World Surfing Championships 1972

The sixth and final amateur-era World Championships event; held in mostly dismal waves in San Diego, California, between September 30 and October 8; won by Jim Blears and Sharron Weber, both of Hawaii; often recalled as competitive surfing's lowest point.

Defending men's division world champion Rolf Aurness didn't enter the event, nor did the four previous men's champions—Midget Farrelly, Felipe Pomar, Nat Young, and Fred Hemmings. The 1968 women's champion, Margo Godfrey, also passed. Five weeks before the contest was scheduled to begin, organizers confessed that they didn't have the required operating funds, and the contest was called off. Three weeks later, after a flurry of emergency meetings, the contest was back on.

The problems continued. Contest programs were held in boxes at the printers as the contest got under way, because nobody had a cashier's check for payment. Competitors staying at a San Diego Travelodge motel broke the elevators, set off fire alarms, launched food fights, rang up enormous unpaid phone bills, and generally ran riot through the halls. A new Chevy sedan, on loan to Championship organizers from a local dealership, was stolen. Drug use was concealed, but barely. "There were even occasional snow flurries to break up the weather pattern in the hotel," Surfing magazine reported, with a broad wink and nudge. "It was a fuckin' snowstorm," recalled Hawaiian star Jeff Hakman. "I remember driving around San Diego with some Peruvians one night, snorting coke, and when we ran out, the guy who was driving pulled over, went to the trunk, brought out a pound bag and just opened it up there in the car."

Preliminary rounds of competition were held in decent head-high surf at Oceanside, but competitors were justly upset because Newport, Trestles, and Malibu—all off-limits to the contest—were doing a far better job at picking up what turned out to be the year's best south swell.

David Nuuhiwa of Huntington Beach was again favored to win the title, as he had been six years earlier during the first San Diego-staged World Championships. He surfed well in the prelims, even after his favorite board—a wide-backed, two-finned fish—was stolen. The board turned up on the last day of the event, broken in two and dangling by a rope from the Ocean Beach Pier, with GOOD LUCK DAVE spray-painted across the bottom. (The fish design had been born in San Diego, and it was later reported that local surfers felt Nuuhiwa had ripped off "their" invention.) Nuuhiwa went on to finish runner-up in the contest, and perhaps should have won. "Everyone rode well," surf journalist Drew Kampion reported, after commenting with dismay on the two-foot, windblown waves, "but Nuuhiwa surfed the best, while Jim Blears got the good waves toward the end when the judges tend to score higher."

Future world champion Peter Townend finished third, Hawaii's Larry Bertlemann and Michael Ho—the contest's most progressive surfers—placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Sharron Weber successfully defended the title she'd won two years earlier in Australia, and did so virtually without notice by the surf press. Steve and Barrie Boehne of California won the tandem event.

The unmitigated failure of the 1972 World Championships was close to a death knell for American amateur surfing, and helped usher in a backward period for the entire California surf scene. "I want to get drunk and forget about it," Nuuhiwa said as he walked off the beach with the second-place trophy, and everyone else seemed to feel the same way. Six years passed before the next World Championships, and not until 1984 would the event return to California. Prize-money contests had meanwhile taken root, and a series of pro events on the North Shore of Oahu had replaced the World Championships as the new focal point for international competitive surfing.

Results for the 1972 World Surfing Championships:

1 Jim Blears
2 David Nuuhiwa
3 Peter Townend
4 Larry Bertlemann
5 Michael Ho

1 Sharron Weber
2 MaryAnn Hayes
3 Evie Black
4 Laura Blears
5 Debbie Melville Beacham


1 Steve Boehne / Barrie Boehne