The surf’s been ‘up’ for about 4 000 years now!

The history of surfing

Did you know that surfing did not start on the California beaches in the 1960’s?  Surfing is one of the oldest practiced sports in the world, and is a beautiful blend of athleticism as well as the recognition, and appreciation of the power of nature.

The board was used by fishermen

It all started about  4000 years ago on the Polynesian coastline.  The sport stared out as what we would now call body surfing and evolved from that into what we recognise today as surfing – board and all. As far as we know, the board was introduced into Western Polynesia around 3000 years ago.  Fishermen found that it was an easy way of bringing their catch back to shore – surf wax only came along a lot later.

Kings and queens in the waves

No-one is sure when surfing was classified as a sport.  We do know that 15th century kings and queens of the Sandwich Isles loved to surf, as did their people.   Surfing appears in historical records in the late 1700s, this is when the English first came into contact with the Polynesians.

Captain Cook wrote  “I saw a man paddling in a small canoe so quickly and looking about him with such eagerness of each side.  He then sat motionless and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach.  Then he started out, emptied his canoe, and went in search of another swell.   I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea.”

They said surfing was indecent

Surfing was forbidden by Christian Missionaries in the early 1820s.  It was seen as indecent and a waste of time.  Luckily for surfers everywhere this opinion changed in the early 20th century  when the Hawaiian Duke Kanahamoku,-swimming gold medallist- spread the sport throughout the world.

How surfing came to Hawaii

Surfing was brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians who settled there in the fourth century and was known as “he’enalu” or wave-sliding.  In ancient Hawaiian, “he’e” means to change from solid to liquid form, and “nalu” is the motion of the wave.    The Polynesian men and women have great knowledge and a great love for the ocean and brought many customs with them to their new home, including spending time in the waves with their “paipo” (belly boards).  Although they stood on their “paipo” from time to time, the Hawaiian people are responsible for perfecting the art of surfing upright.

The 1907 revival

By the turn of the 20th Century  surfing had all but disappeared in the Hawaiian Islands until in 1907 Jack London spent a holiday in Waikiki, Hawaii.   There were a few surfers on the beach including, the most famous Waikiki beach boy at that time, George Greeth and Alexander Hume Ford, an eccentric journalist and wanderer.  They introduced London to the joys of surfing.   Although the three men had very different backgrounds and careers, by the end of London’s time on the island they had one thing in common – surfing.  It was these three men who, through their combined talents, breathed new life into the sport.

Surfin’ USA

The growth of the sport was relatively slow from 1779 through to 1960.  That’s when the surfing boom exploded big time. With this renaissance surfing music was born.  Bands like the Beach Boys rocketed to the number one spot.  Surfing was cool, surf magazines filled the shelves, the music was popular and the beaches were crowded.

The days when kings and their subjects rode the waves together are long gone.  Today the international surfing circuit is a multi-million dollar industry.  The tour runs from Hawaii to South Africa to Tahiti.

Whether you’re a boogie boarder, a body surfer or a seasoned professional, you’ll have a  favourite beach?  Where is that special beach or piece of coastline that makes you want to shout “Oh Yeah! Surfs up dude!”