The History of Surfing

2017-11-22 07:43:52


When traveling from the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti, the Polynesians brought with them many skilled water men/women and a deep respect for the ocean. The Tahitians were said to have belly boards (paipo) that they occasionally stood on but the art of true surfing was founded in Hawaiian waters.
Lieutenant James King was the first European to write and thoroughly document surfing in the Hawaiian islands. Lt. King was originally part of Captain Cook’s third expedition, and while stopping on the Big Island he wrote down his description of the locals’ surfboard riding in Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast:
“But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us'd to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direct. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais'd. On first seeing this very dangerous diversion I did not conceive it possible but that some of them must be dashed to mummy against the sharp rocks, but jus before they reach the shore, if they are very near, they quit their plank, & dive under till the Surf is broke, when the piece of plank is sent many yards by the force of the Surf from the beach. The greatest number are generally overtaken by the break of the swell, the force of which they avoid, diving and swimming under the water out of its impulse. By such like excercises, these men may be said to be almost amphibious. The Women could swim off to the Ship, & continue half a day in the Water, & afterwards return. The above diversion is only intended as an amusement, not a tryal of skill, & in a gentle swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives.”
Surfing, by 1779, whether standing or laying down, on long hardwood boards was vital to the Hawaiian culture. It was as much a part of traditional society, religion, and myths of Hawaii as baseball is in America. Chiefs showed off their skills by riding on boards up to 24 feet long while commoners often rode 12 foot surfboards and could gain cognition for their wave-riding talents. Kaumuali’I (chief of Kaua’i) and chief Kamehamahe I were both well renowned for their riding abilities. Many of the kapu (taboo) regulations dictated how surfboards should be built, how to predict the weather, and ways to ask the Gods for good surf.
After the missionaries’ arrival, most of the Polynesian-influenced culture was discouraged including hula, the spoken language of Hawaiian, and surfing. During this time, disease ravaged the native population and the Hawaiians dropped from around 800,000 to 40,000 in 1896. Surfing, similar to the people, had almost entirely vanished from the islands.
In 1907, Jack London (author), Alexander Ford (journalist/nomad), and George Freeth (native Hawaiian and surf-lover) started the difficult task of re-introducing surfing to the world. Freeth was invited to demonstrate surfing to southern-California to promote the railway-he accepted. London described his experience in Waikiki with Alexander Ford for his story A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki
that was published multiple times. Meanwhile, Ford was busy petitioning for the creation of the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club, the first modern club dedicated to perpetuation of wave-riding.
The infamous Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, John H. “Doc” Ball, Woodbridge Parker “Woody” Brown, Eve Fletcher, and many others have helped to preserve the Hawaiian surf nation throughout history. Surfing is unique in its ability to provide enjoyment and an unwavering connection to the sea. Unlike other aspects of the Hawaiian culture lost to time, we hope that it will be enjoyed by many generations to come.