KEEL OVER AND FLY
The contest sponsored by a rock band that saw the World Champ defeated by a vegan yogi on a board inspired by Australia II’S America’s cup win. Welcome to Bells Beach 1984.
WHEN ONE OF THE NATION’S GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL BANDS DECIDES TO CO-HOST THE LONGEST RUNNING CONTEST IN AUSTRALIAN SURFING – YOU’D EXPECT NOTHING SHORT OF THE EXCEPTIONAL – AND IT WAS, RIGHT THROUGH THE EASTER WEEKEND OF 1984 ON THE RAGGED CLIFFS OF BELLS BEACH. THE WORLD’S ELITE COMPETITIVE SURFERS WERE THERE, THRASHING OUT TO THE FRETTED ONSLAUGHT BETWEEN HEATS, AS THE CROWD SURGED DOWN THE GOAT TRACK AND OUT TO RINCON, COPPING ALL THE NOISE, SPRAY AND MAYHEM ALONG THE WAY. HOWEVER, THROUGH ALL OF THIS, THERE WAS ONE ELITE SURFER IN PARTICULAR WHO COMMANDED THE SPECTACLE, MATERIALISING FROM HIS YOGI HIDEAWAY, RIPPED LIKE A GREEK STATUE AND WIELDING A BLADE MORE SAILBOAT THAN SURFBOARD. HE WOULD BATTLE THE NEW WORLD CHAMP A WEEK OUT FROM HIS INDUCTION, AND PINCH A PRIZE JEWEL FROM SURFING’S CROWN, ON THE SAME DESIGN AND IN MUCH THE SAME WAY AUSTRALIA’S SAIL TEAM DID IT TO THE YANKS THE PREVIOUS YEAR AT THE 1983 AMERICA’S CUP. THIS IS THE TRUE STORY OF THE 1984 RIP CURL / AUSTRALIAN CRAWL BELLS BEACH PRO. THIS IS THE TRUE STORY OF CHEYNE HORAN AND HIS WINGED KEEL.
Hon Bob Hawke AC (Prime Minister 1983-1991): Of all the things I said and did during the term of my Prime Ministership, my association with Australia winning the America’s Cup in 1983 would have to be one of the most enduring. Not that I did anything to win the Cup; that honour belongs to the late Alan Bond, John Bertrand and his skillful crew, and of course Ben Lexcen, the designer of the famous secret weapon, the winged keel of Australia II which wrestled yachting’s most famous Cup from America after 132 years of complete domination. The race captured the nation’s imagination when, after the elimination of four or five other nations, Australia II became the official challenger for the Cup. The build-up to the final – it was three all – gave an air of great
anticipation, and when Australia II surged ahead after trailing for most of the race, victory was in sight. The win brought great joy and delight to the length and breadth of the nation. It would seem that, during the heady celebrations, the words I uttered ie “Anyone who sacks an employee for not turning up for work today is a bum” added to the elation of winning. We had taken on the best in the world in a David and Goliath battle, and won. It certainly lifted our spirits and will be a moment fondly remembered by many forever.
John Bertrand (Skipper, Australia II): We broke the 132 year stranglehold the American’s had on the cup. That was our fourth America’s cup challenge so we had a lot of experience with losing over a 12 year period before we could actually get our act together for the win.
Cheyne Horan (Pro surfer, Yogi): I followed the America’s Cup, during the race we kept having mechanical and structural failures like masts breaking, sails ripping. We were down to 3-nil and came back to 3-all and then it was the last race to win. The conditions changed and the boat was absolutely flying. After watching Australia II win the race so easily, I wanted to know more about the keel.
John Bertrand: I recall Ben (Lexcen) talking about the winglets on surfboards very early. Benny was an incredible raconteur, and would have fitted in very well with the surfing world.
BEN & CHEYNE
John Bertrand: Ben Lexcen was the Leonardo Da Vinci of this country. He went to school at 9 and left at 12, presumably unteachable, but he was the most brilliant person that I’ve ever come across. His was unfitted thinking, which comes from not having a western style education in many ways. Ben was a real cool guy. Typical of Benny, when the surfing world came knocking, which is part of the DNA of this country, he was enthusiastically involved.
