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Adventure History: Do you know how these sports originated?

Adventure Sports has gained popularity only in the past decade as recreation and competition. But some sports have been around for quite some time, before they were modified into their modern versions. And I’m talking about long long back, even before the invention of phones (Gasp! )

Read along for an interesting account of Adventure History, that gave us some of our favourite sports today.



Scientists have a theory that early humans actually lead a semi-aquatic existence. In modern history too, our freediving roots run deep.

An archaeological excavation of a 6000-year-old civilization in Chile was conducted. This showed that the people suffered from Exostosis in the ear, a reaction to exposure to cold water. It is commonly known as ‘surfer’s ear’. These communities used to freedive for food, goods and valuables.

Freedivers were used in warfare too. Alexander the Great once used freedivers during the siege of Tyre. They helped dismantle obstacles that were preventing his ship from entering the harbour. In 1913, a Greek diver, Stotti Georghios dived to 60 m to locate a missing anchor for the Italian Navy. The dive lasted more than 3 minutes.

It was around 1927 that modern freediving gained popularity when Jacques O’Marchal invented the first mask for freediving. Improvements and inventions continued to be made.


In the 1960s, Robert Croft, a diving instructor for the US Navy developed some insane breath holding and lung capacity. He then went on to establish 3 depth records. From here on, freediving became popular as a sport.

Bungee Jumping


This one has somewhat of a creepy history. It started with the people of Vanuatu on the Pentecost Island in the Pacific. Legend has it that a woman, Tamalie would make repeated attempts to run away from her abusive husband. Once, she climbed a really tall banyan tree, and dove from it. She dared her husband to do the same. But Tamalie had vines tied to her feet. When her husband attempted it, he fell to his death.

Initially recreated annually only by women of the village, men joined in too. Today, this is conducted from a special tower and is entirely male-dominated.


This ritual inspired members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club to experiment with jumps in the 1970s. This inspired AJ Hackett, who saw a video of the group. He, along with speed skier Henry van Asch began developing and testing bungee cords.

To promote their product, Hackett snuck up the Eiffel Tower in 1987, and Bungee Jumped off of it. The jump made headlines and popularized the sport!



Traditional Kayaks were invented and used by North American people- the Inuit and Aleuts. They used these as hunting vessels and kayaked the Arctic more than 5000 years ago. ‘Kayak’ means ‘Hunter’s vessel’.

Back then, these badass kayaks were made of wood, and had decks covered with sealskin. Their design and structure varied according to their application. These hunters had pioneered the ‘Eskimo roll’ to turn over a capsized vessel.


In fact, their hunting skills on the kayak were so marvellous, that Russian invaders would forcefully kidnap the best hunters to hunt seal for fur. At the time, they hunted seals in the Alaskan region almost to extinction. Eventually, conservation rules were imposed. The declining seal trade was why Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867!

In 1845, John MacGregor was also inspired by the Aleutian kayak design, and designed a canoe, which he called the ‘Rob Roy’. He even established the ‘Canoe Club’ that began to hold kayaking competitions, contributing to its propagation.

Road Trips

road trip

When it comes to taking long distance trip, the first to try it was Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz. Karl was the first to invent a patented motorcar and form the Mercedes- Benz group. At the time, Bertha wanted to promote the invention and make it popular.

In 1888, she took off on a 106 km round trip between Mannheim and Pforzheim. This was with her two teenaged sons, in a car whose max speed was 10mph. But she had kept this a secret from her husband.

adventure history

She demonstrated extreme courage, solving problems as they came. Several people were frightened by the sight, calling it the ‘work of the devil’. But she achieved her purpose as the Benz Patent-Motorwagen got its first sales. In 2008, the route she took was re-named as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route.

As the road and highway systems began expanding, the US, as well as Europe, gained popularity as destinations for road trips. Automobile companies even began catering to the growing interest in long-distance trips and modifying designs accordingly.


The activity originated in Western Polynesia. It was used by fishermen to get back to the shore quickly. During the 15th century, the royals of Hawaiian island- the Sandwich Isles would participate in ‘wavesliding’, called ‘he’enalu’.

Polynesian settlers in Hawaii were skilled in simple surfing. The Hawaiian developed boards and beaches for elite surfers. To them, it was less of recreation and more of a ritual, to worship the Ocean Gods. However, surfing culture in Hawaii went on a decline due to European contact and Christian missionaries.

The sport was re-propagated by 3 Haole- Jack London, was a novelist visiting Hawaii, and was introduced to the sport by Alexander Ford, a wanderer and journalist. London wrote about surfing, and surfer George Freeth, who he met there.

George Freeth was invited back to California. While Freeth began demonstrating the sport, London was writing about it and Ford organized campaigns to raise awareness.


The sport was adopted again by Hawaii in 1905, when an informal surf club was started there. Hawaiian beach boy, Duke Kahanamoku was on his way to the summer Olympics in 1912, when he stopped by at California. His demonstrations caused quite the sensation. He was invited to Sydney, where he singlehandedly popularized the sport in Australia.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also want to check out these stories:

  1. The perks of Kayaking
  2. Steve Yi- Mumbai to Kerala Roadtrip
  3. Water Babies- Our love for the Ocean


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