An old saying goes: “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” It’s not bad advice these days considering some of what goes on with the internet. This though is a story of one of the most iconic images from Australian surfing history, and how despite being published repeatedly and widely for almost 60 years, it is not exactly what many people believe it is.
Jack Eden’s shot (above) of Midget Farrelly in the first “official” World Championship at Manly in 1964 was titled “Final Wave”. This was a seriously big moment in our surfing history – something of a coming of age for competitive surfing, featuring the local young bloke who became both a national sporting hero and “household name” after his success, Midget’s win really signalling the dawn of a new era for surfing in Australia.
A bit of back story now…
Sydneysider Bernard “Midget” Farrelly was just 18 years old when he won surfing’s unofficial world championship at Makaha, Hawaii in January 1963. In doing that he became this country’s most famous surfer. Aussie surf magazines Surfing World and Surfabout had first appeared on the shelves only months before Midget’s win in Hawaii, so it was natural his success overseas was major news for a surf-hungry Australian audience. As the plans developed for surfing’s first official world championship, Aussies were hoping for a “home grown” winner, with plenty of expectations on Midget.
Meanwhile, Jack Eden was a surfer and surfing photographer who had made the leap to magazine publisher/editor, producing the first edition of one of Australia’s early surfing magazines “Surfabout” in August 1962. As you’d expect, Jack was on the beach at Manly cheering on the Aussies, soaking up the atmosphere and capturing images of the truly historic occasion. In the final at Manly on Sunday May 17th – in front of an estimated 60,000 people – things were tight between the three Australian and three American surfers in the water, with most pundits calling Midget and California’s Joey Cabell the stand out performers.
The following description appeared in Surfabout, Vol 2 No 7: “Midget Farrelly was fortunate to catch a wave upon which he gave a grand display right from the start to the beach. The gun signaled the finish as he came in to a thunderous ovation from the large crowd. This wave was no doubt the one that won him the title”. Midget’s outstanding move on that last wave was a dramatic (for the time) cutback done with his arms raised in the air. “Final Wave” shows Midget with arms raised cutting back at Manly. Except it is not a photo of Midget’s winning move on his final wave – Midget was wearing the number “2” singlet in the final, not the number “3” singlet in the photo.
We have no doubt there is no shenanigans going on here, no attempt to misrepresent, as Jack was an honorable man. But we get the feeling the excitement of it all and the thrill of Midget’s win overrode a critical analysis of the image. Those of you old enough will know there was no such thing as digital photography in ’64 – film had to be ‘processed’ with negatives turned into images on paper, and that all took time. So this simple mistake was dropped into the surfing pond 57 years ago with ripples spreading out over the decades, ripples still found in publications and on the internet to this day…