McAlister, Charles "Snow"


Robust and sociable Australian surfing pioneer from Manly Beach, New South Wales; a three-time Australian surfing champion in the 1920s; often referred to as the "father of Australian surfing." McAlister was born (1904) and raised in Sydney's Broken Hill, the son of a mailman, and took to the surf immediately when his family moved to Manly Beach in 1914 -- just in time to see Hawaiian swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku give his famous wave-riding demonstration at nearby Freshwater Beach.

"I was staggered," McAlister later said of Kahanamoku's performance. "Everyone just clapped and clapped." McAlister, then 11, had been using his mother's castoff ironing board to ride nearshore waves, but after seeing Kahanamoku at Freshwater he made himself a wooden board similar to the one the Hawaiian used.

Fellow Manly surfer Claude West became the country's first dominant surfer, winning the first of six national surfing championships beginning in 1919, before losing to McAlister in 1925, who then repeated the following two years. The 1926 titles were held in Newcastle, and in the final round McAlister did a headstand while riding a small wave all the way to shore, maintained his position as the wave receded and left him docked on beach, and didn't kick down until a contest official tapped him on the calf and said he'd won.

A small, stocky, cheerful man, McAlister continued to be active on the Australian surf scene throughout his life, but was particularly busy in the early and mid-'60s, writing the "Surfing with Snow" column for Surfing World magazine, barnstorming from surf club to surf club with filmmaker Bob Evans to do live-narration surf movie screenings, and cofounding the Australian Surfrider's Association.

McAlister traded in his stand-up board for a surf ski in the mid-'50s, which he operated from a sitting position, using a double-bladed paddle. He continued to ride waves into his early 80s. McAlister and four-time world champion Mark Richards were the first two inductees into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1985. The never-married McAlister died three years later at age 84, and the following year a plaque in his honor was placed into the Manly beachfront promenade.

Each June since 1987 the Manly Malibu Boardriders Club has hosted the annual C.J. "Snowy" McAlister Winter Surfing Festival and longboard surf contest; the 2012 event featured over $20,000 in prize money and attracted more than 200 international competitors.