Thrill of the Surf: Surfing, a national sport (1949)

Thrill of the Surf: Surfing, a national sport (1949)
Cinesound Movietone Productions
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Commentator John Moyes explains that men are making surfboards out of plywood. A line of surfers carry their boards down to the shore and paddle out towards the breakers. The camera follows their path, capturing them from just in front of the waves. A man who has been hit by a surfboard is rescued by the lifesavers on duty and carried ashore. The clip ends with a shot of the surfers in the afternoon sun.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

The final shots are beautifully filmed with surfers seen in silhouette and sunlight bouncing off the water. The camera is positioned close to the surfers, filming them from the side as they ride in to the shoreline. Placed alongside them, the viewer can experience the 'top of the world’ thrill of the surfer.

Nowadays sports photography has become a specialised art. The proliferation of televised competitive sport, such as motor racing, cricket and the Olympics, has prompted the development of lighter and more mobile technologies to allow further flexibility and intimacy in recording these events.

Title Synopsis

This documentary featurette shows typical scenes on Australia’s beaches and features the events and activities of a surfing carnival at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. An introductory text situates Australian beach culture amongst the 'sun worshippers’ of 'hot summers’, golden sands and the 'great outdoors’. The rest of the film shows beach crowds, a lifeguard procession, surfers and a surfing competition, and a demonstration of lifesaving rescue boats in the water. It includes a lively commentary by John Moyes and an accompanying instrumental score.

Title Curator's Notes

Cinesound Productions ceased feature film production shortly after the end of the Second World War (when the British Rank Organisation bought half the shares in Cinesound’s parent company, Greater Union Theatres). Nevertheless, it continued to produce its newsreel, Cinesound Review, along with documentaries and sponsored films on a range of subjects.

Thrill of the Surf is populated with surfers, lifesavers and other beach goers. Beautifully filmed visuals (see the final moments of clip one) are supported by a script – most probably written in part by Ken G Hall – which describes the coastline as a 'giant golden necklace’, the sand as a 'place for building castles’, women surfers as 'surf nymphs’ and surfing as 'Australia’s most popular sport’.

This short documentary is one of many Australian films to feature the sun, sand and surf as a significant character. Others on this site include silent newsreel items (Australasian Gazette – Sun Worshippers, c1924), cinema advertisements (Lifesavers: Cryst-O-Mint Flavour, 1925), feature-length productions (Crystal Voyager, 1973 and Puberty Blues, 1981) and even reality television (Bondi Rescue, 2006).

Notes by Poppy De Souza

Education Notes

This black-and-white clip shows surfing on Sydney’s Bondi Beach in 1949 and includes scenes of surfboard building, surfers riding the waves towards the shore on the long surfboards popular at the time, surf ski riders and a rescue by surf-lifeguards. Final footage includes close-up action shots filmed alongside riders in the waves. The commentary suggests that Australian conditions are very different from those in Hawaii, requiring considerable changes to surfboard design. The commentary is accompanied by upbeat marching music played by a brass band.

Educational value points

  • This clip vividly conveys the thrills and enjoyment of surfing in Australia in the late 1940s. A range of medium and close-up camera shots bring variety to the surfing footage and highlight potential dangers. The final footage tracks some individual surfers, conveying their speed and making the viewer feel as though they are in the waves with them. The brisk upbeat commentary emphasises the skill and fearlessness of the surfers.
  • The clip shows locally made hollow surfboards, about 14 feet (4.3 m) long with timber frames and plywood skin, that were a lightweight version of Hawaiian solid wood surfboards. The narrator states that this style was better suited to Australian conditions. The design was first developed in Australia by Frank Adler and the lightness of these surfboards led to an increase in the popularity of the sport. But they lacked a keel, so were unstable and difficult to manoeuvre.
  • Surf skis, a uniquely Australian invention, are seen being ridden in the surf alongside surfboards. Riders sit on the surf ski in tandem or alone and use paddles to gain momentum and steer the ski. The Australian doctor credited with its invention is John Crakanthorp (1901–?). He took out the patent in 1933 but appears to have based the idea on an invention by Harry McLaren (1897–?) who made his first surf ski in 1912 at the age of 15.
  • The absence of women in the clip is evidence of the fact that the sport was long regarded as a male domain even though women have participated in surfing since the early 1920s. It was only in the late 1970s that women were allowed to be full active members of surf-lifesaving clubs. Today women comprise 15–20 per cent of surfers and the surf industry caters for them, while important national and international female surfing competitions take place each year.
  • Although the belt-and-reel method of rescue shown here was an icon of Australian surf-lifesaving it was not the most efficient rescue method, largely because it required a highly trained team and this was rarely available. Even so, clubs retained this traditional method into the 1990s until it was replaced by more reliable means of rescue, including rescue boats and surf skis. Eventually use of the belt and reel was relegated to club competitions.
  • The clip pays homage to the skill of Australian lifesavers. Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) was formed at the beginning of the 20th century when the pastimes of swimming, body surfing and enjoying the beach gained wide popularity. It was established as a voluntary rescue organisation because of the treacherous nature of some surf beaches. SLSA provided the focus and framework for the sport of surfing until the late 1950s.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production Company:
Cinesound Productions
Ken G Hall
Ken G Hall
John Moyes