Battling the Breakers

Champion Surf Boatmen from Caves Beach

Ken Murray, the Sweep, stood well balanced at the stern, steering the boat, while his crewmates braced themselves as they battled the breakers, amid foaming surf and salty spray. The senior boat crew from Caves Beach Lifesaving Club were all smiles that day in 1961 when a photographer perched at the surf boat’s bow to take this action-filled portrait. High and dry, back in the studio, the photographer hand tinted the black and white print with coloured ink, resulting in a deceptive scene that almost seems to have been made in a studio.

Filled with adrenaline, enjoyment, strength, and sunshine, this dynamic image documents a crew at the top of their game – Australian surf boat racing. The men pictured – Ken Murray, Mick Ellercamp, Jim Cowen, John McDonald and Don Ellercamp – were an unbeatable team, winning all the Open Surf Boat Championships in 1961, including Branch, NSW State, Interstate, Australian titles. These were champion boatmen, who ranked among the best in Australian history.

Surf boat legends Ken Murray and Mick Ellercamp shared a close friendship, being inseparable crewmates for several decades. Both had a lifetime dedication to lifesaving and their outstanding surf boat championship achievements are now celebrated by their induction into numerous halls of fame.

They were also members of a club that was very hard to beat in surf boat championships. Since the 1930s, when surf boat racing was introduced at the Australian Life Saving Championships, the Caves Beach junior and senior boat crews won countless titles, including at the World Championships. Today, Caves Beach is still famous as one of the most successful clubs in surf boat racing history.