace it developed in history, we’re here to offer a comprehensive timeline of surfing in Australia. Several key dates shaped surfing as we know it today, and here’s how it all began.
Surfing comes to Australia
It was the year 1914, when Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfer, came to the Land Down Under that marked the beginning of the surfing chapter in the history of Australia. Duke made his surfboard out of a sturdy Queensland Sugar Pine. To make the surfing event more thrilling, the Hawaiian surfer had a 16-year-old Isabella Letham on his shoulders as he rode the waves at the Freshwater Beach. She was the first local to experience this exhilarating water sport, and also considered the first Australian to have surfed, even though some claim that Aussies were familiar with surfing even before the 1900s. Namely, some records state that bodysurfing was popular in Australia even in the late 19th century. Allegedly, people used their bodies, and smaller paipo and belly boards to challenge the surf. Later, people would use solid wooden boards to ride the waves.
Surfing becomes more popular in the 1930s
Once beachgoers favored the sport, they started developing inflatable rubber surfoplane. It was around the early 1930s when a surf craft started gaining momentum. Along with sailing, and swimming, surfing quickly became popular with Aussies living on the coast and those coming to the seaside for the holidays. Whether a local or a tourist, Australian beaches were crowded with surfers, both aspiring professionals and amateurs seeking a temporary thrill. If one person was enjoying it every day, their friends would admire the skill and try it out for themselves, making surfboards more necessary with every passing year.
The booming 1950s
At one point in the 1950s, American lifeguards visited Australia during a surfing carnival and completely blew away Australian surfers’ minds with their skills. They manoeuvred and accelerated across the waves on balsa wood and fibreglass boards. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the popularity of this water sport boomed. Aussies were setting up board rider clubs and tried to distance themselves from the conventional surf lifesaving movement. From design to surfing philosophy, open-minded surfers revolutionised and altered the focus of the surf culture in the Land Down Under. They were experimenting with materials, shapes, and sizes and eventually realised that quality surfboard fins are essential parts of every surfboard. That was also the time when the shortboard revolution began. They would use a variety of materials, such as foam, wood, and fibreglass to improve their surfing performance levels.
From the 1960s until today
Quiksilver, Rip Curl and Bells Beach Surfing contest (Rip Curl Pro) were founded in the 1960s. Those were also the golden years of surfing as the creativity of Torquay surfers contributed to developing modern-day surfing corporate giants. Australians were all about the laid-back lifestyle, enjoying the waves, and living the dream by the ocean. Movies and songs about the sport hit the stations, and, with it, the popularity continued to grow. In 1965, Bernard Midget Farrelly and Phyllis O’Donnell became Australia’s first male and female World Champions. Two years later, Bob McTavish built the first vee-bottom board. By 1970, surfers were already riding the steep waves confidently on their 6ft. surfboards. Those were also the years when surfing’s accessibility and popularity increased thanks to boogie boards, safe foam surfboards, full-length wetsuits, and leg ropes.
In 1979 Mark Richards won his first World Championship, succeeding consecutively for the next four years. Only two years later, in 1981, Aussie Simon Anderson designed the three-fin Thruster surfboard, revolutionising surfing further. The next moment in Australian surfing history worth mentioning happened in 1998 when Layna Beachley became the Women’s ASP World Champion, winning consecutively for the next five years. A year later, Mark Ocohillupo won the world championship at 33 years old.
Surfing has become a worldwide sport, greatly thanks to Australians. Because of their enthusiasm, we have many competitions, and people continue to fall in love with this water sport again and again. Visiting Australia cannot go without spending at least one day at the beach learning to ride the waves, which is proof enough that Aussies will always be the ones predominantly responsible for the popularisation of surfing.
I’m a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me, and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. I follow all the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life, and l love to share my knowledge in this field through useful and informative articles.