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26 January 2005
Every Easter, the world's best surfers go to Bells Beach for a world championship surfing event. We'll meet some of these surfers and ask them why Bells is such a popular event.
DAMIAN HARDMAN: Everyone wants that Bell, there's no trophy in surfing like the Bell.
JOEL PARKINSON: If you had a Bell in your house, basically you know, it would be the icing on the cake.
KELLY SLATER, SURFER: I'd love another one. I want to stop someone else from getting one.
MARY GEARIN: Every year the world's best come running.
Bells, the beach and the contest is a unique pit stop in the frenzied global safari that is modern surfing.
A far cry from other world championship tour events on isolated reefs where only filmmakers can watch them ply the waves.
JOEL PARKINSON: It's such a prestige contest to win, because when you win it feels like the whole crowd, you hear the crowd echoing out on the beach.
KELLY SLATER: There is just a huge tradition in it.
The list of surfers who have won this event reads like world champions.
It's really an elite field.
ANDY IRONS: Bell's Beach is great for a surfer just because of the surf really.
The waves are really good, you can get real quality.
MARY GEARIN: But the waves, famed for their length and uniformity as they roll up from the Bight are just about the only things that haven't changed about the event.
Its history has tracked alongside the growth of the town, the industry, and surfing itself.
MARK RICHARDS, SURFER: I can remember a final with Tom Carroll, I think it was in 1982.
Beautiful weather, great surf, the headland was massed with people.
Thousands of people had actually crawled around the base of the cliff there at Bells and every time that Tom got a wave they were cheering and every time I got a wave they were cheering.
MARY GEARIN: Mark Richards has to juggle four Bells in his trophy room, more than anyone else.
He remembers the time before sponsorship and prize money feathered a young dude's nest.
MARK RICHARDS: Well, I think the most I earned in a year was somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.
MARY GEARIN: No-one knows for sure, but nowadays the top few dozen guys would earn in the high six figures.
While Richards says the hunger is still there for beginners, it may not be the same for everyone.
MARK RICHARDS: I think for some of the elite guys, you know, from what we understand, they're paid some fairly ridiculous amounts of money and I guess unless they are on an incentive-based contract, depending on how well they did in the events there really wouldn't be a lot of hunger to do well.
MARY GEARIN: For the younger crowd, too, there are warnings about the pressure of big time surfing.
KELLY SLATER: I do get a little worried about kids being made to burn out by the time they are 18 and I've seen it happen to kids before I came along.
There's been a few really good young Australian surfers who by the time they were 18, 20-years-old, were finished.
A lot of it seems like a kid who gets a lot early and doesn't know how to deal with it mentally and emotionally and stuff that can definitely hurt.
I think the sponsors have an obligation to try and be wary of that.
DAMIEN HARDMAN: It is a danger in any sport but I think that's life.
But how can you get burned out surfing great waves and getting paid to do it?
It's an ideal lifestyle and it's most kids' dream to do that.
MARY GEARIN: Two time world pro surfing champion, and Damien Hardman is now, as Bells contest director, overseeing little luxuries for competitors, like one of the first hot tubs on the world tour.
PAT O'CONNELL: This is outstanding.
I've come here for 10 years and this is the first time I've ever had a hot tub at the event, but it's much needed.
Even though the weather is nice today, I think it's going to cool down by the weekend, so it will be a bit of a battle in here.
MARY GEARIN: But one of the founders of Australia's lucrative surfing industry says the fundamentals haven't changed.
DOUG WARBRICK: I think there's no doubt that these surfers today are not quite as hungry as they were in the past.
But as far as winning, like winning surfing events, I guess it's like other sports.
You've got to have that intrinsic desire to win and that genuine drive, so that has't changed.
MARY GEARIN: Doug Warbrick should know about drive.
He was one of the pioneers who turned Torquay, once the proverbial sleepy summer resort, into a surf industry boom town.
Birthplace of two corporate giants, Rip Curl and Quiksilver, which along with Billabong have established Australia as the powerhouse of multimillion dollar surf fashion sales.
JOHN FOSS: As these companies have grown and evolved, what we've seen is that a whole lot of other surf companies have grown and evolved around them so we have this whole critical mass of surfing companies here in Torquay, which is a major employer not just for this town but this region.
MARY GEARIN: Now every move Rip Curl makes is big corporate news and its reclusive co-founder keeps having to fend off expectations that it will float.
DOUG WARBRICK: I think there would be very little likelihood that we would float in the next 12 months. You asked me about that. I would think that is highly unlikely.
MARY GEARIN: Instead, the company says to expect big sponsorship announcements in the coming days.
So, the global mythology and industry that started with this stretch of Victorian coastline will continue.
DOUG WARBRICK: We have a certain sense of pride to see particularly where the surfing industry has, the point to which the surfing industry has arrived at now.
It's a remarkable journey because it just goes on and on.
MARY GEARIN: Just like the search for the perfect wave.