Midget Farrelly

By the time we captured our first vision of Midget Farrelly surfing live he was already a World surfing champion in 1964 , a household name that was very marketable in fact he even had his own branded skateboards the first to be commercially available in Australia and had published a book ” This Surfing Life”.

Our first glimpse came during Easter 1965 when gigantic swells pounded bells Beach so much so that the best 20 surfers in the country gathered at Fisho’s beach for what turned out to be probably the greatest expression sessions on malibus ever seen in the southern states. The waves were a perfect peeling 2 to 3 ft and we watched in awe as Midget and Nat stole the show alternating between 5 and 10 toes on the nose wave after wave. Along with a hundred or so other spectators our boards stayed on the roof racks of dad’s EH Holden wagon.

The whispers floating around the car park was that Midget was riding the first stringer less board. Mine on the car was a triple stringer Pyke weighing 42 lb (20 something kilo’s) so we waited until Midget walked past and sure enough The 9ft mal was naked, no timber stringer, “What was he thinking”!

In 1967 Midget’s persona took another amazing step forward with the release of 10 half hour episodes of the Midget Farrelly Surf Show. He was just 23 years of age. I am pretty sure the show went to air late Sunday afternoon. We didn’t miss an episode and the show would always start with a classic Midget backhand bottom turn followed by a walk to the nose. No individual before or after has had such an amazing impact on bringing surfing to the eye of the general public.

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Cutting an occy strap to open the 1975 Surfworld exhibition with the Skyhooks frontman, the late Graeme “Shirley” Strachan. Picture: Keith Platt

The 1968 World Surfing Titles at Rincon in Puerto Rico was almost another Title for Midget when he placed 2nd to Fred Hemmings. Ten times Easter Bells winner Gail Couper is convinced that ” Farrelly was robbed”. Participants in the sport of surfing were growing at a phenomenal rate eventually culminating in so many Australian surfers dominating the World Rankings since the First Pro Comp at bells Beach in 1973.

The Easter Bells comps from 66 to 73 provided the opportunity for Victorians to catch a glimpse of their heroes in particular Midget with his long blond hair and heavy cabled white cardigan , Nat with his felt green hat and Wymorana dog by his side.These images along with their riding to be etched into the memory bank of the adoring fans.

In 1970 the world surfing titles came to Bells Beach. Mals had been replaced by shortboards. In the case of most of the Aussie contingent way too short (under the 6ft mark) which severely handicapped the likes of favourites Wayne Lynch and Nat young. Midget who was overlooked as a serious threat placed a very creditable 2nd to American Rolf Arness.

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Bernard “Midget” Farrelly, above, at Bells Beach in 1973. Picture: Kieth Platt

Phil recalls Midget rode a 6ft 3 duck bill nose side slipper in the smaller waves and backed this up with a couple of big wave boards He was all style and grace choosing only the very best waves, never falling off and in many cases only riding the minimum number of waves he would be judged on. He was a true professional before pro surfing surfaced in 1973. Rolling further into the 70’s Midget was ridiculed (too squeaky clean for Tracks) because he spoke out against the growing drug image that was associated with surfing. He was labelled a past champion who was no
longer progressive yet when Rip Curl backed the first professional event at Bells in 1973 he placed second to Peterson. He had led the event in the early rounds when the surf was up to 12ft but was out maneuvered by Peterson as the swell dropped away. My memories, are of him surfing from extremely deep inside on his 8ft gun and as Bob McTavish would say “going vertical” on those huge Bells walls.

I had never Met Midget before but when we showed an interest in his boards he invited us to check them out.He was very proud of his creations. They were stowed away neatly in his blue Kombi and were all a classy cream yellow pigment with a small swallow tail and a high kicked nose (see pic) each one running up by 3 inch increments from 6ft 3, 6’6″,6’9, 7′ then 7’6″ and 8′. My good friend Peter baker recalls Midget taking his boards out and it being mesmerizing seeing so many so similar laid out before us and when we got back to our factory at Chelsea we tried to duplicate one such board at 6’6″, cream yellow pigment swallow tail which peter polished himself. Peter said ” There was one ten foot wave in particular that Farrelly rode from way over near Rincon got barreled and flew thru the bowl at high speed, he was by far the best big wave surfer in the contest on that first day of competition”.

Midget was well and truly prepared for whatever bells had to offer and the shaping was that of a Master craftsman(beautiful rail shape not dissimilar to modern boards-soft round). There were no excuses offered by Farrelly for his loss to Peterson but I know for a fact he had a bout of the flu that allowed Michael Peterson to come from a 4th place to winner on the final day. Midget 2nd place not bad for a so called has been in a world class field of surfers. Farrelly didn’t compete in 74 because of a broken leg but he did attend the Easter Bells and Phil recalls seeing a surfer streaking across a large wave between centre-side and Rincon, it was midget on a red bodyboard.

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Picture: Keith Platt

While continuing a highly successful shaping career with his Farrelly surfboards Midget added another string to his bow by making his own foam blanks “Surfblanks” from 1968. By 1975 Trigger Bros had switched over from Dion foam to Surfblanks. They arrived in shipments of 50 to 100 by train at Frankston station.

The 1977 Australian Surfing Titles in Sydney gave Phil and I a chance to catch up with our new supplier who to this stage we hadn’t formally met. Midget turned up at the Long Reach contest site with his latest passion a hang glider.He was building and selling these Australia wide and I wonder if that’s how he broke his leg earlier.He offered to take us up for a spin on his dual kite – Ted Bainbridge Phil and I were all focused on the surfing and politely declined. Midget was a great host and invited me to use the shaping shed under his house at palm beach to finish off a board for the comp.

Although he had left school at 15 for a life of surfing and making surfboards Farrelly was an extremely intelligent and practical person who I have no doubt could have winged his way thru Uni and added a few Degrees to his resume on the way . In the eighties he produced sailboards and his own branded Sails. He used to confuse me with his knowledge of highly technical equipment that he was manufacturing. His Wave Sailing ability saw him competing at the Rip Curl wave Classic in Torquay with the likes of Robby Naish and Peter Cabrinha from Hawaii.

In 1980 Midget made an impromptu promo visit down to Pt Leo with his family staying for a couple of days at Phil,s surfing the famous point and shaping 3 boards in my shed at Balnarring. He was very fast with every skill honed from years and years of practice and at one stage in his joking fashion said “Don’t you love the way Midget shapes those rails”. He was very charismatic and you couldn’t help but like him.

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With Doug “Claw” Warbrick one of the founders of Rip Curl.  Picture: Keith Platt

In 1982 Phil stayed with Midget for a few days. He remembers sailing at Pittwater where the sea planes land and then sitting down with him to watch his favourite show at 6 o’clock “Dr Who”.
Bernard Midget Farrelly the Dr Who of surfing will be sadly missed. He put surfing on the map with his exquisite skills, and probably more than any other individual in Australian surfing history is responsible for the popularity it has today.