History - history of surfest

History of Surfest

SURFEST Newcastle, Australia originated in 1985 when Newcastle’s movers and shakers were desperately trying to rid the city of its industrial image and showcase the beauty of Newcastle’s beaches and surf breaks to people from outside of the region.  Yes, that’s right – Surfest began as the richest professional surfing competition on the planet. In more than three decades since those pioneering days, Surfest has become Australia’s largest surfing festival.

Until 2006, Surfest set up its HQ at Newcastle beach, but moved permanently to the loved, iconic and revered Merewether beach in 2007.  The fabled right-handers that peel down the rock and sand bottom off Merewether beach attract both competitors and spectators. It’s at Merewether that the competition’s patron Mark Richards honed the dance that would see him win four world titles – more than any other male competitor in the world, except for the ‘Floridian freak’ and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater (who, incidentally, claimed a Surfest crown in 2004). MR – or the mayor of Merewether as locals admiringly refer to him – was named at Surfing Australia’s 50th anniversary as the most influential Australian surfer from 1963-2013.

In 2009, Merewether was crowned as one of Australia’s national surfing reserves. On final’s day in 2006, due to massive southerly swells smashing into the eastern seaboard, the event shifted to Merewether. More than 10,000 people rocked up to check out the action during the finals dished up on Super Surfest Sunday. It was pure magic –the natural elements fired and the planets aligned and it was then that organisers decided to relocate the event’s HQ permanently.

The list of Surfest champions reads like a Who’s Who of world surfing. Mick Fanning is a three-time world and Surfest champion, Occy has won twice (with a 12-year gap between trophies), as has Tom Carroll. Women champs include Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons, while Rebecca Woods and Pam Burridge match Fanning’s effort with three trophies each.

Surfest has the ability to pack up and go mobile, as it did when it became the first pro-surfing event in the world to run competition inside a harbour. When a massive low-pressure system saw much of the east coast breaking out-of-control, reigning world champ Joel Parkinson showed his class by dropping into two-metre barrels inside the entrance to Newcastle Harbour. 

The 38th Surfest (no event in 1991 due to the reorganisation of the professional surfing tour nor in 2021 due to COVID-19) in 2024 will host eight different surfing events attracting male and female surfers from across the Asia-Pacific region.

History - history of surfest
Pic by: richardbartlett.com

The key events in the 2024 Surfest crown are two World Surf League five-star events – the men’s Burton Automotive Pro and the crowdfunded Newcastle Racecourse Womens Pro

In a world first in 2016, 73 Newcastle and Hunter region businesses contributed $1650 each to ensure the 2016 Surfest Women’s Pro went ahead. Each year since then, local businesses have contributed from their own pockets to ensure the continuation of the Women’s Pro.

The Burton Automotive Pro and the crowdfunded Speaking in Colour Womens Pro attract over 300 professional surfers from countries including Australia, the United States, Hawaii, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Tahiti, New Zealand, France and western Europe.

But it’s not just all about pro-surfers. What separates Surfest from many other professional surfing events is the emphasis placed upon community and grass roots surfing competition.  In the past few years, Surfest has stretched its wings to run events in all three local government areas that cover the Hunter coastline – Newcastle, Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie.

The Team Challenge attracts around 100 surfers from the state’s most competitive board clubs in NSW.

The Indigenous Classic 2024 offers a large prize purse for Indigenous surfers. Aboriginal surfers from as far away as Western Australia will travel to Merewether to renew friendships and surfing rivalries. Indigenous surfers have always been welcome at Surfest and sponsor commitment to the provision of an attractive purse cements a connection stretching back two decades.

Surfest remains conscious of ensuring the involvement of today’s kids who will be tomorrow’s champions. Opportunities for young male and female surfers are woven throughout the event.

The Sanbah Cadet Cup for 14-year old and 16-year old boys and girls is the peak of our engagement with promising young male and female surfers.

The Mutual Bank High Schools Team Challenge sees high schools teams from more than 50 metropolitan and regional high schools throughout the state come to Newcastle for the biggest high schools surfing event in NSW.

History - history of surfest

Surfest organisers 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 Surfest organisers are thrilled that they can provide the people of Newcastle and the rest of the world – through an event webcast – with the opportunity to see how this former engine room for steel production has reinvented itself to host surfers to non-stop surfing action in one of Australia’s most beautiful cities.

Surfest Newcastle Australia is backed by major sponsors the Burton Automotive Group. The Burton family has invested a large amount of sponsorship money into the event and his commitment stretches back 18 years.

Logistically, with the event largely reliant on the ongoing commitment and contribution of volunteers, every Surfest remains a big challenge. But it’s a challenge that Newcastle rises to again and again – and the city, the event and its supporters would not have it any other way.

