Way back in 1981, Simon Anderson changed the course of surfing history. There was a few years' worth of lead up to that game-changing moment, but the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach that year showed the masses just what the addition of a trailing fin on a thruster could do. Of course, the best artist on earth is nothing without a canvas, and the swell that landed on Saturday at that particular event was something that hasn't been forgotten, even all these years later.
When dawn broke that morning, competitors and spectators alike were stunned at the size and perfection of the waves that rolled through the iconic amphitheater. Fifteen-foot waves stacked to the horizon. "You were pinned to it," said Nick Carroll. "Knowing while you were watching it that something was going to go down in history."
Two decades earlier, in 1960, a man named Joe Sweeney revamped an old dirt track into a passable trail down to Bells Beach. According to lore, he charged people a pound to use it. One year later, in 1961, the Bells Beach Easter Rally ran for the first time. It ran every year after, then became a spot on the pro tour in 1973. The name was changed to the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, and around Easter every year since, the tradition has continued.
That Saturday in 1981 was mayhem. A swell of that magnitude was a rarity in surfing events at the time, and just as it is today, surfers in the water and on the beach were frothing at the mouth. "There was this frenzy in the car park," Mark Richards remembered. "Holy shit. Is this real? Am I dreaming? There were guys running around with Hawaiian style guns offering to rent them."
What isn't all that well-known, however-is that the final was actually pretty small. The swell dropped considerably and competitors paddled up to Rincon, where two-to-three foot waves were breaking. Anderson won on his new-fangled setup and legitimized the thruster to the broader surfing world. It performed amazingly in massive surf and, as the final would prove, was nearly unstoppable in smaller, down-the-line waves. Although the event was won in marginal surf, those few hours where Bells was absolutely pumping became the stuff of legend.