Australian Screen

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Thrill of the Surf (1949)

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Surfing, a national sport education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Commentator John Moyes explains that men are making surfboards out of plywood. A line of surfers carry their boards down to the shore and paddle out towards the breakers. The camera follows their path, capturing them from just in front of the waves. A man who has been hit by a surfboard is rescued by the lifesavers on duty and carried ashore. The clip ends with a shot of the surfers in the afternoon sun.

Curator’s notes

The final shots are beautifully filmed with surfers seen in silhouette and sunlight bouncing off the water. The camera is positioned close to the surfers, filming them from the side as they ride in to the shoreline. Placed alongside them, the viewer can experience the 'top of the world’ thrill of the surfer.

Nowadays sports photography has become a specialised art. The proliferation of televised competitive sport, such as motor racing, cricket and the Olympics, has prompted the development of lighter and more mobile technologies to allow further flexibility and intimacy in recording these events.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows surfing on Sydney’s Bondi Beach in 1949 and includes scenes of surfboard building, surfers riding the waves towards the shore on the long surfboards popular at the time, surf ski riders and a rescue by surf-lifeguards. Final footage includes close-up action shots filmed alongside riders in the waves. The commentary suggests that Australian conditions are very different from those in Hawaii, requiring considerable changes to surfboard design. The commentary is accompanied by upbeat marching music played by a brass band.

Educational value points

  • This clip vividly conveys the thrills and enjoyment of surfing in Australia in the late 1940s. A range of medium and close-up camera shots bring variety to the surfing footage and highlight potential dangers. The final footage tracks some individual surfers, conveying their speed and making the viewer feel as though they are in the waves with them. The brisk upbeat commentary emphasises the skill and fearlessness of the surfers.
  • The clip shows locally made hollow surfboards, about 14 feet (4.3 m) long with timber frames and plywood skin, that were a lightweight version of Hawaiian solid wood surfboards. The narrator states that this style was better suited to Australian conditions. The design was first developed in Australia by Frank Adler and the lightness of these surfboards led to an increase in the popularity of the sport. But they lacked a keel, so were unstable and difficult to manoeuvre.
  • Surf skis, a uniquely Australian invention, are seen being ridden in the surf alongside surfboards. Riders sit on the surf ski in tandem or alone and use paddles to gain momentum and steer the ski. The Australian doctor credited with its invention is John Crakanthorp (1901–?). He took out the patent in 1933 but appears to have based the idea on an invention by Harry McLaren (1897–?) who made his first surf ski in 1912 at the age of 15.
  • The absence of women in the clip is evidence of the fact that the sport was long regarded as a male domain even though women have participated in surfing since the early 1920s. It was only in the late 1970s that women were allowed to be full active members of surf-lifesaving clubs. Today women comprise 15–20 per cent of surfers and the surf industry caters for them, while important national and international female surfing competitions take place each year.
  • Although the belt-and-reel method of rescue shown here was an icon of Australian surf-lifesaving it was not the most efficient rescue method, largely because it required a highly trained team and this was rarely available. Even so, clubs retained this traditional method into the 1990s until it was replaced by more reliable means of rescue, including rescue boats and surf skis. Eventually use of the belt and reel was relegated to club competitions.
  • The clip pays homage to the skill of Australian lifesavers. Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) was formed at the beginning of the 20th century when the pastimes of swimming, body surfing and enjoying the beach gained wide popularity. It was established as a voluntary rescue organisation because of the treacherous nature of some surf beaches. SLSA provided the focus and framework for the sport of surfing until the late 1950s.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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