Burleigh Heads


Gleaming right-breaking Australian point wave located on the subtropical Gold Coast of Queensland, set against a picturesque lava rock headland; a high-performance wonder, famous for its long, spinning tubes, with a reputation for producing some of the world's best surfers.

Burleigh Heads is generally best during the Coral Sea cyclone season (December-March), but the winter months (May-August) can produce bigger waves along with steady offshore winds. Average daytime air temperatures at Burleigh range from 80 in summer to 60 in winter; water temperatures range from the high 60s to the high 70s. The wave here is dependent on sand flowing out of the nearby Tallebudgera River, which is then sculpted by the prevailing south swells into what is often a long and perfectly tapered sandbar in the lee of the headland. Burleigh is generally better on lower tides.

The wave has two main sections that can link together: the Cove is a long, tubing, often segmented wall that runs into the Point, equally hollow and slightly better defined. (Sharkies, a third Burleigh break located beyond the Cove, offers a shorter and less organized right; Rockbreak, inside of the Point, can show form when the surf is smaller.) The aquamarine Burleigh barrels, as Australian journalist Laurie McGinness noted, will sometimes allow a surfer to "spend so much time in the tube that it becomes hard to separate the memory into individual waves." Burleigh can be a taxing experience, however, as the rider has to first navigate a boulder-lined entry point, then battle a fierce north-running current, and vie for waves with an aggressive local crowd that can number up to 150 at a time. Burleigh is often spoken of in tandem with Kirra, the faster, hollower, less consistent point located eight miles to the south.

Gold Coast lifeguards were riding the nearby beachbreaks as early as the 1920s, but Burleigh's advanced-level surf remained empty until '58, when brothers Hugh and John McMaster visited from Brisbane and were able to handle the fast point waves. Ten years later Burleigh was home break to some of Australia's best surfers, including national champions Keith Paull, Peter Drouyn and Paul Neilsen, and the standard only improved in the '70s, as local boys Peter Townend and Wayne Bartholomew both went on to win world championships. Other international-caliber Burleigh surfers from the period included two-time national champion Michael Peterson, Peter Harris, Richard Harvey, Tony Eltherington, Joe Engel, Guy Omerod and Thorton Fallander.

The Burleigh Festival of Boards, a single-day club competition held in 1965—the same year the Burleigh Heads Boardriders club was formed—was the break's first surfing event. Burleigh hosted the Australian National Titles in '74, and the World Amateur Surfing Championships in '82. The Stubbies Pro, however, is the contest most closely associated with Burleigh. Conceived by local pro surfer Peter Drouyn and making it's debut in 1977, the Stubbies was the first contest to use a man-on-man format, and is regarded as the prototype event for today's world circuit. Surf for the debut Stubbies was overhead and flawless, and local ace Michael Peterson came out of an early retirement to beat a hot international field. The Stubbies ran continuously until 1986; winners included world champions Tom Curren, Margo Oberg, Tom Carroll and Damien Hardman.

As of 2012, Burleigh was home to five surf shops, the Burleigh Heads Boardrider's Club, Surfing Queensland (the State's governing body for amateur surfing), and the popular Australia's Surfing Life magazine. Dozens of amateur and pro contests are held at Burleigh each year, including the Burleigh Breaka Pro, a minor-league world circuit event. Top Burleigh locals in the '90s and '00s include world champions Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Stephanie Gilmore, as well as pro standouts Michael Barry, Dean Morrison, David Rastovich, and Jack Freestone.

Burleigh was named as one of the 25 best waves in the world by Surfing magazine in '89. It took the #31 spot in Surfer's 2011 list of "The 100 Best Waves." Burleigh has been featured in dozens of films and videos over the decades, including The Hot Generation ('67), The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun ('70), Fluid Drive ('74), Storm Riders ('82) , Cyclone Fever ('94) and Bells 2 Burleigh ('01).