The timeline of Australian surfing history



Australia is one of the greatest surfing nations and the largest surfing country in the Southern Hemisphere. The giant island receives swells from all directions, and it’s no wonder the sport of surfing has ancient roots down.

To understand how surfing has evolved around the world, we need to take a look at the timeline. There are key dates in the history of Australian surfing, and they all shaped what the sport is today.

In 1914 Duke Kahanamoku visited Australia and opened the first chapter in Down Under surfing history. But the truth is, surfing wasn’t entirely new to Australians back then.

There were already people who challenged the surf with their bodies and used smaller paipo and belly boards to ride the waves.

The big island at the end of the world has been crazy about surfing since the 19th century. Knowing how to ride a wave is a common skill in Australia, and that is why, for many, it is the go-to surf destination.

Australia has between 2.5 and 3.5 million active surfers. One in three surfers is female, and the country has thousands of above-average surf breaks, from Sydney and Margaret River to Darwin and Torquay.

But what if Australia’s first surfers were indigenous? Could surf lifeguards be the first real surfers? Was bodysurfing the first wave surfing activity in Australia?

Some of these questions may never get clear answers, but the Australian surf timeline helps us understand why the sport is so popular in Australia.

1867: Charles Steedman publishes the book “Manual of Swimming”, which includes a chapter entitled “Native Swimming, Wave Mechanics and Surfboards”;

1903: The ban on bathing in the sea during the day has been lifted;

1903: Manly Beach Hosts First Surf Rescue Demonstration;

1906: Creation of the Bondi Surf Club;

1907: Nine clubs form the Surf Bathing Association;

1909: “Surf Sports at Manly”, the first documentary film about a surf demonstration, is shown nationwide;

1910: The Manly Surf Carnival draws hundreds of spectators with surf shots by men and women, surf boat races and rescue drills;

1911: Author Frank Fox writes of the “hundreds of thousands of people – men, women and children – surfing the sand or paddling the sand”;

1912: Tommy Walker rides a surfboard at the Freshwater Carnival;

1913: Henry Thomas McLaren creates a hollow plywood snowboard ski;

1914: Duke Kahanamoku visits Australia and surfs the waves in front of thousands of spectators;

1915: Duke Kahanamoku tandem surfing with 15-year-old girl Isabelle Letham;

Duke Kahanamoku and Isabel Letham: tandem surfing in Australia

1915: A week after Duke’s surf performance, Tommy Walker gives another surfboard demonstration at Yamba Main Beach;

1919: Claude West becomes Australia’s first national surfing champion;

1923: Charles Snow McAlister performs a pear tree and wins the Newcastle surfboard title;

1923: The Surf Bathing Association of NSW changes its name to Surf Life Saving Association;

1927: The Duke and Duchess of York Visit Manly and Enjoy Surf Rescue and Beach Sports Demonstration;

1933: Ernest Smithers launches the surf-o-plane, an inflatable rubber surf mat;

1934: Frank Adler designs the Racing 16, Australia’s first hollow board with a wooden frame and plywood skin;

1938: 200 bathers are surprised by a massive surf – despite the effort made by 70 rescuers, five people lose their lives;

1939: German-born Australian Harry Wicke wins SLSA of Australia surfboard championship;

[1945: Un groupe de surfeurs de Sydney forme l’Australian Surf Board Association ;

1948: Billy Reynolds, Ray Young, Serge Denman, Keith Sawyer et Bruce Agnew pagayent sur leurs planches de surf sur dix kilomètres de Manly à Bondi ;

1956: L’International Surf Carnival introduit les planches en balsa Malibu en Australie ;

1957: ” Service in Sun “, un film de Maurice Powers, révèle des membres des équipes de sauvetage de surf américaines et hawaïennes démontrant les dernières techniques de surf sur la plage de Bondi ;

1958: Arthur Lowe publie “Surfing, Surf-shooting and Surf-lifesaving Pioneering”, dans lequel il dit avoir commencé le bodysurf en 1886;

1960: Les premières planches de surf en mousse sont disponibles en Australie ;

1962: George Greenough construit sa première genouillère en cuillère à faible volume ;

1963: Midget Farrelly remporte le 10e championnat annuel international de surf Makaha;

1963: Surfing Australia est fondé;

1964: Midget Farrelly et Phyllis O’Donnell remportent le tout premier championnat du monde de surf à Manly Beach, devant 65 000 spectateurs ;

1966: Nat Young wins at Bells Beach and conquers Australian and World titles;

1967: Bob McTavish Shapes the World’s First V-Bottom Surfboard;

1969: Eric and Lowell Blum release the movie “The fantastic plastic machine“;

1969: Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer launch Rip Curl;

1970: Alby Falzon, John Witzig and David Elfick create Tracks, Australia’s premier surf magazine;

1973: Ian Cairns goes to Hawaii with just one surfboard and wins the Smirnoff Pro at Sunset Beach;

1973: Gordon Merchant launches Billabong;

1979: Mark Richards wins his first of four straight titles on the IPS World Circuit;

Mark Richards: one of Australia's best surfers of all time

1984: The first edition of the Malfunction Surf Festival celebrates the revival of longboarding;

1985: Charles Justin “Snow” McAllister and Mark Richards First Inductees into the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame;

1986: Tom Carroll Signs Exclusive Five-Year Contract With Quiksilver;

1989: Murray and Graeme Smith present Abro, an automated and computerized converting machine;

1992: Mark Sainsbury, credited with inventing the float, suffers from sudden brain aneurysm and dies in Avoca;

1996: “Litmus: a surf odyssey, “a film by Andrew Kidman, marks a new era in modern surfing;

1998: Layne Beachley Wins First of Five Consecutive ASP World Tour Titles;

1999: Mark Occhilupo wins the ASP World Tour title at 33;

2002: The Superbank, a kilometer-long artificial sandbank set up at the mouth of the Tweed River, allows surfers to ride the waves of Snapper Rocks in Kirra;

2007: Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore Win Their First ASP World Tour Title;

2012: The four kilometer stretch between Freshwater Beach and Shelly Beach is declared a World Surfing Reserve;

2012: Opening of Surfing Australia’s high performance center in Casuarina, New South Wales;

Interested in finding out more? To have “The century of surfing in Australia“, by Tim Baker.

Did we miss a key date in Australian surfing history? Send us an e-mail.



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