February 18 - 24, 2024: Issue 614


Surfing's First World Championship At Manly In 1964: Midget farrelly Tribute At Palm Beach Given Go-Ahead

A great new video has been published by the Australian National Surfing Museum on February 15, 2024, featuring footage and photos from the first World Championships of Surfing, held at Manly, May 16-17, 1964.

Magazine editor and surf film maker Bob Evans convinced one of Australia’s largest oil companies to sponsor the event, Ampol.

Ampol was a household name in Australia at that time as they had a network of petrol stations akin to today’s networks. Sydney surfer Kenny Williams was asked to run the judging which was loosely based on style and technique.

Previously The Makaha Invitational in Hawaii was considered the unofficial world championships. Midget Farrelly won the 1962 event and was well placed for the challenge of a home town win.

Manly Council agreed to bulldoze the beach and bank it to create maximum viewing space for the thousands of spectators that were expected.

The finals of the Juniors and Women’s were held on Sunday along with the Men’s finals which included several seeded surfers.

The favourites for the Senior Men’s event were overseas surfers, especially Hawaiian Joey Cabell and American John Richards, while Americans Linda Benson and Marge Calhoun were the favourites to win the Women’s event.

Among the Australians considered a good chance were Bobby Brown, Midget Farrelly and Avalon Beach surfer Mick Dooleywho won Bells in 1964.

An estimated 60000 people flocked to Manly beach to watch the finals.

Midget Farrelly won the men’s event ahead of Mike Doyle and Joey Cabell, and the win was decisive – Farrelly scored 132 points, Doyle scored 126.4 and Cabell scored 126 points.

Australian surfer Phyllis O’Donnell won the women’s event ahead of Linda Benson and Heather Nicholson and 10 times Bells beach champion Gail Cooper from Lorne in Victoria.

The junior men’s event was won by Bob Connelly ahead of Nat Young and Wayne Cowper.

Winners Midget Farrelly and Phyllis O'Donnell with their trophies. CREDIT R.L. Stewart

On December 20 2023 Council announced that Palm Beach surfing legend Bernard “Midget” Farrelly, dubbed the ‘Godfather’ of Australian surfing, will be forever honoured and remembered with a rock carving at Palm Beach.

Following public consultation, Council endorsed a proposal by the Midget Farrelly Recognition Committee to install a public artwork on Black Rock, Ocean Road Palm Beach.

The Midget Farrelly Recognition Committee recommended a petroglyph carving, which is created by incising, picking, carving or abrading part of the rock surface.

The Tribute was endorsed by members of Midget's family as he was, at heart, a modest gentleman, and this art work will in time fade with weathering and disappear.

Black Rock, Palm Beach

Midget lived at Palm Beach for 54 years and surfed there almost every day on one of his many short and malibu surfboards. 

He passed away in 2016 at the age of 71, after a battle with cancer. 

He became the first Australian to win a major international surfing title at the 1962 Makaha International Surfing Championships. Two years later, he won the inaugural World Surfing Championships at Manly Beach. 

From the World Titles he had a vest on with the number 3 on it during the heat rounds. His vest actually had number 2 during the final:

Jack Eden's photo of Midget at Manly World Championships of Surfing in 1964, courtesy Jack and Dawn Eden

Ron Perrott's photo at Manly World Championships of Surfing in 1964, courtesy Ron Perrott

In 1985, he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, recognising his contribution to surfing.

He started his first surfboard business in Palm Beach at the age of 18 after working for renowned Barry Bennett surfboards in Brookvale from the age of 15. He was considered a major player in the shortboard revolution.

Midget gave back to the local community through the Palm Beach and Whale Beach Surf Lifesaving Clubs, where he was a member and mentor for over 20 years. 

Midget with his Whale Beach SLSC Boat Crews at the February 2016, SLS Sydney Northern Beaches Branch Competition at Palm Beach.

Midget's wife Beverlie Farrelly with Midget's boat and Whale Beach SLSC crew at Warriewood Surfboats carnival, December 2016

Council received 101 responses during community consultation over the proposed artwork. Community feedback indicated a high level of support for the commemoration of Midget Farrelly in Palm Beach. 

