Hell’s Bells

All on together, competitors in the first Bells Classic, 1962. Photo courtesy Warren Evans.

By Phil Jarratt

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, standing on a clifftop, struggling to keep out the chill of a freezing Southern Ocean gale while watching surfers riding fat shoulders through the bowl way below, but Bells Beach is a holy shrine of Australian surfing, and I can never to get to Easter without thinking that somehow I should be there.

If the world were normal, the Bells Beach Easter Classic would be celebrating turning 60 this weekend. I was there for quite a few of them, including the 50th celebration in 2011 and the 20th in 1981, that remarkable year when Simon Anderson redefined surfboard design with the Thruster in big, booming Bells monsters. And I was there five years earlier when my friend Jeff Hakman became the first foreign competitor to ring the bell, and the year before that, when Michael Peterson made it three in a row.

But the world is not normal, and the free surfers have Bells to themselves while the first event of the World Surf League Pro Tour Australian leg is held in a quarantine bubble at Merewether, Newcastle. No offence to Merewether. It’s definitely a B-plus wave and some pretty good surfers have popped out of it – think Mark Richards, Nicky Wood, Matt Hoy, Luke Egan and Ryan Callinan – but Easter belongs to Bells, and while I know the WSL is working against tremendous odds to keep the dream alive, my dream happens on the Surf Coast of western Victoria at this time of year, and sadly it’s not.

The first Bells Beach comp was the brainchild of Peter Troy, a good athlete from Torquay, the little fishing village near Bells, who had been introduced to modern surfing at the Melbourne Olympics surf carnival in 1956, when a Californian and Hawaiian lifeguard team demonstrated surfboard riding on the new balsa “Malibu chips”, which were much shorter than Australian “tooth picks”, and more maneuverable thanks to the addition of a dorsal fin. By 1958 Troy had established the Bells Board Riders club and gone into business crafting T-Boards with boatbuilder Vic Tantau. In 1961 they organized the first Bells Beach surfing event, scheduled for New Year’s Eve but postponed until Australia Day, 1962.

There are many Noosa connections to this story, the first being that just a few years later Peter Troy would go halves with his dad in buying a small motel on Gympie Terrace and in 1968, he would found the Noosa Boardriders Club. The second, and lesser known, is that legendary Noosa real estate agent Warren Evans was a finalist in that first contest and also took some historic photos of it.

Because the summer waves at Bells were pretty much rubbish, the event was held back to Easter the following year, and so began a tradition that is only being broken now, and hopefully only temporarily.

Bells Beach hosted the 1970 world surfing championships, more famous for drug busts and bad behavior in country pubs than for the surfing, which was mainly conducted a two-hour drive away at Johanna, but the event launched Rip Curl Wetsuits. When Quiksilver splintered off from it to make board shorts a year later, the two small companies placed tiny Torquay at the forefront of the emerging global surf industry, and over the decades brought it both fame and prosperity.

But Bells remained famous for great surfing and bad behaviour. Doing my usual coverage of the event for a surf magazine in the mid-‘70s, I finished a close second to 1976 world champion Peter Townend in a purple flyer drinking contest, during which we both set fire to our beards. Driving home to our rented flat a few blocks away, I smashed the company car into a brick wall. I kept my job, but I had to buy my own car.

The memories are mostly glorious, and if Bells comes back on the world tour, I’m definitely driving down there before I forget the way.

Noosa all the way at the state longboards

If further evidence was needed of the current strength of the Noosa Malibu Club in the longboard world, it was certainly provided at last weekend’s Queensland Longboard Titles, the final event of the Queensland Surf Festival at Coolum.

Okay, technically speaking, Bowie Pollard is from the other end of the coast, but he’s a smiling fixture in Noosa where he’s picked up many titles, so let’s start by claiming his win in the Open Men’s, with Noosa’s Nic and Zac Brewer in the minors. Then we had world tour Noosa surfers Emily Lethbridge and Kirra Molnar go one and two in the Open Women, with Em’s sister Charlotte also on the podium.

In the juniors, Noosa’s adopted daughters Luca Doble and Mia Waite went one and two in the girls, while the Smales brothers, Landen and Kaiden, did the same in the boys.

In the seniors, evergreen Josh Constable took out the over 40 men’s, while Wally Allan and Hayden Swan went one and two in the over 50s, then reversed it in the over 55s. Peppie Simpson took out the over 60 women, while her beau Albie Curtis won the over 65 men ahead of Ian Borland.

Apologies if I missed anybody out, but great team effort, Mal Club.