Each year in the last week of May the Australian Indigenous Surfing Titles are held at Bells Beach. Dozens of Indigenous surfers from around Australia descend on Torquay and bells Beach for this unique surfing and cultural event during National Reconciliation Week.
In contrast to the Rip Curl Pro held each Easter this is a low key, grassroots surfing event. No big grandstands, screens or camera towers on the beach… just a group of people who come together for the love of surfing (and Bells Beach).
In many ways Bells Beach is the perfect venue for the Indigenous surfing titles. Bells itself has a rich Indigenous history. Midden sites on the beach have been dated back 10,000 years. There are a number of important cultural sites located around the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve and Point Addis (south of Bells) was historically an important site for ochre that was traded by the local Wadawurrong people far and wide.
This years event was held in perfect meter high surf. Every year the event seems to be blessed with good waves and good weather (for Victoria late in May). The event traditionally kicks off with a Welcome to Country by a local Elder and smoking ceremony where all competitors are invited to walk through the smoke and cleanse themselves for the event.
What makes this event so cool is that everyone is laid back and it is in many ways a throw back to the original Bells contests. Surfers share wetsuits, lend each other surfboards. They might be wearing coloured singlets in the water but there is an air of friendship about the contest.
Having a good time catching waves is just as important as winning the next heat.
This years Australian Indigenous Men’s Title was won by Otis Carey from Coffs Harbour. Otis is a quiet person on land but surfs with power and style out in the water. Fifteen year old Summer Simon from Port Kembla won the Women’s division – her third win at the event in a row. Artist Tom Avery from Lismore won the Longboard event with evergreen former pro surfer Robbie Page coming second.
If you get the chance next year head on down to Bells when the contest is on. Take a blanket and chill on the beach as Australia’s top Indigenous surfers have a ball surfing one of the world’s top surf break. It’s a throwback to the sixties when surf contests were as much about having fun as winning trophies.
By John Foss