Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia
April 3rd through April 14th
Some days are subject to lay days
Lying three miles southwest of the small town of Torquay, Victoria, along what's now known as the Surf Coast, Bells Beach is perhaps Australia's iconographic surf spot -- a place engraved in the hearts and minds of all Aussie surfers of the past 40 years. Its long, fat,
fast walls have provided a focus for the growth of global surf corporations and for hard-core myth and legend rivaled by few locations worldwide.
Bells is a broad sediment-rock reef break exposed to a range of swells from major southern ocean storms, which sweep beneath the Australian continent every few days, often moving on to bombard the south-facing coasts of Fiji, Tahiti and (in the right season) Hawaii and California. These swells must make a turn around Cape Otway, 70 miles southwest of Bells, before filtering up the Surf Coast and wrapping into the wide expanse of Bells' bay. The resulting surf ranges from 2 to 12 feet and occasionally larger, breaking over several different sections of reef, including Centerside, Rincon, Outside Bells and Bells' Bowl.
Just to the east is the spectacular Winkipop reef, a long fast hollow-sectioned right that runs for several hundred yards along the cliff line beyond Bells. Winkipop is cut off from Bells by a short, dangerous rock point known as the Button.
The history of Bells as a surfing beach extends back into the early post-war years, when in 1949, a group of Torquay-based surfers and bodysurfers began riding their motorbikes out to Bells along the cliff tops, riding waves in the shorebreak and catching crayfish in the rock pools. The beach had earned its name much earlier from the Bell farming family, who owned the land behind the cliffs. But it was a long trip with the 16-foot hollow boards then in use in Australia, and Bells was forgotten again until the late '50s, when lightweight Malibu-style boards made the trip a lot easier. Early surfers at Bells included Peter Troy, Joe Sweeney, "China" Gilbert and George "Ming" Smith, who won the first contest held at Bells in 1961, collecting a one-pound ($2) prize, making this the first modern professional event.
By 1963 the event had grown, had a new name (the Bells Beach Easter Rally) and was drawing surfers from around Australia. Over the years it proved to indeed be a rallying point for the hottest surfers in the nation and eventually the world, turning full-pro in 1973 with the help of a jeans company, Amco, and a growing local surf shop and wetsuit business, Rip Curl.
Since then, Easter at Bells has seen everything from the debut of Simon Anderson's Thruster surfboard design to party scenes of unrivaled madness to wins by some of the sports greatest legends -- mostly regularfoots -- including: Mark Richards (4 times) Michael Peterson (3 times), Nat Young, Tom Curren (twice), Kelly Slater (3 times), Sunny Garcia (3 times), Andy Irons (twice), Joel Parkinson (twice) and Stephanie Gilmore (twice). The event has also provided a launching pad for both Rip Curl and Quiksilver to build the product, contacts and reputations needed for their global expansion through the '80s and '90s.