Right-breaking Australian reef wave located three miles southwest of Torquay, Victoria. Facing the chilly and powerful Southern Ocean, and flanked by limestone cliffs, Bells Beach—named after the Bell farming family—has for decades been a venerated surf break. Bells is at its best from March to October, as Southern Ocean storms frequently produce six- to eight-foot surf, with waves sometimes topping 15 feet. Rain and wind are common at this time of year. Air temperatures range from the mid-50s to the high 70s; water temperatures range from the mid-50s to the mid-60s.
The wave at Bells is sloping and wide-based, strong but rarely hollow; deep tuberides at Bells are rare. The break consists of three main sections: 1) Little Rincon, located to the south, needs a higher tide and a sub-six-foot swell. 2) Outside Bells, the main break, is a long, fast, evenly formed wall that begins to take form when the surf is about six foot. 3) The Bowl is the steep final section of the Outside Bells wave. Centerside, located 150 yards outside of Little Rincon, is an inconsistent right that eventually closes out. Southside, located further around the Bells Beach headland, is a left-breaking wave that spills into a nearby bay. Winkipop, the reef just east of Bells, is a spectacularly fast and hollow right-breaking wave, and generally regarded as superior to Bells proper. (Four-time world champion Mark Richards once called Bells "a dud; the most overrated wave in the world.")
Bells was first ridden in the late 1940s by Torquay natives Vic Tantau and Owen Yateman, but it remained a surfing backwater until 1956, when a group of visiting American surfer-lifeguards introduced the area to the lighter, more maneuverable balsa-core Malibu longboards, which were easier to carry down the long dirt track leading to Bells than the heavy plywood surf skis popular at the time. Early Bells standouts included Peter Troy, Joe Sweeny, China Gilbert, and George "Ming" Smith, all members of the 1958-founded Bells Boardriders Club.
The annual Bells Beach Easter contest, inaugurated in 1962, became the Rip Curl Pro in 1973, after Torquay-based Rip Curl Wetsuits signed on as event sponsor. Bells event winners over the years have included world champions Nat Young, Margo Oberg, Mark Richards, Tom Curren, Barton Lynch, Tom Carroll, Kelly Slater, Mark Occhilupo, Lisa Andersen, Sunny Garcia, Layne Beachley, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, and Stephanie Gilmore. Torquay-area local and five-time national champion Gail Couper holds the record for most Bells victories, with 10. Favorite son Wayne Lynch, from the nearby town of Lorne, won four consecutive Bells juniors division titles, from 1966 to 1969. Bells also hosted the early rounds of the 1970 World Surfing Championships.
Australian surfers in decades past often used Bells as a test track for new board designs: Nat Young, Bob McTavish, and Midget Farrelly rode first-generation vee-bottom shortboards here during the 1967 Easter contest; local boy Wayne Lynch reinvented high-performance surfing here in 1968; Mark Richards unveiled his new twin-fin design during the 1978 Rip Curl Pro; and Simon Anderson proved the worth of his new tri-fin Thruster by winning the 1981 Rip Curl Pro, the middle rounds of which were held in 15-foot-plus surf.
Bells was featured in Great Waves, a 1998 documentary series produced by Opper Films; the break has also appeared in dozens of surf films, videos, DVDs, and web series over the years, including The Endless Summer (1966), Evolution (1969), Free Ride (1977), Storm Riders (1982), Beyond the Boundaries (1994), Bells 2 Burleigh (2001), and One Track Mind (2008).
Bells was declared a Surfing Recreation Reserve by the local community in 1973. In 2011, Bells was placed on Australia's National Heritage List.