I first heard of Torquay and its good surf, while sitting in the late afternoon sun at the Brighton Baths. Vic Tantau, George Packham and Russ Mole were there, and had just spent several weekends camping down at Torquay in an old American Army Bell-tent they had hired from a disposal store in Melbourne. They did a bit of raving about “the big surf at Torquay” and I told them I had learnt to surf at Newcastle and that there was no real surf in Victoria! As none of them at that time, had been out of Victoria, they were inclined to believe me, but invited me down to stay with them on the ANA long week-end, to check out the surf at Torquay.
On a Friday in January 1949, I packed my togs and towel into my sporty Morris 8/40 and with my navy and sailing mate Jamie Harrison, followed Russ Mole’s old green A. Model and Vic Tantau’s old Blue A Model Ford through Melbourne and down the narrow road to Geelong, and the small seaside town of Torquay. I thought it would be just a week-end visit and I would return to sailing Pastime the next week-end, but Torquay and its surf were to enthral me and change the direction of my life for ever.
Surfing Torquay in the 40’s
The first thing I did after dumping my gear into the dark gloom of Russ and Vic’s big army tent, was to walk with them to the top of the nearest sand dune, and check out the size of the surf! “Hughie” was smiling down on us that week-end, and lovely shaped five or six foot waves in serried ranks were rolling in to the beach in front of the little fibro-sheeted hut that was the Surf Life Saving club. The second thing I did was to run back to the tent and don my Speedo’s and race down to the beach and enjoy some of the best body-waves since I had been at Nobby’s! By the end of that first week-end I had met most of those who went to Torquay every week-end during the summer. I also found that I could swirll and body surf just as well as the best of the Life-savers in the Torquay Surf Club, and that most of them spent a lot of their time out at the point break riding the waves on surf boards and surf skis. I had never ridden a board or a ski before, but Vic and his mates already knew just about everyone in the club and got one of them to lend me a board. They were not yet club members, but the members would lend them surf-boards and skis to encourage them to become members of the club and help share the odious work on the patrol roster, looking after inexperienced people surfing between the flags. I had a lot of fun learning to ride a borrowed surfboard, but the water was much colder than in Port Phillip Bay and the weather always seemed bleaker than Melbourne. By the end of that week-end, I had become captivated by Torquay and its surf and for the next sixteen week-ends my 8/40 chugged down the Geelong road to Torquay, while Pastime (Mick’s sailboat in Queensland) was sailed off Brighton by Bob Jeavon’s and her crew! I joined the Torquay Club with Vic Tantau, George Packham and Russell Mole, and we trained and got our Surf Bronze and joined the others doing our share of patrols on the beach.
Each Friday night my little red Morris sat outside the dilapidated bell-tent, known as “The Dungeon” because inside it was as dark as one! I camped there with Vic Tantau, Russ Mole, George Packham and “Skeeter” Peters, with the two old “A” model Fords and my little Morris 8/40 parked next to the old fashioned wooden stove near the tent, where we cooked Joey Walker’s tasty steaks.