A mecca for surfers and surfing spectators alike, Bells Beach is Australia's most famous surf break. Located about 100 kilometres from Melbourne, the Bells, as it is known to locals, is a popular first stop for visitors driving the renowned Great Ocean Road.
Named after John Cavert Bell who took up the first pastoral lease on the area in the 1840's the beach is framed by ochre cliffs and its small stretch of rough sand is constantly pummelled by waves from the Southern Ocean. The waves break over a broad submerged reef.
The swell at Bells Beach has been tamed by surfers since 1939 but was not accessible until Olympian wrestler Joe Sweeney accompanied by a group of locals used a bulldozer to clear a path from the road, along the cliff top and down to the beach in 1960. Surfers were charged 1 pound each until the costs were recuperated and the route they created now forms part of the walking track between the coastal towns of Torquay and Anglesea.
The area was protected from unwanted development when it was became the world's first surfing reserve. Declared in 1976 the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve is a title that locals take very seriously so remember to pick up your rubbish and to stick to the designated walking tracks. In 2011 the area was also included on the National Heritage Register. The protection of Bells Beach is also taken seriously by the Surf Coast Shire with tour companies that visit the site requiring a licence. The money raised by this initiative is put back into the maintenance of the reserve.
Bells Beach is also the home of the world's longest running surfing contest. The Rip Curl Pro is held over the Easter holiday each year. A surfing competition was first held at Bells in 1961 with one pound on offer as prize money. The competition turned full pro in 1973 and the prize money is now considerably more with $450,000US given out in total this year. The 2013 men's champion Adriano De Souza from Brazil and women's champion Carrisa Moore from Hawaii also took home an iconic bell trophy appropriate with the slogan of the competition being, 'You gotta win it, to ring it'.
Bells Beach might be a fantastic surf spot but it is not a good swimming beach. Strong currents, hidden reefs and unpredictable waves make it a dangerous place to take a dip. A better choice is one of the patrolled beaches nearby like Torquay, Jan Juc or Anglesea.
If you are not a surfer the cliff tops provide the perfect vantage spot to watch others flaunt their superior balance and coordination skills in the Bells Bowl, Rincon or to the east at Winkipop. On any given day there are plenty of talented locals taking advantage of Mother Nature's gifts.