Vale Pearl Turton
February 5th, 1947- February 4th, 2021
It is our melancholy duty to inform you of the passing of Pearl Turton.
Our sincere condolences are extended to daughter Sheridan, and brothers Ross (decd.) and Ron Turton.
Pearl was a very popular local girl, much loved for her vivacious nature, generous spirit and championing of younger women, particularly in the field of surfing. Pearl was a surfing champion herself and winner of the Ladies Division at the forerunner of today's Australian surfing events, “The Interstate Surf Meet”, held 27th-28th of April, 1963, at North Avalon Beach.
Her family has requested we re-run her Profile this Issue as a Tribute for all who knew and loved her, and as a Celebration of a life well lived.
Pearl Turton, was born in Surrey, England on February 5th 1947. In October 1949 Ronald Charles Turton and Pearl Elizabeth Turton arrived in Australia along with their children, eldest son Ron (four), Pearl (two), and Ross on the way. They settled in Sydney and by 1950 had moved to Palm Beach, Pittwater.
The Turton family lived on the Pittwater estuary side of the Peninsula initially, learning to swim at Careel Bay. When Pearl’s father changed jobs and became caretaker at Palm Beach Golf Club, they moved to the commencement of the Barrenjoey isthmus with the Pacific Ocean on their doorstep.
The Palm Beach of then was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone and there were not many full-time residents. It was very much a holiday destination and packed on the weekends during Summer.
Her brother Ron shares this insight into those years;
‘’During the weekdays, near Careel Bay and after school, we all used to play rugby league and cricket, all those “boy” sports in those days. Pearl just joined in and she was accepted. She could run like the wind and had enormous hand eye coordination.
During her school years Pearl excelled at track and field, Netball and gymnastics. It was the surf however that soon became the main attraction.’’
''Looking back the timing was right. Before we were teenagers things were starting to change. By the end of the 50’s music, clothing and SURFING were changing. Pearl took to the surf with all my mates she was just another of the gang.’’
‘’We did not have surfboards at first. We used to just body surf and then we rode these things called “surfoplanes”. They were a blown up rubber with two handles and you had to paddle like mad to catch a wave, the bigger the better, then lay down and hang on. It was fantastic. Before too long Pearl decided it would be fun to ride these things like a jockey and I can still see her flying down these waves one hand on the handle and the other hand raised in the air like a rodeo rider rocketing around terrified body surfers. It was so much fun.
''None of our gang by this time owned a surfboard. They were for the older boys and men. However, that was all about to change. There were about half a dozen fellows of my age around twelve years who bought nine foot balsa wood Malibu boards. Some of the Surf Club members had let us have a ride on the 16 foot long hollow plywood boards and some had the same in the nine foot length. They were so heavy and awkward to ride, so the balsa wood board coated in fibreglass and resin at that time were lightweight by the standards of those days.
''Pearl borrowed my board and off she went, this petite little thing could just ride and had confidence and raw talent to burn. It became a way of life not a sport and as she had always been one of the Palm Beach gang there was none of this “what’s a girl doing on our wave” stuff that that later plagued the sport. From the beginning although not a big girl by any means Pearl showed all the attributes of being a sports star.
Pearl left school early in her mid-teens and started working at the Palm Beach Pharmacy as a trainee beautician and used to surf before and after work just as long as the surf ‘was up’. There were no contests at the time, however in 1963 “The Interstate Surf Meet” to be run under International surfing rules at North Avalon, eventuated – the forerunner of modern day events. This ran over two days with a senior and junior men’s division and a ladies division.
Ron says, ‘’Pearl rode in the ladies event on the Sunday. I must mention that it was nothing like the surfing we see today. Back then the boards were heavy and there were no leg ropes. If you fell off or got wiped out you had to swim to shore then paddle back out through the white water and start all over again. You had to be fit! Anyway in the ladies demolition derby with countless ladies riding Pearl prevailed and overnight became very famous.
This pretty little 16 year old became a household name. The phones did not stop at our house. Pearl was featured on National Television on the top ranking Bandstand rock and roll show. They filmed it outdoors one week and they interviewed Pearl in a bikini. (unheard of in those days). She was on the front page of the popular Everybodys’ magazine and also on the front page of The Women’s Weekly Teenage lift out section, which was Australia’s top selling magazine.
She started writing in Surfing magazines in the “Ask Pearl” section. Girls from all over Australia and New Zealand used to send in questions for Pearl to answer.
Pearl only competed again once after that. There was an event at Bondi on the Southside of Sydney Harbour. She did some modelling work in the morning suffering from middle ear infection and did not feel at all well. She turned up all the same and I remember her paddling out for her heat and just sat out the back and did not attempt to catch one wave. I was there and felt so sorry for her.
The iconic movie The Endless Summer came along and Pearl was asked to be a part of it all when Robert August and Mike Hynson did the Australian part of the film. Pearl’s boss at the Pharmacy gave her time off and she had a ball being filmed for hours with the boys. When the movie came to Australia it was shock horror. The movie just shows a pretty young girl looking like she had never ridden a board at the time. They just called her Pearl. Did not show any of her good shots and did not even mention that she was the reigning National Champion. Sad, as it is still regarded as the best surfing movie of all time. We would have loved to have seen what happened to the rest of the footage.''
''I think this was just such a whirlwind ride for a young girl. Well, that is my opinion. She was very proud of the beautiful trophy.
Pearl married, had a beautiful daughter, became a working mum and never competed again. In fact that was pretty well it as far as surfboard riding went.
Ron said this week, ''Pearl went in another direction and became the first ladies delegate of the Australian Surfriders Association in 1964-1965. Pearl also used to sponsor encouragement awards and donate cash for up and comers at contests to help them with entry fees etc. She also used to present trophies to the junior winners of competitions. She loved doing that. Pearl was always a giver.
She used to watch the world circuit on television and knew all the stats and the names of both men and women rider’s.
Her other great love as a teenager was dirt track motorcycle speedway racing. Thank heavens only as a spectator. If anyone had given her a bike…Oh I hate to think. I don’t think I could have watched.
She was fearless!’’
As Pearl herself used to say;
“Never take it for granted. Make the most of it while you can. It's still an exciting time for women's surfing. It always will be."
"YOUNG AUSTRALIANS LIKE PEARL TURTON, TYPICAL OF THE SYDNEYSIDERS WHO START EVERY DAY REALLY EARLY. SHE'S BEEN RIDING SURF-BOARD FOR TWO YEARS, AND, AT SIXTEEN, IS ALREADY A CHAMPION.