Geoff Mccoy (Master shaper): Cheyne was head and shoulders the very best during his time as a pro surfer. He had a futuristic outlook and approach to the way he wanted to ride waves, which was quite different to all other surfers of that period. Because of his unique approach he polarized the status quo with both his sheer brilliance and his carefree way.
Cheyne Horan: I didn’t succumb to what everybody else was using and what everybody else calls normal. I was looking for things on the cutting edge. I wanted to create something different. I met Ben Lexcen some months after the Cup. Straight away we got on like a house on fire. Ben was a super nice person, and his roots were in surfing. He used to work for Gordon Woods shaping surfboards. And he used to make boats as a kid and race his own sailboats using different designs. I took the boards of the era to him. He showed me a whole bunch of changes. At that time, we had boards that had edge from nose to tail that were sharp as. Ben said to take the edge back all the way to the front of the fin. He believed the edge should only be around the tail. That stopped a lot of the catch up the front and middle of the board and allowed the board to go fast. Then the bottom curve, we changed that to increase speed. Initially, I’d design the outlines but the front rail and tail rails were all Ben Lexcen’s. He knew so much about materials, the structures of materials, the strengths of resins and steels and aluminums and carbons. He taught me all about the ways wind and water perform on shape.
Cheyne Horan: We wanted to bring the America’s cup keel to a surfboard and we did a lot of work on getting the boards and the fin right. Ben used to have an office in Dee Why so we did all our development and practical there, which worked out great because it was so close to Dee Why Point – a great test zone. We wanted the board to lift up out of the water, pop up. Ben would always say, “It’s gotta feel like it wants to jump out of the water.”
John Bertrand: That’s what the winged keel is all about. When you do turns, a keel, or fins, generate side lift that give you traction. With side lift there’s drag associated with tip vortices so the objective with the winglets is to smooth out the tip vortices and reduce the overall drag as a result. Do that and you can bank your turns with less drop off in speed.
Cheyne Horan: It’s using all the power you’ve created. Not losing it. The standard fin today loses lots of the power it creates through flex or, over the tips. The wings mean you don’t lose any pressure. All the power you create, nothing goes over the tip because it stays on the fin. With a straight based fin a lot of the power goes over the tip.
John Bertrand: When you see a jet at 40,000 feet in the air and you see the vapor trails off the wings, that is the air condensing because velocity is changing dramatically – the air is going from high to low pressure and streaming off the tip of the wings. This streaming from high to low, going into a vortex, is exactly what happens with the fin of a surfboard moving through water. Harnessing that energy instead of losing it – that was the idea behind the America’s cup keel.
Cheyne Horan: At the time Mccoy and I had split. We had to go our separate ways to grow. We split over different reasons, but the reasons that we split weren’t the reasons that we split.
Geoff Mccoy: Surfing’s controllers of the time were frightened and threatened by what Cheyne and I were doing together.
Cheyne Horan: There had been a bunch of guys I was considering to help me with a board that would work for the fin. A really good Australian shaper was Terry Fitzgerald. I ended up going with him and Neal Purchase.
Terry Fitzgerald (Sultan of speed): We were over at Triggs at an APSA event, Cheyne was curious about why my boards were going so fast in the beachies. He rode mine, asked if I could shape a couple using my concave/vee set-ups adapted to his pretty bloody futuristic ideas. A challenge, but good fun... and easy to do.
Cheyne Horan: It was after Triggs that we made the first keel. December 1983. Bells was the following April. Terry was open to the design and his interpretation of it was perfect. When I got the board I took it to Ben. He said “Yep, that’s what you need for the fin to perform.” So Ben’s genius matched by Terry’s thread, being the concave and vee, helped the board go faster than anything I’d ridden… and then the keel made it go faster again. We’d put in the work and discovered something unseen and unfelt. We’d found the winning formula.
