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History of Surfing: A look at Hawaiian Culture

Surfing is a sport that needs no introduction. We’ve all seen it in movies, at beaches around us, and if we’re lucky, tried it too. But like any other sport, it makes you wonder. How did someone ever think of taking a wooden board into the ocean and riding the waves? Let’s take a look at the glorious history of Surfing.

Polynesian Settlers

Surfing originated in Western Polynesia almost 3000 years ago. The fisherman would use their handmade boards to surf and get quickly to the shore with their catch. Polynesian settlers in Hawaii brought this skill with them. Thus the Hawaiian form of surfing emerged. They called it ‘he’enalu’, meaning ‘wave sliding’. It was a recreation and also a way for Chiefs to show their authority.

Capt Cook

history of surfing
A sketch based on Capt Cook’s logs. (Image: mpora)

Captain James Cook made his first visit to Hawaii in 1778. He was enchanted by the sight of natives riding on waves, using wooden boards. Cook was killed in a clash with the Hawaiians. Lieutenant James King took over the expedition and Cook’s narrative of the expedition. He devoted a lot of his writing to ‘surfboard riding’ displayed by the natives.

Decline of Hawaiian Culture

1820 brought the decline of the sport. American missionaries began to establish settlements in Hawaii, imposing their faith on the people, and ruling that they should not focus on unproductive and dangerous sports. The new faith and ‘civilization’ washed away all traces of Surfing, which was entwined with the faith of the Hawaiians.

3 foreigners and a Hawaiian Beach Boy

At the start of the 19th century, the island of Waikiki began attracting a lot of beachgoers. An Irish-Hawaiian named George Freeth was one of them. He taught himself to surf and became somewhat of a local beach boy. Around the same time, Jack London, a famous novelist, was also introduced to the sport by Alexander Ford, a wanderer, journalist and surfer. The three, along with Duke Kahanamoku, a native surfer, helped re-introduce the sport.

history of surfing
Duke Kahanamoku

Ford founded the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club in 1908. Jack London wrote extensively about the sport once back home and about the exceptional skills displayed by Ford, Freeth and Duke. Duke particularly gained a lot of popularity for his finesse. He participated in the 1912 Olympics, and then put up various shows at Atlantic City and New Jersey. He was invited to Australia, where he caused quite a furore at the beaches of Sydney, thus popularising the sport therep

Duke at Sydney (Image: Surfer Today)

Meanwhile, Freeth spread awareness about the sport in California, and began teaching and coaching youngsters to surf.

George Freeth with his students in California. (Image: KCET)

The West catches on

Surfing began growing in California and back in Hawaii, simultaneously. Hollywood caught on the movement, with Malibu attracting a lot of surfers. Boards of different sizes and materials were developed. Entire clothing brands dedicated to surfing began cropping up. With Hawaii, California and Australia at the core, the modern versions of the sport came into play.

Learn Surfing

The personality of Hawaii, with the sun, the sand and the beach sure does look inviting for a Surf trip! Plus, the sport has so many health benefits- way more than an hour of steady state cardio. You’d be working your arms, legs and core like a maniac and will certainly come out of surf sessions famished.

Other posts that might interest you:

  1. History of Slacklining
  2. Health Benefits of Skiing
  3. Why we are so addicted to the Ocean

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