World Surfing Championships 1964


The annual Makaha International had long been regarded as the unofficial world title, but progressive surfers, by the early '60s, were beginning to think of the Makaha event as a relic from the wooden-board era. In 1963, Australian surf filmmaker and magazine publisher Bob Evans convinced Australian oil giant Ampol Petroleum Limited to sponsor the first official World Surfing Championships; the event was held the following year on May 16 and 17 at Sydney's Manly Beach. Australians Midget Farrelly and Phyllis O'Donell were the winners.

A dozen overseas surfers attended the first World Championships, including Mike Doyle, LJ Richards, and Linda Benson from California; and 1963 Makaha winner Joey Cabell of Hawaii. Peru sent two surfers; England, South Africa, France, and New Zealand each sent one. The visitors were seeded directly into the quarterfinals, while the rest of the starting field—about 100 Australian men and women—were selected by state rankings. A juniors division featured Australian surfers only.

The Manly event was the best-attended surf contest in history up to that point, as thousands of spectators filled the tree-lined beachfront promenade for the finals, while ATN-7 filmed the action for the nightly news. Australia was in the middle of a short but intense "surf craze" period, and a cheerful mood prevailed among World Championship competitors, sponsors, organizers, and spectators.

Linda Benson was favored going into the 50-minute women's final. But the predominantly right-breaking Manly surf meant that Benson, a goofyfoot, had to ride backside on all but one wave, and her wave selection throughout the match was off. Phyllis O'Donell, the newly crowned Australian champ and a regularfooter, caught better waves than Benson and rode with easy confidence, at one time speeding through a section with her heels together and her back arched. O'Donell won easily.

Australians Midget Farrelly, Bobby Brown, and Mick Dooley met Joey Cabell, Mike Doyle, and LJ Richards of America in the men's final. The general consensus was that Cabell outperformed the others, but a new "sportsmanship" rule, in use for the first time, penalized competitors for "blatant drop-ins," and Cabell, after jamming his fellow finalists into the soup time and again, was docked accordingly and relegated to third place. Doyle, having caused a sensation just before the final by taking Linda Benson out for a tandem surfing display, finished second.

Farrelly, the serious-minded 19-year-old, caught fewer waves than his competitors, but turned in a stylish and mistake-free performance—although he himself didn't think much of it. "I felt rotten," he later wrote in his biography. "I more or less took it easy and was probably a little lazy. When my name was announced as the winner I nearly fell through the sand." Farrelly was from the smooth, anti-hotdogging "functional" school, and attributed his victory in part to his surfboard, which weighed 10 pounds more than Cabell's.

Surfer magazine's prediction that the 1964 World Championships would help get the sport "entered on the Olympic calendar" proved unfounded, but the event was nonetheless tightly organized, well-surfed, and upbeat. World Championship events in the future would have bigger and better waves and more contestants. But none would have the same sense of optimism and goodwill.

The International Surfing Federation (ISF) was conceived during the 1964 titles, and founded shortly thereafter in Lima, Peru; the ISF's sole mission would be to stage future world contests.

Results of the 1964 World Surfing Championships:

MEN
1 Midget Farrelly
2 Mike Doyle
3 Joey Cabell
4 LJ Richards
5 Mick Dooley
6 Bobby Brown

WOMEN
1 Phyllis O'Donell
2 Linda Benson
3 Heather Nicholson