All images courtesy of Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club.

Reel Trophy

Team trophy presented at the 1971 Australian Championships in Perth to Caves Beach Surf Lifesaving Club for 3rd place in the march past event.

Where once the belt and reel were a vital part of saving lives in the surf, the introduction of inflatable rescue boats (IRBs), rescue boards, tubes and helicopters has transformed surf lifesaving. No doubt changing technology will see many more changes in future years.

The movement today is proud to still use the reel, line and belt in surf races at carnivals. In 2016 Caves Beach SLC’s Gabby Grieves won the Club’ first ever medal by gaining bronze in both State and Australian Surf Belt Racing.


The practice of painting maroon feet on the oars was popular for many years but is longer used.  It stemmed from the belief that members of the Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club (formed in 1929) can walk on water.

“Pinhead does it again” (1952).

Pinhead was the nick name for surf boat sweep Jack Ward.  The sweep, who stands at the back of the boat and steers using a long oar, needs to be fit and strong.  He anticipates the speed of the boat in relation to approaching waves for the boat to successfully ride the wave to the beach before the other competitors. He also needs to inspire and motivate his crew. Jack Ward, “Pinhead”, was all of the above. He was known for being brave/crazy/reckless enough to take on waves that others wouldn’t go near.  As a result, he had a reputation for wiping-out many boats during the 1940-50s.

Shark Bell

The shark bell, which was rung as a warning to surfers when a shark was spotted in the vicinity, was attached to shark tower at first club house on top of the hill.

The shark tower was about 25ft (7.62 mtrs) high and had a crows nest on top.  Members climbed up steel pegs set every two or three feet apart.  The first peg was about six feet (1.82 mtrs) off the ground and it was a feat of agility to climb to the top, especially on windy days.  It was used until about 1950 when it became unsafe and was eventually removed.

Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club

1st Surf Boats

“James L Boyd” on her maiden voyage in Swansea Channel, November 1929. The crew were Charlie Wilson, Tim Masters, Ernie Boyd, Vern Baxter, Roy Murray.  The first season in the new boat the Club won the Newcastle Branch Open Boat Championship.

This photo was taken at a time when there were no facilities at Caves Beach for storing the surf boats.  They were originally kept in the open air at various places near the Channel at Swansea.  On each morning of a patrol the crews had to row them out of Swansea Heads and south to Caves Beach and back to the Channel at the end of the day.

All of the first eighteen surf boats for Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club were built locally at Swansea.  Built in 1929, the first surf boat, “James L. Boyd”, was designed by James Boyd, a club member and local boat builder at his boat-building yard at Lake Road, Swansea, adjacent to where the James L Boyd Reserve now stands. The second boat was also built at Boyd’s yard.  Tom Humphreys then built the next eight boats at his boat yard on Swansea Channel with Colin and Boyd Humphreys building the next seven boats.  The eighteenth was built by Roy Phillips.

1961 to 1964 saw the Caves Senior A Boat Crew winning the NSW State Title four years in a row.

Replaced by Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs) and surf skis, the surf boats are now only used in competitions.

The Tuck Stern Surf Boat

In 1945 two local surf clubs, then known as Swansea-Caves Beach and Swansea-Belmont Surf Life Saving Clubs, asked Tom Humphreys to build a fast surf boat.

Tom designed the very first revolutionary tuck stern boat.  It differed from previous surf boats in that instead of both stern and bow being pointed, the stern of Tom’s design was flat. The modern-day surfboats are a hybrid of this original and revolutionary design. The tuck stern surfboat remains to this day as the standard design specification for all surfboats in Australia and the rest of the world.

The launch of the Tuck Stern

Tom built two boats, one for each club and they were to be launched together from Tom’s boat yard on Swansea Channel. While Swansea-Belmont went to change into their uniforms, the Caves boys who had arrived in ordinary clothes and no caps, jumped in their boat and created history by being the first in the world to row a tuck stern surf boat. The members of that crew were: Bobby “The Rock” Stone, Harry “Harry” Hancock, Kevin “Cocky” Lunn, Alan “Dumb” Cowmeadow, Barry “Sparrow” Wilson.

At the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships held at Maroubra in the 1945-46 seasons, the Tuck Sterns were ridiculed and criticised by all other clubs and officials for their shape and design. However, it proved so successful in surf boat races that since then all boat builders have copied the “Humphreys” design and clubs throughout Australia all use the Tuck Stern design.