The greatest contest ever - Bells Beach Easter 1965

Surfing World editorial by Bob Evans owner and founder
“Surfing contests come and go but seldom do contestants get the benefit of really good surf. I have been to two World Contests and four International Championships, plus innumerable meets in Australia and without reservation the Bells Beach contest on Easter weekend presented the most impressive surf ever.
With a 15 ’ ground swell lining up way out to sea, consistent power sets rolled up from Bass Straight. Definately a dangerous sea and beyond the capabilities of the average rider, it was nevertheless a great test.
The waves though close to ideal for big surf, were complicated by a savage rip tide which almost caused loss of life.
Presence of mind and a measure of good on the side of the surfers in danger saved a tragedy.
It could be a long time before a surf like this will turn up when there are so many good in the water.
New Surfing World Barrie Sutherland was on hand at Bells and provided our complete and graphic coverage”

Bob Evans, founder and editor Surfing World magazine

About this gallery

I've taken this story from my memoirs which I've been writing for many years. Enjoy!

“Bells Beach on Easter Sunday 1965 is legendary. The Melbourne Sun–Herald called it ‘Bells Beach Boomers’ while many of the surfing crew simply called it, “The hell swell”.

The story begins on the Wednesday prior to Easter when offshore northerlies had blown out the swell. I remember looking at the synoptic weather charts and noting that a series of intense fronts south west of the Great Australian Bight would generate swell for Easter in a few days -- little did I ever imagine what was about to explode onto Bells and forever into our memories. Knowing the swell was small, my friend John Panozzo and I thought we would make an early start on Friday morning and head off down the coast to Fairhaven and Eastern View. We arrived at Bells on Friday morning, about 6:30am and checked the wind – it was blowing briskly from the north across the face of small 1metre waves off Rincon. While a few surfers were out struggling to get waves, the interstate surfers were camped in their cars in the car park, most having driven down from Sydney overnight. We quickly left and took off down the coast to Spout Creek and Eastern View. With the incoming tide we managed a few small waves at Spout Creek until mid-day when the wind swung north-west and freshened. Within an hour, swell lines began to appear and we agreed Bells would start to kick in on the falling evening tide. As we drove back along the coast, we could see that every set was building on the previous one and swell lines were appearing out to the horizon and starting to march across Bass Strait. By 6:00pm that evening Bells was pumping with lines and lines of a 2 metre swell pushing into a fresh north-westerly breeze. The line-up from Rincon through the Bowl was jam-packed with surfers. All the signs were there for bigger things over the next 24 hours.

Saturday morning dawned and we were greeted with a very powerful groundswell that had increased to about 4 metres. By noon the wind had swung to the west and was getting stronger by the hour. The Bells contest was under way as the low-pressure systems intensified in the Bight generating swell lines that bent around Cape Otway and marched up the coast to Bells. From the cliff top there were corduroy lines of swell everywhere across the ocean with very little let up between sets – the swell kept building like I had never seen before.

Sunday morning John and I arrived very early and gasped as we got our first glimpse of Bells. It was huge with massive swells pushing into a crisp north-westerly breeze. This was stuff that we only ever dreamed of. I have a colour slide taken from the top of the cliff above Winki Pop looking back to Bells and the lines of swell. It’s all white water from Winki Pop through the Bowl to Rincon. The shore break is literally out at the normal take-off point in the Bowl! Only those who have surfed Bells know what this slide means. I quickly exhausted the colour film and swapped to black and white -- the first shot I took was this one of Roger Falahey scratching up the face of a massive Bells wall. Everyone on the cliff top literally gasped and howled. This is probably the biggest wave ever photographed at Bells. Conservative estimates place the wave height at 30 feet – Roger’s board was 10’ long, so you can scale it from there. Years later we asked Roger what he was thinking of as he frantically paddled up the face. His quick reply - “I was hoping there wasn’t an even bigger one behind it!” Fortunately for him there wasn’t. It was ground-breaking stuff and set the scene for a new era at Bells.”

© copyright Barrie Sutherland.