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 37th Surfest (no event in 1991 due to the reorganisation of the professional surfing tour nor in 2021 due to COVID-19) in 2023 will host nine different surfing events attracting male and female surfers from across the Asia-Pacific region.
The key events in the 2023 Surfest crown are two World Surf League five-star events – the men’s Burton Automotive Pro and the crowdfunded Speaking in Colour 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 2023 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.