Looking to 40 years of the Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic

IN the constant push to grow and re-invent the Sunshine Coast often forgets itself, and its rich history.

Once a global hotspot for surfboard innovation and craftsmanship, Caloundra could only watch on as Torquay, Sydney's northern beaches and the Gold Coast with their bigger markets and more consistent waves, grabbed the economic opportunity and the spotlight the sport's growing mainstream appeal began to attract.

But a concerted push is on ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic at Easter next year to underscore the critical role Caloundra played in the sport's development.

It is no coincidence that Currimundi State School student Joel Parkinson went on to become the current world professional surfing champion, nor that the town gave birth to the stellar careers of Serena Brooke and Mitch Coleborn now vying for a place on the world tour.

From the mid 1960s and for almost a decade afterwards Caloundra, Noosa and Alexandra Headland were magnets that attracted surfers and shapers including Bob McTavish, George Greenough, Darrell Dell, Wayne Parkes and Russell Hughes who connected with local surfers and innovators including channel bottom design guru Jim Pollard, Hayden Kenny, Gil Glover who escaped a Caloundra hairdressing salon to chase a different wave, Greg Clough of Connexion Surfboards and the Lascelles brother Peter and David, whose Cord Surfboards pointed the way to shorter, more lightweight design that ultimately led to Australia's world dominance.

A series of exhibitions of boards, memorabilia, photographs and art will capture that age kicking off with the Sons of Beaches 72 exhibition at Caloundra Regional Gallery from December 5 to February 2.

Featured alongside the exhibition will be works from the Sunshine Coast Corporate Art Collection that explore surfing culture on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Next door at the Caloundra Library you can also see the heritage surf exhibition which includes memorabilia on Ma (Majorie) and Pa (Charles Ben) Bendall, regarded as surfing legends who settled in Caloundra in the 1950s.

EASY: Matt Clarke takes out a senior men’s semi.
EASY: Matt Clarke takes out a senior men’s semi.

The Caloundra Regional Gallery will build a display of locally-sourced surfing memorabilia around the Sons of Beaches exhibition which focuses on the 1972 World Amateur Titles in San Diego and the role the Australian team played in that pivotal moment before the sport's transition from amateur to professional competition.

Avid collector and once red hot Caloundra surfer Gary O'Donnell will contribute a number of pieces as will Windansea Boardriders' Caloundra founder Laurie Jarman.

Gary remembers trialling the channel bottom shapes of local designer Jim Pollard and talking three fin designs with Simon Anderson well before his thruster design took the world by storm four years later in 1980.

If Anderson shaped the first full blown thruster, O'Donnell can lay claim to experimenting much earlier with small outer fins to aid stability.

It was a design quickly embraced by Caloundra locals Peter "Chops" Lascelles, who died tragically last month in Cornwall, and Kingsley Kernouske.

The pair saw Anderson in action surfing one at Narrabeen one day and drove through the night back to Caloundra to shape, glass and surf their own still wet thrusters the next morning.

Blake Wilson in the Windansea Pa and Ma Bendall Memorial Open Mens final. Photo Darryn Smith / Sunshine Coast Daily
Blake Wilson in the Windansea Pa and Ma Bendall Memorial Open Mens final. Photo Darryn Smith / Sunshine Coast Daily Darryn Smith

Andy Mackinnon from the Gold Coast, a member of the Australian team to the 1972 world titles, will be in Caloundra on December 12 to share his recollections of both that event and of Caloundra where he believes the seeds of the short board revolution were first sown.

He said this week that to a large extent the area has been the unmentioned catalyst of change in the sport's written history although Bob McTavish does capture the era in his book Stoked.

Glen Blight and his wife Leigh Fabian are the creators of the Sons of Beaches art and film installation.

It draws heavily from Peter "PT" Townend's huge collection of surf memorabilia.

Mackinnon, who guided his own later media career on the example of Townend's savvy still smarts at the way his mentor knocked him out of the titles in tiny surf at San Diego's Ocean Beach in California.

How any of them made it to the water is a testament more to their fitness and stamina than any well-ordered preparation.

If the 1972 world titles were the transition point from the amateur to professional era there was no hint of it in the conduct of the competitors.

Australian team member Mark Warren was called up for the Vietnam war but won a reprieve after Australian Surfing Association president Stan Cooper petitioned the government of the day to allow him to take his place in the team. If officials had known what that entailed he would have been in the jungle with a rifle in his hands.

McKinnon arrived from Hawaii where he was studying political science to escape the draft but the team was full of new faces replacing the Midget Farrelly, Nat Young and Wayne Lynch era with a bevy of young talent, most of whom had never travelled over seas.

He recalled booking in at the San Diego Travel Lodge Hotel as business guests hurriedly checked out.

The place quickly degenerated into a drug-fuelled party for the duration of competition.

"The Peruvians were all fired up on coke,'' McKinnon, who 12 months previously had been a boarder at The Southport School, recalled.

"The word got out that it was the party hotel. The Californians partied until dawn .

"The welcome function was out of control. Stan had bought these green and gold suits that were all over sized for us to wear. It was supposed to be a really proud moment for us and we walked into an out of control party. The Californian culture was a huge shock for most of the team.''

Shattered that he had been bumped out of the final by Townend who had protested his way into what became a three-way repechage heat and won it, McKinnon who was awarded sixth place, jumped in a Kombi with friends and headed to Santa Barbara.

It was a good move. After a huge end-of-contest party the Peruvians, who wanted to kick on, commandeered a closed upstairs restaurant, tying a cleaning woman up to a chair, and took off with the contents of the bar.

It would be another four years before the next world amateur titles was held, by which time the sport had moved on.

Action from the Ma and Pa Bendall surfing contest at Ann Street, Caloundra including the Kneeboard, Masters, Senior Mens and Open Mens finals.Senior mens final.Shannon Neil carves some forehand turns.
Action from the Ma and Pa Bendall surfing contest at Ann Street, Caloundra including the Kneeboard, Masters, Senior Mens and Open Mens finals.Senior mens final.Shannon Neil carves some forehand turns. Nicholas Falconer

 

The Australians, who had under whelming with PT's third their best performance, went on to contest the Hawaiian big wave season with Paul Neilsen winning the Smirnoff Cup and Grant Oliver third. PT also made the finals of the Duke.

"It was a lost period of Australian surfing,'' McKinnon said.

"It was the end of amateur surfing and the beginning of the professional era. Bell's started the next year.''

And the year after that was the first Pa Bendall, at the time one of the richest prizes in the sport and now Australia's second longest continuously running surf contest.

The Sons of Beaches 72 exhibition includes documentary features interviews with the 1972 Australia team that found themselves caught on the cusp of change.

SONS OF BEACHES 72

OFFICIAL opening: 6pm, December 6. RSVP online by December 5. Caloundra Regional Gallery, Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-4pm; 22 Omrah Avenue.

DECEMBER 7: Kids' Club, 10am-noon. Free children's art activities, based on current exhibition, first Saturday of each month. No bookings required.

DECEMBER 12: A Perfect Blend. Join Andrew McKinnon at 10.30am for a wave of nostalgia, humour and history through shared stories of our region.

Free event. RSVP online by December 11.

SURF CULT MOVIES: refer to galleries website for session times and booking.

ARTSCOOL HOLIDAY WORKSHOPS: Dec 17, 10.30am-noon (5 to 8 years); 1.30-3pm (8 to 12 years)
Dec 20, 10.30am-noon (5 to 8 years); 1.30-3pm (8 to 12 years)

Bookings and pre-payment of $15 per child essential


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