First World Surfing Champion Midget Farrelly Passes Away

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Sad news last night as we heard that our mate and surfing icon Midget Farrelly had passed away, age 71 – may he rest in peace.
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Midget trim at Manly

We cast our gaze back to an era that is now long passed, and to a time where inspiring surfing luminaries were truly living legends who strolled our shores and graced our waves with their innovation, their prowess and their style – that is where Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly will forever exist in the hearts and minds of the surfing world.

The first official World Surfing Championships at Manly in 1964 was his crowning achievement – first place and the first ever world surfing champion – but his list of achievements and influence stretched on, paving the way for some of surfing’s greatest advancements and changes throughout generations to come.

Whilst slight in stature (hence the nickname) he was a giant of a gentleman, eloquent at times, humble and occasionally shy, yet often sporting his confident grin as he did, especially when speaking about surfing.

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Midget’s timeless drop-knee cut back turn
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Midget Farrelly and his wife Bev in 2012

His win at the maiden official World Titles, beating out the stinging surf skills of Californian legends Mike Doyle and Joey Cabell in the final, paved the way for the Australian dominance often seen in surfing sports that lives on today.

Midget arguably dominated the competitive surfing world stage throughout the 1960s and was the one to beat. Some other notable achievements in his competitive time were.

  • First Place – 1962 Makaha International Championship (December)
  • First Place – 1964 World Championships
  • First place – 1965 Australian Surfing Title
  • Sixth Place – 1966 World Championships
  • First Place – 1966 Peruvian International Small Waves Competition
  • First Place – 1968 Bobby Brown Memorial Competition
  • Second Place – 1968 World Championships
  • Inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame – 1985

He was born in 1944 in Sydney and had his first moments on a surfboard at age six, being on an enormous hollow timber board. Midget was the first President of Australia’s oldest board riders club – Dee Why Surfing Fraternity – which still operates under the same name today.

Midget in action

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Surfing below summarises some of the history and fallout from Midget Farrelly’s time at the top of the world surfing mountain. You can read the full text HERE.

“Farrelly was by then more comfortable with his role as a surfing leader. He’d been instrumental in the formation of the Australian Surfriders Association, and in 1964 helped launch the International Surfing Federation, to oversee subsequent World Championship events. “Surfing with Midget Farrelly,” his Sydney Morning-Herald column, was reprinted in newspapers across the country, and he was featured in a national ad campaign for Philishave electric razors.

midget_004“Farrelly repeated as national champion in 1965, but failed to make the finals in the 1965 World Championships, held in Peru, and watched from the beach as his 17-year-old protégé Nat Young, also from Sydney, finished runner-up. Young went on to win both the national and world titles in 1966; Farrelly—regarded by many in the Australian surf media, and probably by Young as well, as yesterday’s news— was generally made unwelcome in what was being billed as the “New Era.”

“While the exact origins of the Farrelly-Young feud are unclear, and the details of its escalation are all but forgotten, by 1967 the onetime friends had cultivated a near hatred for each other, with Farrelly eventually calling Young a “brazen, conniving, ruthless megalomaniac,” and Young describing Farrelly as “a whinging Pom.” Farrelly had cause for grievance as he placed ahead of Young in both the 1968 and 1970 World Championships (and won the 1970 Gunston 500 in South Africa) but was nonetheless viewed as Australia’s champion of the past.

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Bernard ‘The Midget’ Farrelly alongside fellow Australian surfing icon Phyllis O’Donell – Men’s and Women’s world surfing champions respectively in 1964.

“Furthermore, his significant contribution to late-’60s surfboard design was almost completely overshadowed by the work of Bob McTavish, the Australian designer who, along with Young and Californian George Greenough, is generally credited with inventing the short surfboard. Farrelly Surfboards was founded in 1965 in Palm Beach, and the following year saw the release of the lightweight, easy-turning Midget Farrelly Stringerless model (sold in America by Gordon and Smith Surfboards); Farrelly continued over the next few years to produce some of the sport’s most progressive boards.”

Farewell to an Australian and world surfing champion, one of the greatest both in the water and out.