An Unbeatable Design

Tom Humphreys and the 1960 Junior Champions

It was a windy day in mid-March 1960 and an enormous crowd of nearly 20,000 people lined the sand dunes at Merewether Beach to witness the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships.

The Caves Beach junior surf boat crew had a strong reputation to uphold, since juniors from their club had taken out the championship several times previously. However, the 1960 crew did not disappoint – winning the title again.

After returning home to Caves Beach, they followed the club’s tradition to have their portrait taken. They posed for this photograph behind their winning tuck stern design boat, the Tom Humphreys, with its painted footprint oars that were an identifying feature of the Caves Beach Club for many years.

The boat had recently been built and named as a tribute to legendary Swansea boatbuilder, Tom Humphreys (1883-1957). Tom was the designer of the tuck stern that had revolutionised surf lifesaving boats. While they had previously been pointed at both ends, the tuck stern had a squared end allowing it greater speed and agility in the waves.

Tom was a keen and able sailor and fisherman, but in a tragic accident, while fishing off Caves Beach, his boat was wrecked, and he and his friend drowned.

In 1945, Tom had been instructed by the Swansea-Caves Beach and Swansea-Belmont Surf Life Saving Clubs to build the fastest surf boat possible. The two boats would be launched from his shipyard on Swansea Channel. On the day, as the Swansea-Belmont boys were donning their official club costumes and caps, the sweep of Swansea-Caves Beach said, ‘quick get in, row across the channel and we will be the first crew to row a tuck stern surf boat in the world!’

Swansea-Caves Beach Club introduced the tuck stern design boats to the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships in 1945-6 and they proved so successful that Tom Humphrey’s design is still the standard for all surf boats around the world.