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The Popular Sport of Surfboarding (1925)


Three surfboard riders take off on a full wave at the north end of Bondi Beach, riding large Hawaiian-style longboards. They are shown from the side, then filmed from the beach, riding straight in. One man performs a handstand while riding. Another tries to ride his board from left to right along the wave. We see a total of about five surfers, in varying surf conditions. They ride amongst the swimmers, rather than separately, and appear to be playing up to the camera.

Curator’s notes

These are not by any means the first images shot of surfing in Australia, but they are amongst the first that have survived, and they show that the sport was well established in Sydney by 1925. In his book Surfmovies: The History of the Surf Film in Australia (2000, Shore Thing Publishing, ISBN 0 9587420 3 0), Albie Thoms writes that this has a claim to be ‘Australia’s first surf movie’. Thoms believes that two of the board riders we see are probably A McKenzie and A Moxam, both of whom were champions of the North Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club.

One of the innovations of this clip is that the camera shoots from the side, on the rocks at North Bondi, rather than simply from the beach. That allows a closer view of the riders taking off. The newsreel cameraman, who remains unidentified, also appears to be using a telephoto lens. Newsreels had been popular in Australia since at least 1910, and there were several competing companies. The better the footage they could obtain, the more successful each newsreel company became (see Newsfront, 1978).

The board is based on the solid Hawaiian traditional design, shown in Australia by the Hawaiian surfing ambassador Duke Kahanamoku, whose visit in late 1914 and early 1915 created great interest. Kahanamoku made a surfboard while here and gave demonstrations of how to ride it during his three-month tour of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

These boards were large, heavy and had no fin, so it was difficult to control their direction. Even so, we see here that one rider is already attempting to ride along the face of the wave, rather than simply head to the beach. These scenes may have been filmed on more than one day, since the waves and conditions at the beginning of the clip do not match those at the end.

This clip is from newsreel The Spectator Magazine, Volume 4, Number 2.