History of surfing

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The riding of waves has likely existed since humans began swimming in the ocean. In this sense, bodysurfing is the oldest type of wave-catching. Standing up on what is now called a surfboard is a relatively recent innovation developed by the Polynesians.The influences for modern surfing can be directly traced to the surfers of pre-contact Hawaii.

Kahaluʻu Bay was the site of an ancient surfing temple.

Polynesian origins[edit]

The art of surfing, known as enalu in the Hawaiian language, was first discovered by Joseph Banks on the HMS Endeavour during the first voyage of James Cook, during the ship's stay in Tahiti. Surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture and predates European contact. The chief (Ali'i) was traditionally the most skilled wave rider in the community with the best board made from the best wood. The ruling class had the best beaches and the best boards, and the commoners were not allowed on the same beaches, but they could gain prestige by their ability to ride the surf on their boards.

The sport was also recorded in print by other European residents and visitors who wrote about and photographed Samoans surfing on planks and single canoe hulls; Samoans referred to surf riding as fa'ase'e or se'egalu. Edward Treager also confirmed Samoan terminology for surfing and surfboards in Samoa. Oral tradition confirms that surfing was also practiced in Tonga, where the late king Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was the foremost Tongan surfer of his time.

Pre-Incan origins and debate[edit]

The practice of riding a vessel with a wave was practiced since the Pre-Incan civilization (Mochica/Moche culture) around 2000 years ago and continued in the Chimu culture. The vessels the Mochica people used were called "Caballitos de Totora", ('Straw SeaHorses'). Although the Mochica used the Caballitos de Totora for fishing purposes, it is also possible that they were used for fun, as their archaeology suggests. It is also likely that the Mochica people did in fact 'surf for fun' given that the longest rideable wave of world 'Chicama' was within their empire.[1] Chicama is located in Puerto Malabrigo, La Libertad, close to the city of Trujillo, Peru. To this day Caballitos de Totora are still used by local fishermen and can be also be ridden by tourists for recreational purposes.

It is questioned whether this is the first observed form of surfing, given that the Mochica/Chimu also used a paddle/stick to displace themselves in the ocean, thus the Caballito de Totora has a closer resemblance to Stand-Up Paddle boarding than surfing.

Ancient Hawaii[edit]

The Ancient Hawaiian people did not consider surfing a mere recreational activity, hobby, extreme sport, or career as it is viewed today. Rather, the Hawaiian people integrated surfing into their culture and made surfing more of an art than anything else.[citation needed] They referred to this art as heʻe nalu which translates into English as “wave sliding.” The art began before entering the mysterious ocean as the Hawaiians prayed to the gods for protection and strength to undertake the powerful mystifying ocean. If the ocean was tamed, frustrated surfers would call upon the kahuna (priest), who would aid them in a surfing prayer asking the gods to deliver great surf. Prior to entering the ocean, the priest would also aid the surfers (mainly of the upper class) in undertaking the spiritual ceremony of constructing a surfboard.

Hawaiians would carefully select one of three types of trees. The trees included the koa (Acacia koa), ʻulu (Artocarpus altilis), and wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) trees. Once selected, the surfer would dig the tree out and place fish in the hole as an offering to the gods. Selected craftsmen of the community were then hired to shape, stain, and prepare the board for the surfer. There were three primary shapes: the ʻolo, kikoʻo, and the alaia. The ʻolo is thick in the middle and gradually gets thinner towards the edges. The kikoʻo ranges in length from 12–18 feet (3.7–5.5 m) and requires great skill to maneuver. The alaia board is around 9 feet (2.7 m) long and requires great skill to ride and master. Aside from the preparatory stages prior to entering the water, the most skilled surfers were and pastors,[please clarify] including chiefs and warriors that surfed amongst the best waves on the island. These upper class Hawaiians gained respect through their enduring ability to master the waves and this art the Hawaiians referred to as surfing.[2] Some ancient sites still popular today include Kahaluʻu Bay and Holualoa Bay.[3]

North America[edit]

In July 1885, three teenage Hawaiian princes took a break from their boarding school, St. Mathew’s Hall in San Mateo, and came to cool off in Santa Cruz, California. There, David Kawananakoa, Edward Keliʻiahonui and Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole surfed the mouth of the San Lorenzo River on custom-shaped redwood boards, according to surf historians Kim Stoner and Geoff Dunn.[4] In 1907 George Freeth was brought to California from Hawaii, to demonstrate surfboard riding as a publicity stunt to promote the opening of the Los Angeles-Redondo-Huntington railroad owned by Henry Huntington, who gave his name to Huntington Beach. Freeth surfed at the Huntington Beach pier and travelled up and down the coast demonstrating surfing and life guard skills.

Surfing on the East Coast of the United States began in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina in 1909 when Burke Haywood Bridgers and a colony of surfers introduced surfing to the East Coast.[5] The State of North Carolina honored Burke Haywood Bridgers and the colony of surfers by placing a North Carolina Highway Marker for PIONEER EAST COAST SURFING on Wrightsville Beach and designated Wrightsville Beach as the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina in 2015.[6] North Carolina has the greater weight of published verifiable accurate evidence and impacts a broader geographical area when compared to other east coast states.[7] Burke Haywood Bridgers and the colony of surfers activities are among the earliest appearances of surfboards in the Atlantic Ocean.[8] The early twentieth century surfers proved that surfing migrated from Hawaii to California and North Carolina about the same time, then Florida. The Wrightsville Beach Museum Waterman Hall of Fame honors, recognizes, and inducts community members for their contributions to the island’s watersport culture.

