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50th South Africa Surfing Championships Awakens Memories

August 14th, 2015
Neville Calenbourne rides a giant wave at Ansteys Beach in 1966 Photo: John Thornton

Neville Calenbourne rides a giant wave at Ansteys Beach in 1966 Photo: John Thornton

Surfing Column for Independent on Saturday – 15 August 2015

By Paul Botha

The completion of the 50th annual South African Surfing Championships at Richards Bay last weekend has awakened memories of a bygone era when surfing was considered a fringe activity and not the highly organised global sport performed by professional athletes it has become today.

The first official national championships was held in Durban in July 1966 with provincial teams from Natal, Border (East London), Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth) and Western province (Cape Town) participating. After two days of dismal half metre waves at Dairy Beach, organisers opted to run Saturday’s heats at Ansteys Beach on the Bluff.

After the Junior Men (18-and-under) had been sent out first into overhead two metre waves, the Open Men took to the surf in a rising swell producing consistent three metre waves and occasional four metre sets. Many competitors struggled to paddle through the mountains of whitewater to catch unbroken waves and only the top watermen such as Robbie McWade of Durban and Peter Basford of Cape Town comfortable dealing with the conditions.

Ironically the standout of the day was a non-contestant, Durban lifeguard Neville Calenbourne, who was immortalising when his ride on a five metre high wall of water was captured by photographer John Thornton and published in the following day’s newspaper.

The contest was completed the next day in half metre waves at Dairy Beach with McWade becoming the first South African surfing champion while Capetonians secured the rest of the titles with Donald Paarman in the Junior Men, Margaret Smith in the Women’s division and John Whitmore in the Senior Men (over-35).

The South African Surfing Association (formed in September 1965) then selected their first Springbok surfing team to participate in the ISF World Surfing Championships in San Diego, California that October. The trip, paid for by the United States Surfing Association, saw the Bok team cause a stir on the beach when they arrived for the opening ceremony clad in collars, ties and green blazers amongst the casual and colourful hippie attire worn by their contemporaries from the rest of the surfing world.

Tributes to Peter Daniels have flooded social media and surfing websites globally after the legendary Durban born surfboard shaper passed away in Northern Spain earlier this week. Globally acknowledged for his expertise in designing and hand shaping in excess of 40 000 surfboards in a career spanning more than four decades, ‘Pepsi’ honed his skills while living in Jeffreys Bay in the early 1970’s and produced equipment for many of the world’s best surfers while living according to his own rules in many of the world’s most popular surfing locales.

Daniels and Durban’s ‘Mr Surfing’, Max Wetteland, who passed away in early July, charted the course of modern day surfing through their artistry, energy and having the courage to defy convention and experiment with designs, materials and equipment that have become today’s standards.

The world’s best surfers performing in big, hollow waves at Teahupo’o in Tahiti can be watched live at worldsurfleague.com during the Billabong Pro Tahiti starting at 8.30pm daily until 25 August.



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