Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly passed away last week.
He will be remembered by many, as one of the greatest surfers this country has produced. Aged 71 when he passed away, Midget was still surfing, making surfboards and planning surf trips. His death has shocked the surfing community around the country. This was surfing’s first World Champion and a man respected worldwide for his surfing ability, shaping ability and love of the ocean.
Born in Sydney during 1944, he was drawn to the beach at an early age and learnt to surf at the age of six riding an 18 foot hollow long board. As a gangly teenager, he watched the American’s on their new balsa surfboards turn and ride the nose during their 1956 visit to Australia. By 1961 he was an Australian surfing champion, and in 1962 he travelled to Hawaii and became the first non-Hawaiian to win the prestigious Makaha Invitational Surf Contest. Midget loved Hawaii and he loved the Hawaiian surf culture. He was quickly accepted into the local surfing community due to his respect for culture and big wave surfing prowess.
1964 was a big year for surfing. The Beach Boys dominated the charts on both sides of the Pacific and the first ever world surfing championships were held at Manly Beach in Sydney. American stars Joey Cabell and Mike Doyle were expected to fight it out for the title, but it was the local boy with the smooth turns and high arm action that won the Men’s Final in front of 60,000 people. ‘Midget’ was the World Champ, surfing’s first, and wave riding was changed in this country forever.
Midget was king and surfing was suddenly all the rage across mainstream Australia.
Midget started his surfboard shaping business the following year and continued to compete at the national and international level. Many believe that in 1967 he shaped the first short board that revolutionised surfing around the globe.
In 1970 Midget was part of the Australian team that travelled down to Bells Beach for the World Surfing Titles. While his teammates rode short boards that failed to generate speed in the fat Bells walls, Midget sped through to the final on his longer boards. Midget came second to Rolf Aurness and the world was reminded again what a truly great surfer he was.
For the last week the talk in the water, on the beach and in the surf shops has been about the passing of Midget. His skill as a surfer, and craftsmanship as a shaper, meant he touched the lives of many.
The day he died the surf went flat at Bells. Perhaps the waves were mourning the loss of a champion.
Written by John Foss