Surfing was introduced to Australians in the Southern Summer of 1915 by none other than legendary Hawaiian surfing pioneer, Duke Kahanamoku , on what would later become known as Freshwater Beach in Sydney, New South Wales. After fashioning a surfboard from local timbers, Duke paddled into a wave, stood up and rode back to the astonishment of all of those present. At that moment, surfing on “Oz” was officially born.
Always one to outdo himself, Duke then selected a young girl from the beach, one Miss Isabel Letham, and had her lie forward on his board while he rode back with her in tandem. So, the first Australian to ever officially “surf” was Isabel, and she remained at Freshwater until her death in 1995, at which time her ashes were ceremoniously scattered on the beach by a circle of local board riders. Duke’s board was given to a local surfer named Claude West, who became the first Australian Board Riding Champion. The board is currently on display at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club at Freshwater Beach.
Australia has miles and miles of surfable coastline and a good mix of reef breaks, point breaks and beach breaks, so it’s no wonder that the sport of surfing took the continent by storm after the Duke’s introduction. In New South Wales, the entire coast gets good surf at one time or another, but all the best breaks go off in Summer and Autumn. Freshwater Beach is on the north coast of New South Wales, and is a favored spot for championship events. Other regions include Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia,Tasmania, and the North Coast, which should be avoided due to deadly jellyfish and saltwater crocodiles. If you get a chance to spend time in Victoria, be sure to visit the SurfWorld Museum in Torquay, which is the world’s largest surfing and beach lifestyle museum and home to the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.
To say that surfing is fully ingrained in Australia’s culture is an understatement. The surf is always up somewhere in Oz.