History of surfing

Midget Farrelly - First World Surfboard Riders Championships in Manly 1964

Midget Farrelly - First World Surfboard Riders Championships in Manly 1964


Manly is an international surfing destination and it is considered by many to be the birthplace of Australian surfing. Amid some debate, it is also believed to be the site of the world’s first ever Surf Life Saving Club. 

Northern Beaches teenager Isabel Letham is credited by many as being Australia’s first surfer. This Sydney swimming coach and lifelong surfer was 15 when she was plucked from the crowd to ride tandem with Hawaiian legend, Duke Kahanamoku, in Sydney, early in 1915.

Most Australians believe Kahanamoku, regarded as the father of modern day surfing, was the first man to surf Australian waves, after arriving on Australia shores during the 1914 - 15 summer at the request of the NSW Swimming Association.

The First World Surfboard Riders Championship was held in Manly in 1964 and was won by local Midget Farrelly. Prior to this, Snowy McAllister was recognised as one of the greats and since that time Stuart Entwhistle, Barton Lynch, Pam Burridge and seven times world champion Layne Beachley have carried on the surfboard riding excellence. 


Manly’s first professional life saver, Edward ‘Happy’ Eyre, patrolled the beach from 1904 to 1907, and the Manly Surf Club was formed in 1907. 

Manly and Freshwater Beaches are part of a World Surfing Reserve, one of only two in Australia and nine worldwide to be given such high status. The Manly WSR incorporates Freshwater Beach and all of Manly – from Queenscliff to North Steyne to Manly and Fairy Bower. 

Each of these sites, in their own right, has a rich surfing history and outstanding surf.

> The Australian Open of Surfing held in Manly annually since 2012 is being replaced in 2018 with a QS6000 men’s and women’s ranked event to be held late February with dates
yet to be confirmed.

Duke Kahanamoku Statue at Freshwater / Curl Curl Headland

Duke Kahanamoku Statue at Freshwater / Curl Curl Headland