BELLS. The beach, the surfers, the contest. #2

20 Apr 2011 0 Share

Well worth the journey...

Well worth the journey...

Culture Jam
April 23, 2011
Words by Bridget Reedman

BELLS is a 50 year chronicle of the longest running surfing contest, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach. With sentimental narratives and an intertwined history, the pages tell what began as a local event and became an annual pilgrimage of the world's most elite. Bells contest grew organically through the vision of local surfers on the remote Victorian Coast into an international contest and chase for the most coveted trophy in professional surfing. Those locals, who through forging tracks in the hillside to access the breaks, forged tracks of history. Australian surf giants Quicksilver and Rip Curl testify to the Bells Beach-Torquay area cultivating a localised surf scene that later became a globalised sub-culture.

A windy chronicle precedes interviews with 50 surfers who have made a significant contribution to surfing history. Each Bells contest winner's narrative is a puzzle piece, shaping a personalised picture of how history evolved. The book is a great acknowledgment of the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro, and the area itself, its significance in surfing and the people who surf at Bells.

To have this slice of history on your coffee table, go to BELLS, the Beach.

Excerpt from BELLS, by Michael Gordon

Peter Drouyn was the central player in more dramas at Bells than perhaps any other surfer, but no episode was more packed with action, tension and theatre than the day he lost his board in big surf in the 1973 Bells contest, the year it turned pro. Peter finished second four times at Bells, most notably on debut as a teenager in 1967 (behind Nat Young and ahead of Midget) and under the man-on-man system that he devised (tying with Shaun Tomson behind Simon Anderson) in 1977.

The 1973 performance is all the more remarkable because Peter was not in top condition, having spent the previous year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney studying acting. He came from the Gold Coast with David "the Mexican" Sumpter, by train, and surfed on a borrowed board.

As Peter recalls it, the first three in his heat progressed and he caught two waves – one average, one solid – before disaster struck and he slipped on take-off and lost his board. This was the period when leg ropes were banned and surfers were not permitted the luxury of caddies. The board was whipped by the current and the wind past Winki Pop and Peter took off after it. On his reckoning, there were less than 15 minutes to go when he retrieved the board and found himself being battered at the base of the cliff. In his own account, he sometimes lapses into the third person – but this is explained because Peter is the same person but with the new identity of a woman, and a new name in Westerly Windina.

The name comes from the westerly wind that helped define a young Peter Drouyn, delivering clean beach breaks along the beachfront at Surfers Paradise. "That wind had a spiritual dimension," Westerly explains.

"That day in '73, I was bouncing up and down against the cliffs and I thought, 'That's it! I'm out of Bells.' But typical Peter, he never gives up," Westerly recalls.

I don't know how he wasn't killed getting in because the waves were so big and the rocks were sharp. But he managed it and, with his feet badly cut, looked up and there was this huge cliff, and it was raining. And it was rocky and muddy with little bits of weed hanging out. And he just said, 'Nah, I'm going to climb this. I have to anyway or else I'll be dead. The tide's coming in'.

So I've climbed up with my board. I don't know how I did it. I ripped a couple of finger nails out. I'm aware of the time factor and I struggled and it took me seven or eight minutes to get up to the top. And I finally reached the top and no one at the contest knew where I was. And I see this car, this panel van. And I think, 'I can still get back. Maybe these people can give me a lift'.

So I went to the car but there was no one in the front and I've gone around the back, thinking they might be asleep or something, and I've banged on the window and I could see this couple going for it under a blanket. But I didn't care and just kept banging and the guy's looked up and seen I've got the contest singlet on and realised I'm a competitor. And I've said, "I'm sorry but could you drive me back to the contest?" There's five minutes to go and I've got my board. I carried the board up that cliff, you know."

The guy couldn't believe it. "No problem," he said. And I've got blood on my head, too. Somehow I whacked my head on a rock or something. He put the board in the van and I sat in the front while his girlfriend was getting dressed in the back and he's driven me at hell's pace and skidded into the carpark.

So I've jumped out and pulled the board out. And there was this announcement: "Peter Drouyn is still in the contest folks! Can you believe it?" I ran down the stairs and there was a beautiful lull. I was quite lucky. I was straight out. It took me two and a half minutes and there was 30 seconds to go and I caught this wave and I rode it all the way down towards Winki Pop.

Peter did not feature in the placings that year, but his effort is remembered as one of the all-time highlights of the contest.

To read more historical highlights of the Bells Beach contest, check out BELLS, the Beach.

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Tags: Australia , VIC , Bells , beach , Rip , Curl (create Alert from these tags)

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