bells beach surfing
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Bells Beach Surf

The Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia has always been one of the most popular and oldest surfing destinations for legends and enthusiasts alike. This article will be a deep dive into its history.

Bells Beach Surf

When it comes to surfing, Bells Beach is one of the most popular and visited beaches across the land down under. The Victoria coastline has become world-famous for its beaches, but there are none quite like the beach that got its name in honor of William Bell, the owner of most of the land throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Both the beach and the coast are protected by the Victorian Heritage Register.

About Bells Beach

Besides being an absolute marvel to look at, Bells Beach has gained popularity over the years because it houses the longest-running surfing competition in the world. The Rip Curl Pro or Bells Easter Classic, as the oldtimers call it, is based around the Easter holidays. However, the very first competition, which took place back in 1962, was held during the month of January. 

The Bells competition doesn’t have a recurring date, mainly because a lot of it is riding on the weather. When the conditions are too severe and make it all but impossible to go through with the event as planned, the competition has been known to move to the neighboring Johanna and Woolamai beaches.

The History of Surf Bells 

Even though the official surfing competitions began during the 1960s, surfing enthusiasts have had their sights set on Bells Beach dating back to the 1930s. However, the terrain couldn’t accommodate larger groups of people on the shores back then. It all changed when, during the early 1960s, Joe Sweeney bulldozed his way from the nearest road to the coast of the ocean. 

The subsequent premiere Surfboard Rally that took place on the shores of Bells Beach was organized by Peter Troy and Vic Tantau with the goal to boost sales of their T Boards stuffing boards. Originally the competition was slated for late 1961, but it had to be pushed back to the early days of 1962. 

The inaugural competition proved to perk quite some interest and talk around the country. So much so that the Australian Surfriders Association - ASA decided they wanted a piece of the action and jumped in without a safety net. The competition itself has grown and expanded throughout the years. 

During the 1970s it took to tree planting as a gesture of showing love for the environment. During the decade and into the 80s, the competition split into three main events: the Rip Curl GromSearch National Series—a surfing event for participants younger than 17 years, the main Rip Curl Pro event, and the Surfers Appreciating the Natural Environment (SANE), where the surfing community comes together to plant trees and take care of the environment. 

Surf Guide

Bells Beach is mainly known as the home of two major waves. The Rincon wave breaks at high tides and crumples all the way to the shore. However, the Bowl wave is probably the most famous and infamous wave on the Bells shore. The latter comes at a four-foot swell and rises over another five feet. The wave has frequently been known to reach an astonishing high ten feet, making it a sight and feat to behold. 

It takes an experienced surfer to get on a wave that’s this high and this powerful. The best bet is to navigate to the inside corners that are nearest to the shore. From here on out, it’s all about perfect timing and a little luck. Even so, the wave will take a lot out of even the most experienced surfers before they give themselves a chance to slide onto the wonder

The Rincon 

One of the most famous spots on the coast of Santa Barbara is the Rincon, or the Queen of the Coast. The waves at the Rincon are a thing of beauty. When there is a low tide, the swell pulls in deep and really delivers. The Rincon Classic is a world-famous competition that features multiple disciplines and divisions. The competition is open to everyone that is willing to participate or spectate the events.

The location has become such an iconic landmark for surfing because there is no shortage of ways to get there. Surfers can take the freeways and arrive right at the belly of the beast. The Rincon is widely known for its right-breaking waves. 

Nevertheless, it has also been known to throw a left-breaking wave curveball at times when the summer swell is in full bloom. The fact that the spot is so majestic and easy to reach makes for a crowded surfing platform.

The Bowl 

the bowl

The Bowl is among the favorites when it comes to winter surfing. Situated near Tongatapu, when the winds blow from the southeast, they give rise to huge groundswells that go perfectly with the reef break and deliver large right-hand waves. 

The surrounding terrain is not the best, but there is a lot of speculation that it’s left that way on purpose so that the place doesn’t get crowded. Most of the time, surfers are after The Bowl’s clean waves because they do offer long and enjoyable rides. However, the blown-out waves are still surfable even for rookies that aren’t too picky. 

The Winki

the winki wave

Another Bells wave that's made a name for itself is the Winki. The juggernaut wave keeps on breaking for the better part of 250 meters before it rises five to eight feet high. The waves can be split into two parts; the Uppers and Lowers. 

