Bells Beach is named for William Bell (1844-1894) a Geelong grocer, councillor and Mayor who purchased land in 1864 from a split up of Gundry’s holdings into smaller allotments. Bell was a member of the Torquay Improvement Association and his Torquay house on the corner of Price and Pride Street became St Helier’s guest house. Reference is made to Bells Beach in newspaper articles of the 1880s and 1890s. The land was acquired by D C Lewis in 1899 and sold to John Calvert Bell in 1905 (no relation to William Bell). The discovery of Bells Beach as a surfing place was during the 1950s when members of the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club rode their motorcycles along the cliffs and carved out a rough track. In 1960 Joe Sweeney (1932-2015) hired a bulldozer and upgraded the track and extended it to Bells Beach. In 1962 the first surfing competition was held, the Bells Beach Easter Rally and became an annual event. By 1973 this event was included on the World Competitive Tour and has since been known as the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. The first year bells were awarded as prizes was 1968, and made by Rod Brooks at Prahran Tech which included Gail Couper’s trophy. The iconic Bells trophy was subsequently made by Joe Sweeney and then every year until his death in 2015. The trophy consists of a brass bell hanging from the wooden mount, and it is one of competitive surfing’s greatest honours and achievements to ring that bell.
Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve has a Victorian Heritage listing being of social and historical significance to the State of Victoria. The landscape is socially significant as an international icon of Australian surfing culture; it is socially and historically significant as the location of the world’s longest continuous running surf competition; and it has historic significance relating to the development of surfboard and wetsuit technology.
Further resources (Available for sale from TDHS) Pollard, K. (1996). History of Torquay Surf Life Saving Club. TSLC: Torquay. pp.135-140.