John Bertrand: Australia II was the first time any America’s cup team had ever kept the keel secret. Total secrecy. It was cold war stuff.
Opposite: Cracked Bells, broken cups and winged keels. All the lyrics you need for an 80s folk-pop-nu-tech-calypso banger... There will never be another ‘Errol,’ just accept it, ok?
Cheyne Horan: I kept it under wraps for a long time. The guys at Bondi saw it first. My very first surf on it I felt like I was flying. This guy dropped in on me and I overtook him like he was going backwards. I knew what a normal fin went like and this was an entirely new world. There was so much speed, the fin was lifting the board up, and the control was incredible.
THE ROAD TO BELLS
Doug Warbrick (Rip Curl founder): There was a freesurfing session down the coast with Wayne Lynch, Tom Curren, Cheyne Horan and one cameraman, Peter Crawford.
Cheyne Horan: It was interesting that Rip Curl had put us together. Tom Curren and I on a surf trip just before Bells. Curren was already considered a future World Champion and the competitiveness between us was already intense. Peter Crawford was with us and he kept saying to me “He’s surfing better than you mate, you’re gonna have to lift your game.” But I was purposefully surfing lower than my best because I thought “If I get him at Bells, that’s when I’m gonna lift.” I didn’t want him to even see my game. It was all very tactical while we were on that trip.
Doug Warbrick: The wave they were riding was a little bit like Bells. That was probably a good warm up for Cheyne. A little bit like Rincon and Bells but with a bit more push and a little more hollow. Very close to rocks. They just lit the place up. Really lit it up. Cheyne
“MY VERY FIRST SURF ON IT I FELT LIKE I WAS FLYING. THIS GUY DROPPED IN ON ME AND I OVERTOOK HIM LIKE HE WAS GOING BACKWARDS.”– CHEYNE HORAN
was having no problem going blow for blow with Tom Curren. And Cheyne was using the winged keel.
THE 1984 RIP CURL / AUSTRALIAN CRAWL BELLS BEACH SURFING FESTIVAL James Reyne (Singer, Australian Crawl):
Most bands surfed in those days but we were especially big surfing fans. We grew up on the Mornington Pennisula. Brad Robinson and Guy Mcdonough were really good surfers and I’d drive them around. I remember when Rip Curl was just a little surf shop down at Torquay and Bells was a big deal for us. We’d go there and be like, “Oh wow, there’s Rabbit, there’s Cheyne!” We were star-struck because these were our heroes of the time, and the fact that we got to be so up close with them was fantastic. The Crawl became co sponsors for two years in 83-84. How did that come about? Who knows? Probably sitting in a bar going “Hey, you know what could be a great idea!” ( Laughs) It seemed like a good idea at the time. The whole thing would have been put together over a beer and a handshake. Of course the contest in those days was much more wild west and nowhere near as sophisticated as it is now. I think we put in half the prizemoney or half the money to run it and we had naming rights and VIP passes for the bus parked on the cliff for two years ( laughs).
Doug Warbrick: There were obviously high expectations of Tom Carroll. He was the Aussie favourite and on his way to being one of the great surfers of all time. High expectations of the rank and file crowd that turned up at every level. He was Australia’s main man at that time. It was a very strong time for high performance surfing.
Tom Carroll (1983/84 World Champion):
Cheyne had been a really been a big star in the 70s and had already experienced a lot of mainstream media attention, but by the time he was surfing the winged keel he was quite alternative and starting to move really strongly in that new direction. I was in a really good place at that time. In those days all these minor events contributed to rankings so I’d gone all the way to Florida to get my points up so that I was unbeatable in the World Title race going into Bells. I got back and I was on fire. I remember landing in Sydney thinking “I’m a World Champ!” It was such a cool feeling. Then going down to Bells I felt really free to move the way I wanted to move. I felt good about myself. I had a new posture. I even took on a new way of walking.
