When North Narrabeen was announced as a new Championship Tour venue it was as if a well-worn jigsaw piece had been dropped back into the professional surfing puzzle. Narrabeen might not have the totemic cliffs and atmospheric bowl of Bells at Easter. Nor does it boast the solar stage-lit, ruler-edged lines of the Superbank. But what it does boast is history, an ingrained competitive edge, and a passion for professional surfing that few locations can match.
It was at Narrabeen that that 1974 Coca Cola Surfabout competition provided a significant spark that ignited the nascent world of professional surfing. With its $7,000 in prize money the event was labeled as "The World's Richest Board Contest."
It generated unprecedented media coverage, and with a multi-round format and a still-new "objective" scoring system, introduced competitive ideals that remain today. Michael Peterson, then the best surfer on the planet, won riding a 6'9" self-shaped, single-fin known as the Moonrocket, Fangtail, or, because of its multi-flyered pintail, the Christmas Tree.
Back then, as of now, it was no surprise that Narrabeen was chosen for the location for a new era in surfing. It has remained Sydney's most dynamic and consistent beachbreak. The rivermouth lefts offer the best quality waves, but the rip bowl Alley Rights and slabbing shorebreak at Carpark Rights offer variety in different swells. It was a combination that created a hot-bed for talented, aggressive, creative and insanely competitive surfers. That hasn't changed.
The event ran continuously from 1974 to 1999 and throughout the ‘70s remained the world's richest surf competition. Even during the ‘80s and ‘90s, while it lost that title, it was still embedded in the professional surfing psyche.
This was helped by it often being broadcast live on national Australian TV. In an era long before live webcasts, the effect this had on a generation of Australian surfers cannot be understated. Surf fans then were forced to sup on rare, tiny morsels of surfing that came at the end of a news bulletin sports segment. Then, suddenly the roping, left-handers of Narrabeen were beamed into the living rooms all over the country for an entire Saturday afternoon.
The sight of Damien Hardman, Tom Carroll and Tom Curren flashing across the idiot box in a blur of neon neoprene will be forever lodged in the generation of surf fans who had their eyeballs glued to the action. As their dads asked furiously why their normal footy match wasn't on, Narrabeen was further being etched into the DNA as a fundamental pillar of professional surfing.
And it wasn't just the Coke Classic that anchored that platform. The beach hosted the Pro Junior from 1977, a groundbreaking event that acted as the pre-eminent crystal ball into the future of surfing for 15 years. That was best illustrated by the 1992 Final between Kelly Slater and Shane Dorian. The return of the ASP World Junior Championships in the 2000s therefore made perfect sense, as did Narrabeen's elevation to a National Surfing Reserve in 2009.
Away from competition Narrabeen's local surfers kept the beach firmly in the spotlight. CT surfers Greg Day, Greg Anderson and Damien Hardman had grown up under the tutelage of 1970s stars like Col Smith, Mark Warren, Terry Fitzgerald and Simon Anderson. That crop in turn oversaw the rise of the Bannister brothers, Nathan Webster, Nathan Hedge (see below at home) and Chris Davidson. More recently Davey Cathels, Laura Enever, Cooper Chapman and Jordy Lawler have been flying the Narra flag.
"It is possible that more surfers have learned to pull vertical off-the-lips here than at any other surf spot in the world," surf writer Nick Carroll, who grew up just over the North Narrabeen headland, said in the Encyclopedia of Surfing. "It is probable that no single group of surfers has even come close to the Narrabeen crew's beer consumption, or their foaming lust for life."
So, the return of a CT to North Narrabeen, while not under the most ideal of scenarios, does have a full circle feel to it. Professional surfing in Australia started here and for very good reasons. Almost 50 years on, those reasons haven't changed.