The trick is to make a seamless transition from one to the other without losing balance or a limb. Surfers will often wait for the wave to pick up steam and dive in for the Lowers because that way, they are less likely to get caught by the undertow. 

While the wave is still forming, surfers are able to paddle to the front of its break. However, when the wave rises, it’s best not to take it head-on. Sneak up to it after looking for an entry point, also known as the Button. When the moment comes, it will take a full-throttle dash through and around the Button in order to catch a prime Upper.

Burning Waves & the Rip Curl 

rip curl 

Bells Beach stands out as a unique spot in the surfing community because the currents wrap themselves up at the point and push out. This makes the waves meet, join, and spill their prowess all the way to the shore. The rip curl below the surface is all but surgically designed to keep the waves even and on track before the final breaking point.

More than anything, it’s the consistency of these minor miracles that keep surfers coming back for more. In a way, the waves there have a “lab-made” swell that you can count on. One of the main contributing factors is, of course, the wind. 

By changing directions and moving from the South to the West, the wind makes for a sensation known as a burning wave. Burning waves are exceedingly difficult to navigate and tackle, so be sure that you’re ready and in good stamina before taking them on. 

Notable Local Surfers

The breathtaking beauty of the scenery and the cliffs that surround Bells Beach make it a perfect spot for people to gather and witness the events that are taking place. 

The Easter competition has drawn spectators from all over the globe so that they can get a glimpse of the most skilled surfers that the sport has to offer. 

Some of the more notable Aussie winners have included the illustrious Mark Occhilupo, Joel Parkinson, Matt Wilkinson, Mick Fanning, Sally Fitzgibbons, and Stephanie Gilmore.  

Once a surfer has the prestige of a winner at Bells Beach to their name, they are immediately skyrocketed to the upper echelon of surfers and command an audience wherever they go. 


Is Bells Beach safe to surf?

Even though Bells Beach stands as one of the most popular and challenging spots to surf in Australia, the currents are different at different times of the day. That being said, the level of danger and surfing difficulty ebbs and flows. Surfing always elicits some risk, but what we can say for sure is that the beach is not considered an unsafe place to surf by any means. 

How big are the waves at Bells Beach?

The waves at Bells Beach constantly vary in size and height, but surfers should expect to be met with shoreline swell waves of anywhere from three up to five meters. 

Can beginners surf at Bells?

As Bells Beach has a reputation for being a dangerous and challenging spot to surf, beginners usually shy away from giving it a shot before gaining a good deal of experience. Nevertheless, everyone has to start somewhere, and sometimes a baptism by fire can make for a great deal of progress. Beginner surfers shouldn’t be afraid to give Bells Beach a go. If they are vigilant and take to waves that aren’t above their pay grade, they should be fine. 

Can you swim at Bells Beach?

Simply put, Bells Beach is not the best spot for swimmers. However, it’s not out of the question either. People can be seen swinging the shores when the waves are relatively low and when the ocean is calm. 

That being said, when the waves pick up momentum, they crash directly on the beach and then bring a great pull that changes the shape of things quickly. 

To that end, we wouldn’t recommend swimming at the beach unless you are confident in your skills as a swimmer or have previously faced similar conditions. 

Is Bells Beach on Point Break?

Even though the last part of Point Break is indeed set on the coasts of Bells Beach, the actual shot did not take place on the beach but on a cove in India. This is evident because the terrain that surrounds the Point Break beach that stands in for Bells Beach in the film is surrounded by trees that run up a hill, which are nowhere to be found on the real location. 

A Few Words Before You Go…

Bells Beach has made the big, big time, no doubt about that. From Point Break to Rip Curl banner ads to world-class Winki pop waves, the Rip Curl Pro Bells bowl is a baptism altar for high tide and world-class wave riders and local Torquay surfers alike. The flat reef bottom has made surf forecasts and surf guides a second-thought commodity at lower tides.

Watching Surf Bells YouTube videos of riders pushing their dreams to the belly of the flat bowl is truly fascinating, but even if you don’t feel apt to take part in the competition, taking a summer trip to Australia might prove life-changing for a surfer. 

Just being on location at the scene and taking surf lessons on the beach as the curl rips and waves break in half will make you understand why the best surfers in the world pilgrimage to witness this majestic place. With a reef break like no other in Australia, the Bells is perfect for both high-tide and last-light surfing. 

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching