Bells Beach is one of the most well-known surf spots on the planet.
Just over 20 minutes from Geelong and seven odd minutes from Torquay, Bells has captured the imagination of surfers around the world for over 50 years.
Bells wasn’t surfed until the fifties, when a group of surfers bush bashed their way through to the beach from the old Anglesea Road. They were mesmerised by the powerful, empty waves rolling into Bells from the Southern Ocean.
It wasn’t long before a select group of local surfers would drag their boards through the bush for a surf at Bells. There were no leg ropes in the old days so many boards were smashed against the rocks after a wipe-out.
The early sixties were a period of transition. The first Bells contest was held on Australia Day 1961 and suddenly Bells hit the radar of surfers around the country.
Soon the native vegetation along the creek and cliff tops was getting destroyed by surfers who used the branches to light fires on the beach (wetsuits had yet to be invented so the beach fires kept everyone warm). By the mid-sixties, the local surfing community realised they needed to protect the environment so they started planting trees and creating proper pathways through the coastal bush.
In 1973, Bells Beach was declared the world’s first surfing reserve. Looking after Bells and the surrounding native vegetation became a passion for many surfers and non-surfers. Through these actions, surfers created an environmental model that would soon be replicated around the world.
Fast forward fifty years, and Bells is once again under threat. A local landowner has presented plans to council to turn his old house into tourism accommodation and build a brand new house close to the beach. Council knocked the plans back, but the developer didn’t give in and took his fight to VCAT. Within weeks, over 33,000 people had signed a petition calling for Bells Beach to be protected from this and other potential developments.
In the end, it came down to a choice between protecting the environment and supporting commercial tourism. Sadly just before last Christmas, the VCAT member decided that tourism was more important to the region. The environment had lost.
The surfing community is currently fighting to save Bells Beach from this inappropriate development. Surfrider Foundation are leading the charge to protect Bells Beach. Go to their web page and see how you can help protect this iconic surf beach that sits in our backyard.
Written by John Foss