Australia has a long and hallowed history in the surfing world’s narrative.
The first country to host the official world title in 1964, Australia now hosts three of the 11 men’s (10 for women) Championship Tour events.
Before the official 1964 world championship event in Australia, The Makaha International had been regarded as the unofficial world title.
With progressive surfing gaining popularity in the early 1960s, many surfers no longer looked to the annual Hawaiian international event as a benchmark in surfing, but rather a relic from the wooden board era.
The 1960s was regarded as the major turning point in surfboard design and evolution – and leading the way were Aussie shapers. It makes sense then that the Australian surfers on the doorstep, or should I say the deck, of surfboard evolution were also leading the way in surfing performance.
At Manly Beach in Sydney on a weekend in May, a 19-year-old Midget Farrelly skyrocketed to golden boy fame when he secured the first world title with his perfect rides. He caught fewer waves than all the other competitors but delivered a flawless performance that effortlessly secured the crown.
It was a similar story for the women when a young Phyllis O’Donnell stole the limelight and title from the favourite, American Linda Benson.
By the end of that weekend, Australia’s involvement and leadership in the surf arena became undisputable.
During the same weekend, the ISF (International Surfing Federation) was formed, and although the name has changed – ISF World Surfing Championships 1964-72; Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing Championships 1973-75; IPS World Circuit 1976-82; ASP World Tour 1983-2014; WSL CT 2015-present – the world championship has continued.
Farrelly’s win at the first legitimate surfing competition didn’t just change his life, but the course of surfing and its role in Australia.
A throng of spectators (ABC reported the event as having 60,000) crowded the tree-line of Manly beach, making it historically the biggest crowd at a surfing event at the time.
The competition, with its major corporate sponsor oil company Ampol, helped legitimise surfing as a major competitive sport in the eyes of the Australian public.
Midget Farrelly’s win, the sponsors, the spectators all acted to inspire a surfing culture that grew past the sport and the beaches to become an identifiable part of the Australian psyche and culture.
Watch ABC’s Four Corners documentary of the inaugural event HERE.
In the 52-year history of the world surfing championship, Australian men have won 20 of the titles, making Australia the country with the most world titles. The Australian women have done even better, taking 21 of the 49 women’s world titles.
Men’s Australian World Champions
Women’s Australian World Champions
The first world title set a precedent for the sport in Australia which can not be seen more clearly than at one of the CT events.
In two weeks the first event of the year gets underway at Snapper on the Gold Coast. Attention will then move to Margaret River in Western Australia for event number two before finishing the Australian leg of the tour in the famous Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro over Easter.
Farrelly passed away in 2016, aged 71, but his legacy shines as bright as ever along Australia’s coastline.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) September 11, 2016