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San Clemente Journal

P.T. Townend - 1st World Champion of Surfing

Jun 02, 2022 11:31AM ● By Mike Chamberlin

P.T. holding a beer named in his honor

by Mike Chamberlin

To be the first of anything is a big deal ... the first to walk on the moon ... the first to break the 4-minute mile ... the first to scale Mt Everest. 

We have a first right here in San Clemente. In 1976 Peter Townend became the very first world champion of surfing at age 23! It helped that he was born in Australia where surfing was a national sport. 

P.T. takes a bottom turn at Trestles in the 1980s.

 Peter explained, “The Aussies would win seven of the first eight years of the Championship Tour, so the mainstream media picked up our success internationally as a sport. The beach culture in Australia has been huge since the beginnings of the 1900s, but surfboard riding didn’t get popular until the early sixties.” 

So, while Gidget and the Beach Boys were spreading the California surf culture across America, Australia was light years ahead in the world of competitive surfing.

I should mention at this point that nobody calls Peter Townend by his given name. He is simply known as P.T. He got his first surfboard on Christmas day 1965, and there was no stopping this little blonde-haired, tanned surf kid. He had attained everything he had competitively wished for by his early 20s, so he turned his attention to the business side of the sport. 

 “Ian Cairns and I started a sports marketing company, Sports & Media Services. We became the first Executive Directors of the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) and launched the OP Pro in 1982, which bought a World Championship Tour to California for the first time,” P.T revealed. 

From a director of marketing to the apparel industry to TV broadcasting, P.T. has been there every step of the way, literally having his hands on every aspect of surfing. And speaking of broadcasting, he was another first. No one had ever broadcast surfing full-time, and this is where our worlds collided. I was a TV sportscaster and was teamed with P.T. by DynoComm Sports to “surfcast” for Prime Ticket and ESPN. Together we traveled the world from Hawaii’s North Shore to Fiji, to every beach up and down the coast of California. We were making it up as we went, some of our early descriptions of surfing are still being used by surfcasters today.  My favorite broadcast memory with P.T. took place at Sunset Beach, Hawaii, where the waves broke so far out to sea we had to use binoculars to identify the riders. We alternated on the televised waves. While P.T. was calling one wave, I had the binoculars trained on the next wave, announcing “We are about to witness the largest wave ever ridden on TV!” P.T. started elbowing me as I continued, “This wave traveled 6,000 miles to be ridden today.” P.T. kept elbowing me and pointing. I looked down in my excitement to see that I was talking into the binoculars instead of the microphone! We were also surfcasting together the day the riot happened at the OP Pro in Huntington Beach, and we remained professional, calling waves as the city was on fire behind us. Exciting times!

Mike Chamberlin & P.T. at work at Trestles 1990s.


P.T. ended up in California for good in 1979, ranked number five in the world. He got married, retired from the tour the next year, and started raising a family in Huntington Beach. But early on he took a liking to San Clemente, explaining, “It’s a real ‘surf town’ anchored by Trestles, grom heaven, T-Street, and the NSSA School Champion San Clemente High and Shorecliffs team programs. And today it’s the home of a contingent of WSL World Championship Tour surfers like Kolohe Andino and Griffin Colapinto and a slew of Brazilians that have relocated to call SC their home.” He added, “Surf’s always up in San Clemente.”

There is no doubt P.T. has left his mark on the world of surfing. In addition to his world title, he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Walk of Fame in 1998, the Australian Hall of Fame in 2001 as well as the International Surfing Hall of Fame. In 2013 he received the SIMA (Surf Industry Manufacturers Industry) Lifetime Achievement Award. And if that wasn’t enough, he was even the stunt double/surfer in the famed movie Big Wednesday! He truly is one of the most decorated surfers of all time. 

P.T. has had decades to reflect on being the first world champion of surfing, “When Fred Hemmings declared me the first IPS World Pro Champion for 1976, it was because I was the first and there was nothing for me to relate to, verses today where my name is first on the list of incredible champions including the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) Kelly Slater.” 
Oh, and did I mention, he’s one of the nicest and most well-respected guys on earth, a planet where he never met a wave he didn’t like.