World Surfing Championships 1968


The fourth World Championship event was held in Rincon, Puerto Rico, from November 8th to the 14th, and won by Hawaii's Fred Hemmings and Margo Godfrey of California. For six days the Puerto Rican surf was small and weak, if shapely, but the final day of competition brought beautiful translucent-blue six-footers. Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Panama, and India were among the 16 nations represented in the 1968 titles; the event was covered by ABC's Wide World of Sports.

The competitors looked different than they had for the previous Championships, held two years earlier in San Diego, California. Crew cuts and competition-stripe T-shirts had been replaced by bushy sideburns and collar-length hair, beads, granny glasses, bell-bottoms, and paisley-print shirts. The shortboard revolution was in full swing, and the new boards were two feet shorter and five pounds lighter than those used in 1966. Surfers were now carving up and down the wave face, whereas two years earlier they'd been stalling, trimming, and noseriding.

Sixteen-year-old Wayne Lynch of Australia was the most progressive surfer in the 1968 World Championships, but poor wave selection knocked him out in the semifinals. U.S. men's champion David Nuuhiwa, another early favorite, also failed to place. Defending world champion Nat Young, 1964 world champion Midget Farrelly, and 1968 Australian champion Russell Hughes, all from Australia, qualified for the hour-long men's final, as did 1964 world title runner-up Mike Doyle from California, along with Hawaii's Fred Hemmings and Reno Abellira.

The finals were held at a right-breaking reef called Domes. All six competitors had moments of brilliance, but Hemmings—just 21, yet old school to the core, with the shortest hair and the longest board of any of the finalists—rode smoothly and consistently, and won by a fraction of a point over Farrelly. Hemmings was never a popular champion among surfing's tastemakers. "He won the world contest," surf journalist Drew Kampion wrote, "the same way Richard Nixon, a week earlier, won the presidential election: a triumph of the past over the future."

Fifteen-year-old Margo Godfrey of California easily won the women's division over Sharron Weber from Hawaii, with 1964 title winner Phyllis O'Donell of Australia placing third. Godfrey had dominated the California women's contest circuit in the months leading up to the world contest; her win came as no surprise. Whereas women's title winners in the past were all but ignored, the surf press lauded Godfrey for her performance, and Surfing magazine invited her to submit a feature piece on the contest. "Pressure, pressure and more pressure mounted as I began to think about the championship," Godfrey wrote, sounding every bit the high school sophomore she was. "My stomach was turning, my legs were shaking and my mind was blowing." Godfrey went on to win three professional world titles.

Because surfing competition in general had begun to come under fire (the sport was now often referred to as an "art form"), and because event planning in Puerto Rico was nowhere near as tight as it had been in San Diego (bad food, poor communication between organizers and competitors, 30 surfboards stolen from visiting competitors over the course of the event), the World Championships met with criticism for the first time in its five-year history. "World Contest 1968 (Whatever That Means)" was the sardonic title of one surf magazine article. "Contestants met with every conceivable distraction, postponement and inconvenience," Surfer magazine noted.

But Puerto Rico's warm tropical setting was a big plus, and all agreed that the surfing on the final day had been first-rate. The World Championships would face bigger problems, and harsher denouncements, in 1970 and 1972.

Results for the 1968 World Surfing Championships:

MEN
1 Fred Hemmings
2 Midget Farrelly
3 Russell Hughes
4 Nat Young
5 Mike Doyle
6 Reno Abellira

WOMEN
1 Margo Godfrey
2 Sharron Weber
3 Phyllis O'Donell
4 Martha Sunn
5 Candy Chase
6 Janice Domorski

TANDEM
1 Ron Ball / Debbie Gustafon
2 Robert Scott / Lis Herd
3 Rod Sumpter / Annete Hughes
4 Fred Hemmings / Leslie Scott
5 Mike Doyle / Margo Godfrey