A Restart for Australia

City Beach, Western Australia, mid-'50s. Photo: Ray Geary
Coffs Harbor Surf Club, 1950s
California lifeguard-surfers Greg Noll (left) and Tom Zahn (center), 1956
Greg Noll (right) and Mike Bright, Australia, 1956

By the end of World War II, Australian surfers had been going at it hard for almost 40 years, and the country’s wave-riding population had grown steadily. In 1949, nobody so much as raised an eyebrow after a newsreel claimed that “surfing is Australia’s most popular sport.” Yet surfing here was different than it was in America. Or, put another way, isolated from trends in California and Hawaii, Australian surfing was more or less exactly the same as it had been in 1935. This would end with th...

Midcentury Aussies weren’t much concerned with progressing the art. “They ride waves,” a sportswriter wrote in 1949, describing the routine followed by a group of Manly Beach surfers, “play medicine ball on the beach, then return to the clubhouse for a hot shower and a spot of weightlifting.”