Bells Beach has become a mecca for modern surfers who want to take their shot at the famous wave. The Rip Curl Pro at Easter is the world’s longest running contest, and the prized bell is the most sought after trophy on the WSL tour. Stories abound about the first surf pioneers who found their way to the beach almost 70 years ago.
Peter Troy claims in his book, “To The Four Corners Of the World,” that “he first negotiated the rutted cliff top track to Bells in the sidecar of Owen Yateman’s AJS motorcycle in 1949-1950”. Yatey explained in an interview with John Witzig that “getting out to Bells on motorbikes was not so much of a problem but getting out there with a giant wooden board was more of a challenge, and we would mostly take ‘surfo’ mats and ride them”. He remembers some blokes would row a surfboat around and others who would paddle around on their boards. Yatey claimed it was risky because if your hollow board hit the rocks, it would break open and kept you out of the surf while it was repaired.
Michael Gordon in his book ”Bells, the beach, the surfers, the contest” maintains that before 1956 there was not a lot of interest in going around to Bells. But when the Americans demonstrated shorter boards at Torquay as part of the Olympics, things changed dramatically. These boards were lighter, shorter, more manoeuvrable Malibu-style boards made from Balsa wood and covered with fibreglass. The waves at Bells were perfectly suited to the new boards, and there was an eager bunch of young surfers doubly keen to find a better way out there to try them.
There were three ways to access Bells before 1960. The first was via the old Cobb and Co track that ran along the cliff tops at Jan Juc, turned inland before the dip near Steps and headed towards Bellbrae then on to Anglesea. There was a graded track running off the Anglesea Road down to Point Addis; this gave access to an old bombing range used during the war years. Those in the know could find the track that led to the old paint mines in the Ironbark basin. A bit of bush bashing was required and a drive over the bank of the big dam, but it would bring you out at the top of Southside. All that was left from there was a scramble down to the beach. The second access track was mostly used by motorbikes and continued on from the Cob and Co track, down and up the gully and over a rocky tee tree area to the creek and sand. The third way into Bells was to obtain permission from the local landowner that gave you easy access to the cliff tops. The McNaughton boys, who were also surfers had convinced their father, Robert, to buy the land and Addiscot homestead, in the early ’50s and they enjoyed an easy ride to the beach with their boards loaded on the back of an old tray truck they could drive along the gully virtually onto the beach. By 1959, Bells had grown in popularity with the majority of the newcomers taking the most direct route, driving along the old coach track and leaving the car at the dip and walking in. The new lighter board not proving as difficult to carry as the old wooden ones.
Col Blunt was a regular visitor to Torquay as a boy in the 1950s as his parents had a holiday house at the end of Park Lane. He became mates with many other summer visitors in the Torquay caravan park and joined the Torquay Surf Lifesaving club where he became Chief Instructor. When Col finished school, he joined the family real estate firm, and this afforded him a prized possession in the day – a car. Having a car allowed him to travel around the coast exploring the surf spots, always loaded up with his non-mobile mates. On summer evenings at the campsites, discussions were frequently held about finding a track to Bells to avoid the long drive around to the Pt. Addis Road, or taking the long walk from Jan Juc.
Now in his seventies, Col’s shares his story about his involvement of opening the track to Bells in 1960.