Remembering ‘Big Saturday’, the most famous day in Rip Curl Bells Beach history

Remembering ‘Big Saturday’, the most famous day in Rip Curl Bells Beach history

Words by John Foss

In 1981, Simon Anderson changed the course of surfing history.

This year the Rip Curl Pro is finally back at Bells Beach.

Since 1962 surfers from around Australia have descended on Torquay each Easter weekend to watch the first surfers in the world compete in one of the most iconic waves in the world.

Following on from last year, where there was no contest, no grandstands, no traffic jams and no ringing of the famous Bell in the Bells Beach carpark at the end of the men’s and women’s events for just the second time in almost 60 years, the world’s longest continuous surfing event has returned to Bells for the iconic stop on The World Surf League Championship Tour.

So while the best surfers in the world will once again have their chance to ring their way into history, let’s jump into the time capsule and go back 40 years to Easter Saturday 1981 when HUGE waves rolled into Bells Beach.

No one predicted it and no one was prepared. Most of the pro surfers that year rocked into Torquay with a bunch of twin fins expecting small waves.

Easter Saturday dawned bright and sunny. You didn’t need to view the surf, you could hear it. Dull booms in the distance as Torquay and Jan Juc literally shook under the impact of the biggest waves in decades.

By mid-morning, solid 20 foot waves were rolling into Bells Beach. Surfers were given 45 minutes to paddle out. People were scrambling to get their hands on ‘guns’ so that they could tackle the massive rolls rolling in from the deep south. This was the biggest surf anyone had seen at Bells in 20 years.

The cliffs were packed with supporters keen to watch the waves, the big drops and the wipeouts.

And then along came Simon Anderson to add another layer of intrigue to the day. Simon pulled up in the carpark with a quiver of surfboards featuring three fins… his new design, the ‘thruster’. People had heard about these radical new boards which Anderson had been working on all summer. Everyone had questions… would they work… would they work in HUGE WAVES?

Anderson paddled out for his heat and from the moment he dropped into a 15 foot plus wave and executed a long drawn out bottom turn before doing a huge carve on the face everyone knew. The ‘thruster’ could work in small and big waves (Anderson would go on to surf many massive waves that day and win the contest on Easter Monday).

It’s brilliant to see Rip Curl Pro running once again at Bells Beach this year. Everyone loves the event, the beautiful vista at Bells, the waves, the nature, the world’s top surfers going head to head in big waves. If you haven’t yet, get on out there and see just what we’re talking about.

Check out this clip from WIZARDS OF THE WATER which shows ‘Big Saturday’… the day huge waves rolled into Bells Beach and Simon Anderson changed surfing forever.

Wizards of the Water – Directed by Alan Rich (1981) – Big Bells Easter Saturday 1981 from Bells Beach Surf Film Festival on Vimeo.

Turn your inbox up to 11. Sign up to Forte’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food, booze and culture stories twice a week.