The tribute will be installed in early 2024, weather permitting.

A Few Notes:

Born in Sydney, Farrelly had his first surf experiences at North Bondi beach in the early ’50s. This was the heart of old-style Australian beach culture; the realm of the volunteer lifesaver “surf clubs”, where the country’s few surfers would leave their big wooden boards overnight because they were too heavy to carry home on cars or bikes.

Quickly nicknamed ‘Midget’ for his slight build among the big men of the beaches, a barely teenage Farrelly saw California’s Greg Noll surfing Sydney waves during Da Bull’s lifeguard-sponsored visit in 1956, and realised that you could ‘corner’ on waves. (The Americans gave many demonstrations at Melbourne beaches during that Olympic year and subsequently launched the surf boom.) By 1961, the Malibu-style lightweight boards were being churned out and Farrelly was the Australian surfing champion. In 1962, he went to Hawaii and won the Makaha International championship in 6-foot surf, using a quick, light-footed surfing style, surprising the Hawaiians and Americans by becoming the first ‘outsider’ to win the event.


Wednesday (A.A.P.-Reuter) 

Australian surfer, Bernard Farrelly of Sydney won the world surfboard riding title to-day. He captured the championship from nine of the most experienced surfers in the world at the end of an exciting international tournament at the famed Makaha Beach in Hawaii. Experts who watched the final said Farrelly won because the conditions suited him better than the other finalists, who were all from Hawaii or California. The finalists had to wait two days until tournament officials decided the waves were good enough to make surfing possible. Farrelly showed remarkable control in his series of rides, building up his points tally, based on the length of ride and form displayed in catching a wave. SURFBOARD WIN TO AUSTRALIAN (1963, January 3 - Thursday). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 20. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104254829 

By 1964 the International Surfing Federation had pulled together the world’s surfing nations to stage a first-ever World Surfing Championships. The venue was Manly Beach. At the time, Australia was hardly the epicentre of surfing but 60,000 people lined the Manly shores to watch Farrelly take the men’s crown ahead of surfers such as Joey Cabell and Mike Doyle. Prior to the championship, Farrelly had won the Australian title. 

A sensational stylist, Farrelly was considered unbeatable at his peak in medium surfs but could match the world’s best in any conditions.

Farrelly was arguably the most successful competitor in the world during the 60s, he won the Australian title again in 1965, finished sixth at the 1966 world championships, and lost on a count-back to Fred Hemmings in the 1968 world championship at Puerto Rico to be placed 2nd. In 1966 he also won the Peruvian International Small Waves competition and in 1968 won the Bobby Brown Memorial.

Though always dedicated to the sport, he later became embroiled in a series of disagreements with Australian officials and was banned from entering the 1969 Australian title. He finished second at the 1970 world championships.

He set his own path through the ’70s and much of the ’80s, building a successful blank-making and chemicals business (Surfblanks), getting into alternative sports (he once broke his ankle hang gliding and is a highly skilled sailboarder), keeping a low personal profile, yet always being in the water on the bigger days at North Avalon and other breaks near his Palm Beach home. He learned to shape surfboards and produced two books – ‘A Surfing Life’ and ‘How to Surf ‘.

Midget still ran Surfblanks and spent more time in the water than ever before passing away on August 8th 2016. His public profile remained very low until, inspired by some of the new generation of Australian pro surfers, he began appearing at events and surfing in the legends displays that accompanied some Aussie pro events in the late ’80s. At the 1999 Noosa (Queensland) Surfing Festival, he re-won his 1964 crown in a replay of that event’s final heat.

Scott Dillon with Bernard Midget Farrelly at the 64 world titles re-enactment in Noosa. Photo courtesy Ron Turton

Honours & Achievements

2017: Posthumously made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to surfing

More in: 

Midget Farrelly at Palm Beach, 1964 – photo by by John Witzig, reproduced with permission of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. 

Midget surfing off Black Rock at Palm Beach in November 2015:
A J Guesdon photos

Bernard Midget Farrelly Paddle Out Tribute at Palm Beach on September 11th, 2016
That video, along with another, just below this one