Cheyne Horan: Everyone used to play mind games. These days they put everyone in a locker room and they’re all in there ignoring each other. In those days you operated from wherever you had your Camp David. So on day one I see Tom Curren sitting with his wife on the hill and I walk up and sit right where he can see me and I start looking straight at him, straight through him. He looked real nervous. I was drilling him. Then all of a sudden I’ve looked away for a moment and when I look back he’s disappeared. There’s no sign of him. Gone. He was playing me too. So I moved the camp and the next time we saw each other we were on the beach paddling out for the quarter final.
Doug Warbrick: The heat was out on centre Bells and the waves were decent. Cheyne got a great wave. There aren’t too many barrels
at Bells but you can sometimes slip into the barrel at the bowl. And that’s what Cheyne did. He Tom Curren-ed Tom Curren, which is not easy to do.
Cheyne Horan: That was the best heat of the contest for me. I got this really good wave in front of Tom. I’m on the keel and because they come around corners really fast, I’ve done this high speed cutback and as I’ve hit the rebound I came straight off the bottom and up into the barrel in this one fluid motion. It was like the rebound happened inside the barrel, like I cut up into it. And who do I see looking in at me when I get inside that tube? Tom Curren. And I’m looking at him and he’s looking at me, and it was at that moment I knew I had him. That was the final for me.
Doug Warbrick: It was typically high tide, the surf was small, the wind was Nor west in the morning, then went a little more westerly as the day went on. The tide came in, and the final was held on little Rincon. Which was quite good, wasn’t great, but it was peaking on the boils out the back, running along the reef and right through into Bells shorebreak.
Cheyne Horan: The final with Tom was interesting. He likes to paddle you out of position. He did it to me in California once and I thought if that ever happens again I’m taking it to him. My rhythm had been really
“I DIDN’T TRULY BELIEVE A WINGED KEEL COULD OUT PERFORM A THRUSTER AT BELLS. AND I WAS HUMBLED.” – TOM CARROLL
Opposite: A champion’s grin. Note the Australian Crawl contest rashie. Moments later Cheyne would climb the famous Bells track and ring the daylights out of surfing’s most famous trophy. (Crawford)
good on the day, I felt in sync with every good wave that came.
Doug Warbrick: Even though Cheyne would carve the full arc, it was a very short arc. He’d go quite vertical and he didn’t go a long way out from the breaking curl. It was tight arcs in the top. The board looked spot on for the conditions. Everything was coming together for him.
Tom Carroll: I just didn’t expect him to do as well he did. I had my head up my arse really. I did get serious in the final, I must admit, and really tried to apply myself. But he was in such great rhythm.
Cheyne Horan: The final in those days was actually a best of three heats, and in one heat I came in with 15 minutes to go. My friends were saying “What are you doing?” I said “Heat’s over, I got my waves right.” ( Laughs) They’d count four waves and I had two 9s and an 8 and a 5 so I came in to get dry and warm for the next heat.
Tom Carroll: I’d won the first heat but in the second heat the energy shifted. The tide got higher and that stopped the bowl from breaking and ended my advantage. When the final heats shifted over to Rincon I was struggling. Getting across sections on the backside at Rincon it’s extremely difficult to go top to bottom
Cheyne Horan: It’s probably the best Rincon I’ve ever had. Tom was going hard at me, but I just thought he was running out of puff.
Doug Warbrick: You sat out on the rocks when it was a Rincon final, and back then you were allowed to take beers out there. Others had bottles of champagne and wine. I recall someone actually wading out and giving Mike Newling a can of beer while he was paddling out for a heat. You wouldn’t see that happen today. We were a bit more casual and laid back in those days. As you can imagine the atmosphere was fantastic.
Derek Hynd (Pro surfer, writer, tactician):
I was on the rocks in the final, only meters away from all the rides. It was a tight affair. Rincon was Tom’s worst location on the whole Tour. The way I saw it unfold, Cheyne really wanted it out there. He made the board glide and slice differently to Tom’s basic bottom-to-top turns and roundhouses. That’s why Tom wasn’t into Rincon much. The wave didn’t have a crispness to it. Nothing to pivot and blast off. Tom surfed a good final but the judges had to make a radical choice about who won. It was one of the few times they faced a gulf in approaches – how to score pros based upon alternate lines.
