With our love of the beach, it is not surprising that surfing became a part of our culture. Our beaches are well known globally, with many of them recognised as world-class surfing locations.
Surfing was brought to Australia in 1915 by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku. He and young Australian Isabel Letham enthralled the crowds at Freshwater Beach in Sydney as they rode the rolling whitewater waves to shore while demonstrating this ancient Hawaiian board riding technique.
By the early 1900s bodysurfing was already popular, so it was logical to see increased popularity in surfing. This was led mainly within the surf lifesaving movement, on heavy, solid wooden boards that were surfed straight to the beach,
The inflatable rubber surfoplane was developed during the 1930′s, becoming a popular surf craft for hire amongst beachgoers.
In his book ‘A Little Bit O’Luck’ Michael (Mick) O’Donnell reminisces about his Torquay surfing adventures during the 1940s. Sailing, swimming and socializing around his hometown of Brighton filled those early years. He was introduced to Torquay bu Vic Tantau, George Packham and Russ Mole all of whom had spent several weekends camping at Torquay and raved about the big surf at Torquay. Shortly after Mick followed Russ down to Torquay, he found the town and the surf enthralled him, changing his life forever.
In the 1950′s Australian surfers were amazed during a surf carnival when visiting American lifeguards displayed their skills in manoeuvring and accelerating across the wave face while on fibreglass/balsawood boards. China Gilbert talks about the 1956 International Surfing Carnival and surfing at Torquay in the early days.
By the end of the 1950′s and into the 1960′s, surfing’s popularity boomed as boardrider clubs were set up, breaking away from the conservative surf life saving movement. Free thinking surfers revolutionised design, surfing (and life) philosophy and in the process, changed the direction of Australian surf culture. The short board revolution began, Australian surfer/shapers immediately began to experiment with new designs using fibreglass, wood and foam improving surfing performance levels.
Fred Pyke was part of this 60’s revolution. Not only was Fred a champion cyclist of road and track, but he was also a brilliant surfboard shaper. After narrowly missing out on the 1960 Rome Olympics Fred changed his future work direction. A cabinet maker by trade he set up a small surfboard making business in Melbourne after experience the waves at Torquay. A few years later he was pioneering surfboard and wet suit making. Read about his story here.
It was the creativity of Torquay surfers that created the corporate giants Bells Beach Surfing contest (Rip Curl Pro), Rip Curl and Quiksilver. From humble beginnings in an old Bakery located on Boston Road Torquay, Rip Curl established itself in 1969 with Quiksilver following a few years later.
History of Quiksilver
By 1970 surfers were riding lightweight 6ft. surfboards and were turning tightly in and around the steep pocket of waves. Then leg ropes, full-length wetsuits, safe foam surfboards and boogie boards contributed to increasing surfing’s accessibility and therefore popularity.
Gallery of early surfing images by John Witzig
Ray Wilson, who grew up in Torquay, is interviewed about his experience during this surfing revolution. Surfing Torquay Early Years