Bernard Farrelly, surfing's first world champion, dies at 71

August 8, 2016 | Surfing
Midget Farrelly: the lone surfer | Photo: Leroy Grannis

Bernard "Midget" Farrelly, the first world surfing champion, passed away aged 71 after battling cancer for several years.

Farrelly was born in Sydney, in 1944, and began surfing when he was only six years old. In the 1960s, "Midget" dominated the competitive scene. He won the 1962 Makaha International Surfing Championships.

At 5'8'' and 145 pounds, Bernard was the elegant surfer the world needed at the time. In 1964 and 1965, he conquered the Australian National Surfing Titles, and he was a key personality in the launch of the International Surfing Federation.

The regular-footer conquered the inaugural ISF World Surfing Championships, held in 1963 in Manly, Australia. He is the first ever world champion in surfing.

"Midget" Farrelly also contributed to the development of shortboard era, and his companies - Farrelly Surfboards and Surfblanks - did well for decades.

He was one of the few who spoke out publicly against the use of drugs in surfing. As a result, his notoriety and popularity declined drastically. Surf media ignored him, and the surf fans thought his career was over.

But the story of Farrelly's life wouldn't be complete without the endless rivalry with Nat Young, who was once one of his best friends. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, both surfers exchanged tough words, and the animosity between each other was a constant variable.

Midget Farrelly: surfing's first world champion

"Midget was an amazing man who achieved so much - from his surfing achievements being the first Australian to win in Hawaii to his world title in 1964 and near wins in 68 and 70; he was an innovator and pioneer that could handle all conditions," notes Australian surfing legend Barton Lynch.

"He was a pioneer in the surfboard industry too and was responsible for many surfboard design innovations that others may have laid claim to, but Midget was the cutting edge of performance and design."

Bernard "Midget" Farrelly starred in more than a dozen surf movies, including "Pacific Vibrations." He was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1986, and in Huntington Beach's Surfers' Hall of Fame in 2007.

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