A Surprising Victory

The Junior Champions of Caves Beach

In late March 1947, a young Ken Ross (at the far left of this photograph) stood proud with his lifesaver mates in front of their winning surf boat. These were the Caves Beach boys who had taken out the Junior Surf Boat Championship at the recent Surf Lifesaving Australia Carnival at Bondi Beach. It was an event that Ken would never forget.

Just ten minutes after winning their heat, the Caves crew were battling the breakers again in the final race against the Manly and Maroubra crews – strong competition. Finally tying with Manly in first place, the Caves crew landed on the beach, and Ken collapsed from exhaustion. After recovering, he ran directly to a telephone to call his mother to tell her the exciting news.

The crew posed for this photograph with the 1930s-locally built ‘Caves Beach’ surf boat – maybe because this was the club’s lucky boat that had won the junior championship ten years earlier. But the newspapers reported that the 1947 crew had won the Bondi race in a ‘tuck-stern’ surf boat – a new revolutionary design (with a squared-off stern) that had been developed in 1945 for Swansea-Caves Beach by local boat builder Tom Humphreys.

That day at Bondi, only two crews were using the fast tuck stern boats, and they won both the senior and junior surf boat championships. The other clubs had abandoned the design after the 1946 championship at Maroubra, when so many had been overturned by the ferocious waves and several crew members were badly injured.

Introduced in the 1930s, surf boat races have provided thrilling highlights of surf lifesaving carnivals, with swampings and capsizings a common occurrence. The fast tuck stern boats eventually became accepted as superior, and their design remains today as the standard for Australian and International surf boats.

So, was it the design of the boat that won Caves Beach the 1947 championship, or the skill of the junior lifesaving crew? Probably both.