SURFEST – originated in 1985 when Newcastle’s movers and shakers were desperately trying to banish the city’s grime-ridden industrial image and showcase the unheralded beauty of Newcastle beaches and surf breaks,
Those visionaries developed the BHP Steel International – Surfest’s first incarnation and the richest professional surfing event in the world at that time.
Yes, that’s right – the richest professional surfing competition on the planet at that time.
Surfest has since become Australia’s largest surfing festival.
With a population exceeding 500,000 people, Newcastle is New South Wales’ second largest city and is situated just a two hour drive up the F3 or a train ride north of Sydney.
The premier surfing event at Surfest has always attracted the world’s best surfers because of the city’s unique hospitality and the distinct late March/early April possibility of north-easterly swells coming in from either storm activity in the Coral Sea or from low depressions sending southerly swells up through “pinball alley” – the oceanic area between Tasmania and New Zealand.
Ideal conditions at Merewether see southerly swells fanned by north-west winds barrelling through from third reef, providing rides where a surfer’s ability can be fully demonstrated to crowds gathered in the natural amphitheatre that is Merewether beach.
On final’s day in 2006, (the event was moved to Merewether from Newcastle on several contest days during 2006 due to massive southerly swells smashing into the eastern seaboard) when Brazilian Neco Padaratz took the main trophy in three metre waves and set off on the path that saw him regain a spot on the 2007 Championship Tour after a year’s suspension, more than 10,000 people rocked up to Merewether to check out all the action.
It was pure magic – all the elements fired and the planets aligned for a most memorable Newy day.
It is Merewether that saw Mark Richards, Luke Egan, Matt Hoy, Simon Law and Nicky Wood develop the abilities that enabled them to participate at the elite level of competition and mix it with the best in the world.
The jewels in the Surfest crown are two World Tour Six-Star events – men’s Burton Toyota Pro and women’s Hunter Ports Womens Classic.
And there’s the Burton Toyota Pro Junior. And heaps more.
In 2007, organisers took a massive gamble when they moved the event’s traditional HQ from Newcastle Beach.
The decision to move five kilometres to the south – to Merewether – was confirmed by surf deity Huey as a righteous call and the contest was blessed with some cranking stand-up barrels throughout the contest period.
In 2013, Surfest, Newcastle Australia will again run at the fabled right-handers that peel down the rock and sand bottom off Merewether beach. It’s at these breaks that local icon and the competition’s patron learnt the skills that would see him win four world titles – more than any other male competitor in the world, except for the “Floridian Freak” and eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater (who, incidentally, claimed a Surfest crown in 2004).
In 2013, Newcastle is the second stop (Burleigh Heads) on the ASP Australasian leg of the international men’s pro surfing tour calendar.
Surfest is Newcastle’s only annual international sporting event. The Burton Toyota Pro and Hunter Ports Womens Classic often attracts over 200 surfers from Australia, the United States, Hawaii, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and France.
Back in 1986, the surfing competition – then worth $US56 000 – was won by wonder kid Tom Curren, who racked up 33 wins while on the pro tour – a figure only recently surpassed by Slater.
Surfest and Newcastle were thrilled to have Tom and his family at the event in 2005 as guests of honour. Surfest is like that. It has a proud history and it honours its champions in a manner befitting their standing in the global surfing community.
2007 world champion Mick Fanning has won Surfest three times and Mark Occhilupo has twice climbed atop the podium.
Surfest has always acknowledged champions – none more than our own four-time world champion Mark Richards. But you can call him MR.
Dr MR (MR was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Newcastle for his contributions to the community), whose handcrafted surfboards remain in demand around the world, lives with his long time sweetheart and wife Jenny and his kids right across the road from his beloved Merewether, where he has seen the inside of more barrels than you’ve had baked dinners.
The “Mayor of Merewether” is the patron of the event and is highly regarded throughout the world and along with two of Newcastle’s other great achievers on the world stage – Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns and silverchair – he is particularly revered in Newcastle.
Away from surfing, MR also plays an important role in the Hunter’s organisation for parents and families who have lost children to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Mark and Jenny lost a child to SIDS and in that inimitable Richards way, he and Jenny have both given so much back to the community in trying to find answers that will one day see an end to this terrible affliction.
Surfest has long raised and donated funds for the SIDS organisation to assist families and further research. Some of surfing’s best known names have put their hands in their pockets to help out.
Surfest has always been conscious of ensuring the involvement of today’s kids who will be tomorrow’s champions.
For that reason, the full gamut of contests run for 12 days and involve more than 700 surfers. Logistically this is a big challenge – but Newcastle, a city renowned for giving people a chance and encapsulating the Australian ethos of a fair go – would not have it any other way.
We think that the event is more than a great surf competition – it is a celebration of a city and its people and their special relationship with Australian beach culture. Most of all we are thrilled that we can provide the people of Newcastle – and now, through the webcast facilities being provided by NBN 180 Digital Post, the rest of the world – with the opportunity to see how this former engine room for steel production has reinvented itself in the new millennium to host 12 days of non-stop surfing action in one of Australia’s most beautiful cities.
|1985||Tom Curren||Wendy Botha|
|1986||Mark Occhilupo||Freida Zamba|
|1987||Tom Carroll||Jodie Cooper|
|1988||Damien Hardman||Pam Burridge|
|1989||Tom Carroll||Pauline Menzcer|
|1990||Mike Parsons||Michelle Donoghue|
|1991||Event rescheduled due to 2 tier||Event rescheduled due to 2 tier|
|1992||Damien Hardman||Vanessa Osbourne|
|1993||Barton Lynch||Pam Burridge|
|1994||Shane Powell||Pam Burridge|
|1995||Michael Rommelse||Neridah Falconer|
|1996||Guilherme Herdy||Neridah Falconer|
|1997||Shane Bevan||Kylie Webb|
|1998||Mark Occhilupo||Hayley Tasker|
|1999||Taylor Knox||Event not held|
|2000||Mick Fanning||Event not held|
|2001||Mick Campbell||Event not held|
|2002||Mick Fanning||Event not held|
|2003||Dayyan Neve||Rebecca Woods|
|2004||Kelly Slater||Rebecca Woods|
|2005||Mick Fanning||Lynette McKenzie|
|2006||Neco Padaratz||Rebecca Woods|
|2007||Jay Thomson||Silvana Lima|
|2008||Adriano De Souza||Stephanie Gilmore|
|2009||Travis Logie||Phillipa Anderson|
|2010||Glenn Hall||Kirby Wright|
|2011||Dion Atkinson||Coco Ho|
|2012||Willian Cardosa||Sally Fitzgibbons|