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This is an excerpt from Andrew McKinnon’s ‘North Shore 72’ feature in Issue 588.
For Australian surfers Hawaii was also a chance to save face. Our reputation as a revered surfing nation was on the line after the drubbing the team copped at the famously loose 1972 World Surfing Championships, held earlier in the year in San Diego. It would prove to be the last of its kind presented by the International Surfing Federation (ISF). Despite PT’s(Peter Townend’s) gallant third-place effort at Ocean Beach, the Hawaiians had claimed both the men’s & women’s World Titles. JimmyBlears (the son of famous wrestler and surfing commentator, Lord James Tally-Ho Blears)had secured a controversial victory over David Nuuhiwa while Honolulu’s goofy-foot sensation, Sharron Weber, snatched victory from the east coast’s Mary Jayne Hayes. Up and coming Hawaiian Juniors Larry Bertlemann(fourth) and 14-year-old Michael Ho (fifth) were the youngest competitors in the open men’s final, providing an exciting glimpse into the auspicious future of Hawaiian surfing.
The tide was turning in the direction of professional surfing in the wake of the helter-skelter 1972 World Titles event. In his report on the contest, Drew Kampion had used the loaded title ‘A Nine-Day Acid Trip’. The phrase ‘snowing in the hotel rooms’ was also employed with apparent metaphorical punch.Writing for Tracks, Rolling Stone journalist John Grissim summed up the hedonistic atmosphere in the following paragraph.
“It was hard to escape the impression by the end of the second day that things were slowly getting out of control… Now very few of the Peruvians spoke English but this minor social handicap was nothing that couldn’t be remedied by copious amounts of ready cash which enabled them to provide gallons of Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky and enormous quantities of other exotic refreshments which were being drunk, smoked and snorted as if there were no tomorrow.”
Further problems with sponsorship and poor organising, prompted some to dub the San Diego contest a‘fiasco’ that heralded the collapse of amateur surfing.
All eyes turned to Hawaii and the promise of better waves, hefty prize money and promoters who had their act together. George Downing, Fred Hemmings, Randy Rarrick, and Bernie Baker were in charge of ushering in a new era of professional surfing. At the time it seemed apt that the transformation of the sport was being spearheaded from a Polynesian base, where surfing had its roots.
The Makaha International Championships had claimed top billing rights in the 50s and 60s. Mean-while, the first Duke Kahanamoku invitational was established in 1965, featuring prize money, and was followed up by the Smirnoff in 1970. In1972, big wave Hawaiian pioneer, George Downing, developed a third event,The Hang Ten, which featured a new scoring system known as ‘objective scoring’. In essence it was a points for manoeuvers criteria.
Without ratings and global seedings, entries into these events were invitational and based on either reputation, or, in the case of the Duke, there was a secret poll to determine selection.