The popularity of surfing is marked by a number of distinct signposts in history. Key moments that blasted surfing into the mainstream advancing its popularity and changing its image forever.
In Australia, the Duke’s surf trip to Sydney in 1915 played a key role in popularising the sport. People were already surfing at Manly but when the Duke padded out at Freshwater Beach in front of a crowd numbering the thousands it took surfing from a tiny sport practised by dozens into a mainstream event.
41 years later in 1956 at Torquay over 50,000 people lined the beach to watch American surfers tear up the small point waves on their new balsa surfboards. This event and the new surfboards revolutionised surfing in Australia.
1964 Manly Beach and once again tens of thousands of people line the sand to watch Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly win the first ever World Title. The first televised surf contest in Australia captured the imagination of a nation and thousands hit the waves to copy Midget and become part of the new youth culture.
Easter Saturday 1981 and 20 foot waves thundered into Bells Beach during the Rip Curl Pro. It was the largest surf seen at a surf contest outside of Hawaii and it cemented Bells reputation as a big wave location capable of throwing up huge contestable waves.
From a global perspective, there is one key event that changed surfing forever. On June 4 1956 a teenage Kathy Kohner begged her parents to drop her at Malibu Beach so she could catch a few waves in her new surfboard and avoid a family barbecue.
Kathy stumbled down the beach with her board and was immediately noticed by the local surfing crowd. One of the locals Tubesteak yelled out.. “It’s a midget, a girl midget a God damn GIDGET!” Kohler went home and told her parents (including her script writing Father) about her day at the beach and 12 months later ‘Gidget’ was published.. soon to be followed by a series of highly successful films and a TV series.
In no time at all surfing in Southern California was changed from this insular underground activity to mainstream Hollywood culture. Thousands of ‘valley’ youth hit the beaches, dozens of surfboard shapers started up and literally overnight an industry was born.
The Beach Boys, Beach movies and surf magazines constantly pushed onto the mainstream in California and around the world the image of surfing as a cool thing to do that would make you friends and attract the girls. Where once a few thousand of people surfed in California now hundreds of thousands rode the waves. The real demise of surfing was still 12 years away in the eyes of many but the day ‘Gidget’ hit the beach and started her diary changed surfing forever.
Written by John Foss