In the late 1960’s four young Australians travelled to Hawaii with the aim to make a living from their passion and, in turn, start the birth of pro surfing. Read more on the history of surfing here.
If you had asked the man in the street about what a surfer was in the late 1960s you’d have been met with a blank face. This all changed when four young Australians travelled to Hawaii in the early 1970s, their aim was simple, to make a living from their passion and become the world’s first professional surfers.
The first disciples of professional surfing included Mark Richards, Ian Cairns, Pete Townend and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew. They had racked up several visits to Hawaii between them and decided to make their move to the Pacific permanent. Their plan? Simple, turn up and pronounce themselves as professionals and start the birth of pro surfing. They arrived in Hawaii in 1974 and started to take advantage of competition prize money, tried to blag sponsorships from manufacturers and sold their stories to the local press and magazines.
The tone of their determined crusade was set early on by Mark Richards. His father had allowed him to leave school half-way through fifth form with one condition: should he fail to establish himself as a professional in Hawaii within a year he would have to return to Australia and find a trade.
To make good on his gamble, Richards had to catch a break, he gained late entry to a contest at Waimea Bay and then quickly took advantage of the opportunity to thrust himself into the limelight. Overnight the waves had jumped and the contestants now faced 30-foot sets, most turned away and claimed they were too big for the competition to go ahead but at the age of 17 Richards saw his chance to step out of the shadows. With no Waimea experience and riding surf twice the size of anything he had touched previously, the teenager stunned those in attendance by tackling set after set and even managing to bottom turn on the walls of water.
What followed the birth of pro surfing was a period of domination throughout the 70s for the group as they each picked up some of the most prestigious titles in the developing world of pro surfing and in 1975 Cairns and Townend even devised the rating and scoring system for surfing events which is now used by the World Surfing League.
The establishment of surfing professionals unleashed a new world surfing culture which exploded thanks to these early pioneers, no longer were surfers seen as ‘hippy layabouts’ in the eyes of the public, instead they were granted the respect and admiration they deserve. The pinnacle of this revolution into a professional sport was the recent announcement of surfing’s introduction to the Olympic roster in 2020 – no doubt this would have been unthinkable were it not for these early leading lights.
For those of you wanting to learn more about the birth of pro surfing and the early days of the professional surfing scene, we recommend getting your hands on a copy of Bustin’ Down the Door, the 2008 documentary film chronicles the rise of the gang in the early 1970s and is a must for any surfing enthusiast.
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