It's not an overstatement to say that the Illawarra played a key role in forging a golden era in Australian surfing.
Before he became a world champion in 1977, Shaun Tomson spent plenty of time catching waves in Wollongong and surrounding areas.
Tomson was introduced to Wollongong two years prior where he stayed with local Phil Byrne. The pair had met while surfing in Hawaii and they'd go on to become best friends, with Byrne shaping his mate's competition boards for many years.
"I spent a lot of time in the Gong over the years, surfing Sandon Point, Woonona, The Farm, Corrimal, Port Kembla, Stanwell Park and other breaks. I also competed at North Beach - there used to be an event there on the pro tour," Tomson said.
"I always loved my time down there with Phil and his brothers, Critta and Dave. Critta was a fierce competitor and a good friend too. There was always surf, no matter which way the wind was blowing. It was uncrowded too, with a lot of respectful guys in the water - definitely not the normal 'dog eat dog atmosphere'.
"I won a number of events on Phil's boards and I would stay with him for weeks while there was a break in the tour schedule. We'd be working on boards and living the good life."
Tomson was one of the stars of Bill Delaney's 1977 classic surfing film Free Ride. Tomson, alongside 1978 world champion Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew and four-time world champion Mark Richards, were part of the Free Ride generation that travelled to Hawaii to challenge local surfers and ride the country's big waves.
Tomson and Bartholomew will be guest speakers when a special screening of Free Ride takes place on Friday, November 17 at Warrawong's Gala Cinema. The pair will share untold stories and participate in a question and answer session.
It will also be a homecoming of sorts for Bartholomew, who used to surf in the Illawarra during the 1980s.
"I surfed a number of world title events at Wollongong in the 80s," he said.
"I've got great memories of surfing Sandon Point, City Beach and Stanwell Park. There's great surf all over that coast."
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