The calm before the 50-Year Storm

June 25, 2020 BY

2020 invitees Troy Brooks, Nathan Edwards, Jeff Sweeney and Adam Robertson take part in the smoking ceremony conducted by Corina Eccles and Anthony Hume at the opening of the previous 50 Year Storm at Bells Beach.

COMPETITORS and organisers are eagerly anticipating the 50 Year Storm event, set to be held at Bells Beach later this year.

The event is unique both in its format and purpose.

While coronavirus means the dates are still uncertain, the 50 Year Storm sees a waiting period announced, within which organisers will look for a time when the surf is at its biggest to call the event.

The community vote for 25 of the 30 surfers they want to see compete in the event. The other five surfers are wildcards selected by the Brooks family, with the event being held in memory of local surfing legend Shaun Brooks.

Shaun Brooks was a World Junior and Victorian Open champion who took his own life in 2012 after a prolonged struggle with mental illness.

The event raises money for mental health organisations Headspace and One in Five.

Event committee member and Boardriders consumer activation manager Simon MacGregor said the event itself also looks to get people talking openly about mental health.

“It’s about bringing people together and having that sense of community and bonding and trying to get people talking and break down those barriers or those stigma points that do exist around mental health issues.

“The Brooks family are surfing royalty in Victoria. Shaun was one of the pioneers of that modern-day big wave surfing in the area. He was such a character and such a great person, but always battled with mental health.”

Gareth Habberly founded the event in Shaun’s honour three years ago.

MacGregor said the event not only brings the subject of mental illness to the forefront but helps build community through its selection process.

“The list changes up every year. Some people have been there since the beginning, but it is always a new mix. I think it is representative of the community and how they see it.

“It’s a bit of an honour (being selected) in the end, too, because you actually are voted in by peers and people in the community who say ‘I think this person is deserving for what they do and who they are’.”

Cahill Bell-Warren is among those to have been selected by the community and said he was humbled to have been chosen.

“To be even shortlisted is a pretty amazing feeling, but to be selected by your peers to represent the town for an event that means so much to so many is a proper honour.”

Bell-Warren said it was crucial to try to make the community part of peoples’ support network.

“Everyone goes through some dark times. My friends and my community have been the ones who have helped me through everything. So, an event like this, where whether it runs or not, you can gather that broader community to get a conversation going and bring everyone together I think is essential.

“I think it’s pretty amazing the community is the way we are. I think the Surf Coast is probably a bit of a leader in that area, I’d say.”

The waiting period for the event generally runs throughout winter but for this year the dates of the period are yet to be confirmed, with coronavirus restrictions meaning it would currently be unable to run.

The event has an interesting history. It was first launched in 2017, and while it has helped bring the community together and create a focus on mental health, various circumstances have meant the actual surfing event has never taken place.

However, MacGregor said there was still a good chance of the event going ahead, as the committee has changed the criteria for when they announced the exact date.

“We were pretty much trying to look for the biggest and the best waves and had a pretty tight spectrum in terms of what we had as the guides. Waves used to have to be over 12 foot at the time.

“What we found very quickly was that we want to run the event, and having those kinds of criteria just didn’t work. So, we look for the biggest and best day of the season now, rather than having these fairly rigid, height sized gauges.”

For more information on the event and to see the full list of competitors head to competition’s Instagram page @bellsbeach50yearstorm.