Surfest Champions

2023Joel Vaughan (AUS)Bronte Macaulay (AUS)
2022Jackson Baker (AUS)Macy Callaghan (AUS)
2021Men's - event did not runWomen's - event did not run
2020Julian Wilson (AUS)Bronte Macaulay (AUS)
2019Alex Ribeiro (BRA)Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
2018Mikey Wright (AUS)Coco Ho (HAW
2017Yago Dora (BRA)Johanne Defay (FRA)
2016Matt Wilkinson (AUS)Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
2015Alejo Muniz (BRA)Ellie Brooks (AUS)
2014Matt Banting (AUS)Malia Manuel (HAW)
2013Joel Parkinson (AUS)Dimity Stoyle (AUS)
2012Willian Cardosa (BRA)Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
2011Dion Atkinson (AUS)Coco Ho (HAW)
2010Glenn Hall (IRE)Kirby Wright (AUS)
2009Travis Logie (ZAF)Phillipa Anderson (AUS)
2008Adriano De Souza (BRA)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2007Jay Thomson (AUS) Silvana Lima (BRA)
2006Neco Padaratz (BRA)Rebecca Woods (AUS)
2005Mick Fanning (AUS)Lynette McKenzie (AUS)
2004Kelly Slater (USA)Rebecca Woods (AUS)
2003Dayyan Neve (AUS)Rebecca Woods (AUS)
2002Mick Fanning (AUS)Event not held
2001Mick Campbell (AUS)Event not held
2000Mick Fanning (AUS)Event not held
1999Taylor Knox (USA)Event not held
1998Mark Occhilupo (AUS)Hayley Tasker (AUS)
1997Shane Bevan (AUS)Kylie Webb (AUS)
1996Guilherme Herdy (BRA)Neridah Falconer (AUS)
1995Michael Rommelse (AUS)Neridah Falconer (AUS)
1994Shane Powell (AUS)Pam Burridge (AUS)
1993Barton Lynch (AUS)Pam Burridge (AUS)
1992Damien Hardman (AUS)Vanessa Osbourne (AUS)
1991Event rescheduled due to 2 tierEvent rescheduled due to 2 tier
1990Mike Parsons (USA)Michelle Donoghue (AUS)
1989Tom Carroll (AUS)Pauline Menzcer (AUS)
1988Damien Hardman (AUS)Pam Burridge (AUS)
1987Tom Carroll (AUS)Jodie Cooper (AUS)
1986Mark Occhilupo (AUS)Freida Zamba (USA)
1985Tom Curren (USA)Wendy Botha (ZAF)

Junior Champions

2024Jarvis EarleSierra Kerr
2023Saxon ReberJahly Stokes
2022Marlon HarrisonEllie Harrison
2021Called off, COVIDCalled off, COVID
2020Called off, bad weatherCalled off, bad weather
2019Caleb TancredMolly Picklum
2018Callum RobsonAlyssa Lock
2017Liam O’BrienZahli Kelly
2016Ethan EwingMacy Callaghan
2015Deivid SilvaMacy Callaghan
2014Cooper ChapmanBronte Macaulay
2013Jake SylvesterElle-Jean Coffey
2012Jesse MendesBianca Buitendag
2011Jake SylvesterNikki Van Diijk
2010Mitch CrewsAirini Mason
2009Larson GrangerLaura Enever
2008Owen WrightLaura Enever
2007Drew MacphersonLaura Enever
2006Dion AtkinsonSally Fitzgibbons
2005Dion AguisNicola Atherton
2004Blake ThorntonAmanda Clegg
2003Klint KimminsSheridan Shields
2002Travis LynchRebecca Woods
2001Shaun CansdellRebecca Woods
2000Zahn FoxtonRebecca Woods
1999Tom WhittakerStacey Lancaster
1998Darren O’RaffertyEvent not held
1997Trent MunroEvent not held
1996Chris DavidsonEvent not held
1995Mitch DawkinsEvent not held


2023Ocean LancasterHunter SutcliffePoppy O'ReillyOlivia Shannon
2022Sol GruendlingOcean LancasterMilla BrownNot held
2021Not heldNot heldNot heldNot held
2020Hugh VaughanChez BosMilli AllportNot held
2019Jordan LiackmanDom ThomasCharli HurstNot held
2018Jamie ThomsonByron ThomsonMolly PicklumNot held
2017Jamie ThomsonAxel Rose CurottaSasha BakerNot held
2016Ryan DonohoeJamie ThomsonAlyssa LockNot held
2015Kael WalshJackson RobertsMacy CallaghanNot held
2014Luke WriceDexter MuskensMacy CallaghanNot held
2013Jacob WilcoxSandon WhittakerParis WhittakerNot held
2012Teague RobinsonQuinn BriceNot heldNot held
2011Jackson BakerKalani BallNot heldNot held
2010Cooper ChapmanJosh SzeleNot heldNot held
2009Matt BantingMichael WrightNot heldNot held