Cheyne Horan: Tom was riding a thruster and I was on the winged keel. And the keel was able to zip along those long sections and fit absolutely everywhere you wanted it on those waves and with superior speed. It was the perfect design for that moment.
Tom Carroll: I didn’t truly believe a winged keel could out perform a thruster at Bells. And I was humbled.
James Reyne: The presentation night was done in the Torquay pub. We played. We put up a little stage in the pub and they gave out all the awards and then everyone kicked on. It was great fun and very loose. In fact, we shot a video to the song Boys Light Up around that time. Everyone partying at Torquay pub.
Cheyne Horan: I left before the band started. I was completely exhausted. My
speech? I think I remember telling it how it was, how it is, how you feel. Without stepping on too many toes. What I really remember is my mind feeling free. That whole event, riding that board, I felt this sense of freedom. Validation of the design. Bells is one of those contests that every Australian surfer wants to win. It’s our Wimbledon. For me, winning a bell was the next best thing to winning the World Title.
Terry Fitzgerald: Seeing his win at Bells was pretty special, especially considering the bloodlines.
Doug Warbrick: You can’t do much more than win one of the all time grandslams of surfing.
Doug Warbrick: The win on the keel created a lot of excitement, a lot of surfers tried them. They were strong for a couple of years there, they performed very well in certain waves. I remember in our surfboard factory we were making glass winged keels to try them out. Some people said these winged keels are going well so we went “Aww yeah we better try them.” Tom Carroll: After losing to Cheyne I went to Bali on a bit of a break to surf Uluwatu. Cheyne gave me a winged keel and I surfed 10 foot outside corner on a 6’10’’with a winged keel and it was a narrow tailed board and I was loving it. I was surprised. It was a really cool experience.
Cheyne Horan: I ended up selling the Bells board in Florida because I needed to eat. That’s how the tour was. Everybody was selling boards to be able to eat. I had zero money so I sold it.
John Bertrand: Success doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of people working with each other and building a system that can maximize the opportunity.
Geoff Mccoy: Cheyne did what he wanted, not what others wanted him to do and the result of this individuality was that the controllers of surfing took every opportunity to ridicule and blatantly persecute Cheyne, both in the contests and also in his private life. Shame on the establishment for their underhanded behavior.
Derek Hynd: Cheyne’s worthy of a ton of respect for his enduring commitment. Cheyne Horan: The keel to me, still is, the fastest fin on the planet.
Geoff Mccoy: He could ride an old Dunny Door and make it work for him.
Cheyne Horan: Other than the wing Ben and I were working on all kinds of designs at the time. He gave me a thruster fin and said “This is what the thruster fin should be,” and about 5 years ago, I thought, “Man, I’ve gotta start doing all that stuff that we didn’t finish!” So I’m still riding Ben’s designs. All my boards, are pretty much 75 per cent Ben Lexcen.
Geoff Mccoy: After testing the winged keel myself, I wrote it off as dysfunctional and not for practical use in surfboards. I did not and do not endorse them for my designs.
“THE JUDGES HAD TO MAKE A RADICAL CHOICE ABOUT WHO WON. IT WAS ONE OF THE FEW TIMES THEY FACED A GULF IN APPROACHES – HOW TO SCORE PROS BASED UPON ALTERNATE LINES.” – DEREK HYND
Opening Spread: The 80s – Far-out designs, shiny wetties & stink eye glares. What an age. (Crawford). Opposite: Horan and Lexcen fine tune. (Crawford)
Australia II Australian Crawl
Opposite: Utilising the power – winged keel technology would revolutionise yacht hulls, aeroplane wings and, for a brief moment, surfboard fins. The less said about winged skateys the better. (Crawford)
Bondy & Bertrand
Opposite: Scenes from the final where the keel dominated the thruster and the vision of Horan and Lexcen was validated. As James Reyne said, “Then the boys light up, then the boys light up. Then the boys light up, then the boys light up, light up, light up.” (Crawford)