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 will not be running at Bells Beach. For surf starved fans this is torture.

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.

This year there will be 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. It is surreal to think that for the second time in almost 60 years the world’s longest continuous surfing event will not run.

So while the world’s best surfers are flapping around in tiny waves at Newcastle, 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 a bummer the Rip Curl Pro isn’t running at Bells Beach again 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. But we will always have the memories.

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.

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