The First Bells Competition

History is a slippery beast, or perhaps it could be likened to swiss cheese. You rarely have a complete picture and often what is “known” is riddled with holes. The very first contest at Bells has created disputes for years, because it was organised to run in December 1961 but was postponed until Australia Day 1962, and also for things like George “Ming” Smith being awarded “wave of the day” despite Ming not actually having entered the event! It was a carefree time, a very different era that was not well documented.

That first iteration of what has become the worlds longest running surfing competition was brought into sharper focus not long after the Australian National Surfing Museum (SurfWorld) opened in 1993. We discovered two boxes of slides from the event, given to Surfing Victoria by Vic Tantau. Vic was a Victorian surfing pioneer and organised the first Bells comp with his mate Peter Troy. That first Bells event was, in part, an opportunity for the two to promote sales of “T Boards”, Troy and Tantau’s fledgling surfboard company. The images filled in a lot of information about the first running of that low key but now iconic event. The waves, the crowd, the boards and local surfing stars like Terry Wall, Marcus Shaw and Ray Wilson were all represented in full colour. You can make out the contest infrastructure, two card tables, a couple of chairs and a loud hailer, and see spectators and surfers gathered on the sand.
In answering many questions about the event these images also create some intrigue. Clearly there were a number of girls surfing at the event, something that has never been really commented on or mentioned in Bells contest histories. So while we have filled some gaps in our knowledge of the event, and have a great visual record from that day in 1962, at the same time we have found a new hole in the cheese.

Craig Baird
Australian National Surfing Museum

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