Australia has some of the best stretches of coastline on the planet and is home to world-class surf breaks. Given these conditions, it’s not surprising that some of the best surfers on the planet come from Australia.
Let’s look at some of the Australian surfing legends that have risen to the pinnacle of the sport.
1. Mick Fanning
Let’s start with one of the most decorated surfers in Australian history. He has been a staple on the competition scene, with 22 career wins under his belt. Mick has been crowned World Champion three times and has been awarded the Male Surfer of the Year nine times.
Such a long and distinguished career has produced countless highlights. But one of the most iconic moments came in 2015 when he was competing in the J-Bay Open. During the competition, he was attacked by a shark. Mick narrowly avoided being injured, managing to swim away after punching the shark in the back. The moment made world headlines, highlighting the dangers that surfers face.
2. Layne Beachly
Layne Beachly is the most successful female Australian surfer in history. Between 1998 and 2003, she pulled off a near-impossible feat, winning six consecutive world championship titles. This achievement has not been replicated since. Before her retirement in 2008, she would win another world championship in 2006.
This victory was especially sweet, as she had to overcome severe neck injuries. These achievements have helped her win the prestigious Order of Australia medal. To this day, she is considered the greatest female surfer of all time.
3. Taj Burrow
Taj Burrow had a remarkably long career, which lasted for 18 years. During this time, he generated plenty of accomplishments. Taj was one of the youngest surfers in history to join the professional circuit, beginning his career when he was 18 years old.
Incredibly, he could have toured earlier, being offered a place on the ASP circuit when he was 17. But he wanted to take an extra year to hone his skills. This decision paid off, as Taj became the second-highest-ranked male surfer on the circuit. He was one of the highest-paid surfers on the planet, earning over $10 million in prize money.
4. Ross Clarke-Jones
Ross Clarke-Jones is one of the most accomplished big-wave surfers in Australian history, competing at some of the most feared surf breaks on the planet. He regularly takes on waves that are 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) tall.
For context, that’s the size of a two-story building. His biggest waves, though, are even more impressive. He has been known to take on waves around 80 feet tall.
5. Jack Robinson
Jack Robinson has a long history with surfing, first getting involved with junior competitions when he was only 14 years old. Since then, he has gone into the World Surf League (WSL), where he showcases his world-class barrel riding skills. This has made him the third-highest-ranked surfer in the league, with five competition wins to his name so far.
6. Peter Townend
Peter Townend might not be the most well-known name on this list. But he possesses an undeniably important role in history. He attended several Australian competitions during the 1970s.
But his biggest moment came in 1976 when he was the first person to win the ISP World Championship at the age of 23. This moment would help shape the future of surfing, helping to pioneer the competition format that we have today.
7. Joel Parkinson
Like many other surfers on this list, Joel was obsessed with surfing growing up, spending as much time in the water as possible. During this time, he had good company, learning to surf with Mick Fanning. It wasn’t long before he would launch himself onto the world stage, winning the Billabong Pro in Jeffersons Bay when he was only 18 years old.
He would soon enter the ASP league, coming runner-up four times. He would finally win the World Championship in 2012, after a spirited battle with Kelly Slater, who is regarded as the best male surfer on the planet. By the time he had ended his career, Joel had won over $2 million in prize money and earned his place in the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.
8. Sally Fitzgibbons
Sally began her professional surfing career when she was just 14 years old. She won the ASP Pro Junior, which was open to any surfer under the age of 21. She saw more success in the junior leagues, winning the ISA Under 18s World Title when she was 16 and winning the ASP Under 21s World Title when she was 17.
Sally carried this momentum into her professional surfing career, competing in the WSL where she has won 12 events. Though she has never won a world title, she has come runner up in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Furthermore, in 2018, she held both the Australian and US Open titles at the same time. She was the first female to perform this remarkable achievement. In 2020, Sally represented Australia at the Tokyo Olympics, where she placed fifth.
9. Laura Enever
In the world of female big wave surfing, few people are as respected as Laura Enever. She started her career in 2009, winning the ASP World Junior Championship. She took this momentum into her WSL, having a few minor victories. But, when she turned her attention to big wave surfing, she had her most amazing achievement.
In November 2023, she broke the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ridden by a female surfer. It was a towering 43.6 feet (13.3 meters) tall. Furthermore, she didn’t use a jet ski to tow her to the wave, choosing to paddle out.
10. Stephanie Gilmore
Like Layne Beachly before her, Stephanie Gilmore would spend years dominating the ASP leaderboard. She won four consecutive world championships between 2007 and 2010. She would also go on to win world championships in 2012, 2014, and 2018. Stephanie would also represent Australia in the 2020 Tokoyo Olympics. Her masterful performances at ASP events led her to be labeled one of the best female surfers of all time.
From Mick Fanning to Layne Beachly, Australia has produced some of the best surfers in history. With incredible talent like Jack Robinson and Laura Enever rising to prominence, the future of surfing in Australia looks bright.
Written by James Davis
I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.
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