Australian surfing[edit]

In 1910, Tommy Walker returned to Manly Beach, Sydney, with a 10-foot surfboard "bought at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, for two dollars."[9] Walker became an expert rider and in 1912 gave several exhibitions in Sydney.[10]

Surfboard riding received national exposure with the exhibitions by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku in the summer of 1914-1915 at several Sydney beaches. As a current Olympic sprint champion, Kahanamoku was invited to tour the Eastern states for an extensive series of swimming carnivals and at his first appearance in the Domain Pool, Sydney, smashed his previous world record for 100 yards by a full second.[11] Following the first exhibition at Freshwater on 24 December 1914,[12] in the New Year Kahanamoku demonstrated his skill at Freshwater and Manly,[13] followed by appearances at Dee Why[14] and Cronulla.[15]

Duke Kahanamoku's board is now on display in the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club, Sydney, Australia.[16]

Modern surfing[edit]

Around the start of the 20th century, Hawaiians living close to Waikiki began to revive surfing, and soon re-established surfing as a sport. The revival is linked to real estate development and efforts to boost tourism.[17] Duke Kahanamoku, "Ambassador of Aloha," Olympic medalist, and avid waterman, helped expose surfing to the world. Kahanamoku's role was later memorialized by a 2002 first class letter rate postage stamp of the United States Postal Service.[18] Author Jack London wrote about the sport after having attempted surfing on his visit to the islands. Surfing progressed tremendously in the 20th century, through innovations in board design and ever increasing public exposure.

Surfing's development and culture was centered primarily in three locations: Hawaii, Australia, and California, although the first footage of surfing in the UK was in 1929 by Louis Rosenberg and a number of friends after being fascinated by watching some Australian surfers. In 1959 the release of the film Gidget, based on the life of surfer Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, boosted the sport's popularity immensely, moving surfing from an underground culture into a national fad and packing many surf breaks with sudden and previously unheard of crowds. B-movies and surf music such as the Beach Boys and Surfaris based on surfing and Southern California beach culture (Beach Party films) as it exploded, formed most of the world's first ideas of surfing and surfers.[citation needed] This conception was revised again in the 1980s, with newer mainstream portrayals of surfers represented by characters like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Surfing at Ormond Beach in Oxnard, California, in 1975

The anonymous sleeve notes on the 1962 album Surfin' Safari, the first album to be released on the Capitol label by The Beach Boys, include a rather tongue-in-cheek description of the sport of surfing thus:

"For those not familiar with the latest craze to invade the sun-drenched Pacific coast of Southern California, here is a definition of "surfing" - a water sport in which the participant stands on a floating slab of wood, resembling an ironing board in both size and shape, and attempts to remain perpendicular while being hurtled toward the shore at a rather frightening rate of speed on the crest of a huge wave (especially recommended for teen-agers and all others without the slightest regard for either life or limb)."

Regardless of its usually erroneous portrayal in the media, true surfing culture continued to evolve quietly by itself, changing decade by decade. From the 1960s fad years to the creation and evolution of the short board in the late 60s and early 70s to the performance hotdogging of the neon-drenched 1980s and the epic professional surfing of the 1990s (typified by Kelly Slater, the "Michael Jordan of Surfing"). In 1975, professional contests started.[19] That year Margo Oberg became the first female professional surfer.[20]

Surfing documentaries have been one of the main ways in which surfing culture grows and replenishes itself, not just as a sport but as an art form, the style and quality of surf films have often tracked well the evolution of the sport.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://briancampagna.com/chicama-peru/
  2. ^ Veronica Britton (2004). "The Sport of Kings". University of Florida Interactive Media Lab. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  3. ^ "Hoʻihoʻi Kulana Wahi pana - Restoring Sacred Places" (PDF). brochure published by Kamehameha Investment Corporation. 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  4. ^ GTWebmaster. "Riders of the Sea Spray - Santa Cruz Good Times". Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Pacific Commercial Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands) 1885-1921, April 7, 1910, Image 3. Carolina Man Writes For Surfboard Instructions. http://www.carolinabeach.net/surfing_history_changed.html
  6. ^ http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=D-116
  7. ^ https://ncgovernor.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/documents/files/Surfing%20Month.pdf
  8. ^ Sea Shore Hotel, Wrightsville Beach, NC dated March 24, 1907, The Rotograph Co., N.Y. City, Printed in Germany. New Hanover County Public Library, Robert M. Fales Collection, Wilmington, NC
  9. ^ The Referee Thursday, 23 February 1939, page 16.
  10. ^ The Daily Telegraph 27 January 1912, page 21.
  11. ^ The Referee, 6 January 1915, page 16.
  12. ^ The Sun, Thursday 24th December 1914 page 6.
  13. ^ The Sun, 11th January 1915, page 6.
  14. ^ The Sun, 6th February 1915 page 6.
  15. ^ The St. George Call, 13 February 1915, page 5.
  16. ^ Pauline Curby (November 2007). Freshie: Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club - A 100 year history: 1908 - 2008. 
  17. ^ "Inside the Curl: Surfing's Surprising History". August 2, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Father Of International Surfing To Be Honored On New Postage Stamp". United States Postal Service. July 30, 2002. Archived from the original on February 9, 2006. 
  19. ^ "Woman of the Year". Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Woman of the Year". Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  • Quinn, Richard. "Region's First Surfboard Evokes a Wave of Nostalgia" The Virginian Pilot. August 21, 2008.
  • Interland, Peter. "Virginia Beach: Thoroughly Civil Surf" LongBoard Magazine. May/June 1998. Vol. 6, Number 2
  • Warshaw, Matt. The History of Surfing, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8118-5600-3
  • Moser, Patrick (December 2016). "The Endurance of Surfing in 19th-century Hawaiʻi". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. Wellington: The Polynesian Society. 125 (4): 411–432. OCLC 6925648463. doi:10.15286/jps.125.4.411-432. 

External links[edit]

Surfing museums[edit]