I managed to bump into Garry Birdsall at the Australian Surfing Awards earlier this year. I have admired his artworks for over a decade so it was pretty cool to spend time talking with Garry about surfing, art and his experiences riding big waves at Bells Beach.
Garry is a goofy foot surfer who started surfing in the fifties at Cronulla Beach on Sydney’s southside. In 1961 a photograph of him riding a huge wave at Cronulla Point was used on the cover for The Atlantics hugely popular album BOMBORA.
Two years later, Garry travelled down to Bells Beach to compete in the Easter Surfing Contest. Garry came second to Doug Andrew, an amazing effort for a goofy foot surfer during the sixties. The surf was small that Easter weekend but the locals said hang around… it will get bigger!
Garry: “As I drove to Bells Beach I could see big waves were rolling in. I thought to myself ‘Shit it’s big’ but I didn’t know how big. Pulling up the waves were stacked to the horizon… big cold waves marching in from the south. I grabbed my longboard and headed down to the beach and a couple of local surfers were watching and they yelled, ‘You going out?’ I looked around and yelled back ‘Fuck yeah!’
“I got to the sand and looked up at a really huge set rolling through, low tide. ‘Bugger… it looks bigger from the beach, why did I have to go and open my big mouth.’
“I waited for a break between sets and paddled out from the beach as fast as I could… but not fast enough. A massive set came thundering into the Bells bowl. I put my head down and paddled as fast as I could… soon I was paddling up the face of a huge wave that broke as I reached the top. I got thrown backwards by the lip of the wave and got smashed as it broke. I managed to find my board and had to keep paddling out. I’d opened my big mouth on the beach and I had to catch one of those waves!”
Today Garry is a renowned surf artist. His colourful painted artwork of surfings most iconic vistas (Bells Beach, Byron Bay) evoke memories of a time when surfboards were long and life was simpler.
Recently he has been painting a series of artworks featuring iconic surf life saving clubs around Australia. Once again tapping into surf culture at a historic and social level.
You can find more of Garry’s amazing surf art at www.surfart.com.au
Written by John Foss