Surfing history would not be the same without this great surfer

Origins of the History of Surfing

The origins of the history of surfing is a very controversial topic especially in the last years since new ancient evidence has been discovered in the north coast of Peru: huacas. Almost 5,000 years old, these ancient ceramics portray human figures on totora reed horses and the wave behind them, giving testimony to the practice of riding waves on a kind of raft, thus initiating the history of surfing.

As a result, it is conjectured that this activity was developed by the fishermen of the area who, upon returning to the bay, after deploying their gear, used the natural breakwater of each beach (now called point-break) to slide over the waves until they reached the shore, in other words, in this way they would not have to paddle all the way.

When the Spaniards arrived at Huanchaco beach in northern Peru, one of the most important and populated ports of the Inca empire, they still used the totora reed horses for fishing. The totora reed is a very resistant reed with a large hollow cavity in the center that gives it flotation. Here more evidence has been found in ceramics and tales of a rowing competition on rafts similar to the totora horses but made of balsa wood, a very resistant and floodable type of wood. This competition was called “The Birdman God Race” and consisted of rowing from the coast to the island of Guañape located ten kilometers off the coast and returning with a bird’s egg. On the beach, the spectators waited for the competitors with a big party where there was Chicha and San Pedro (Liquor and a hallucinogenic cactus).

There are also texts from the first Spaniards that speak of a trip to Polynesia made by the Inca Atahulpa Yupanqui, the tenth and last sovereign of the Inca Empire, with more than 50 boats and 200 men passing through Rapa Nui (Easter Island) carrying with them little horses of Totora and Balsa wood. In this way, they introduced surfing to the whole area by teaching the local Polynesians to ride waves on their fishing rafts which they adapted to their own needs to enter the different bays with breakwater reefs of the islands.

In this way, with the settlement from Polynesia to the Hawaiian Islands the origins of surfing history started running waves on individual rafts. Later, Hawaiian boards or “Alaias” were used, with rounded and polished tips made in the form of a ritual where they were sung and offered to the ocean god Kanaloa. They were made of a single piece of some type of local wood such as Paulownia, Acacia or Mahogany and there were different sizes depending on the social status and beach where they were accessed. It was on these boards that the waves were run standing up, unlike the rafts of Polynesia or the totora reed horses in Peru where the waves were run sitting down.

It is worth mentioning that in ancient Hawaiian culture, surfing was very relevant for the whole society having the ability to solve conflicts, decide leaders and marriage rights through skills and courage. In addition, surfing was their greatest social recreational activity with no other reason than to have a good time and enjoy the waves with joy, an activity that extends to this day.

First contact with Europeans

It is through the chronicles of Captain Kook’s first officer, James King, on his third expedition to explore the Pacific Ocean in 1778 that the first western record of surfing is taken. After Captain Kook was assassinated by one of the chiefs of the Big Island, King describes “It sends them with an amazing speed and with great art to guide the board always in the right direction over the swell”. Also in his two full pages of this chronicle he describes the skill, endurance and ability of the Hawaiians in the water.

Surfing’s Dark Period

It was after the arrival of the Orthodox Catholic settlers to the islands that the population and their culture began to be decimated and surfing was banned in an attempt to uproot them from their culture so that it would be easier to educate them in good Catholic manners. It is also known that seeing the stocky, tanned, semi-naked bodies on the beach surfing was not to the liking of the settlers.

Consequently, the history of surfing went through a period of almost extinction in which it was only practiced by some rebel Hawaiian chiefs who managed to keep the culture and the practice of surfing alive in very remote places of the archipelago. After several disputes between the Hawaiian royalty and the sugar cane plantation owners, the United States annexed the territory of the Hawaiian Islands. From this moment on, Honolulu becomes the capital of the state. Most of the few remaining surfers were concentrated here, one of them was Georges Freeth an Irish-Hawaiian surfer who is recognized as the first surfer on the California coast.

George Freeth father of modern surfing

Resurgence of the Hawaiian board

At the beginning of the 20th century the first surfing and rowing clubs appeared on Waikiki beach, one being the Outrigger Canoe and Surfboard Club and the Hui Nalu. The first one was formed by white aristocrats and the second one by native and mixed Hawaiians. These clubs organized friendly competitions in which names such as Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, stood out. In addition to being a great surfer and waterman, Duke was a professional swimmer who won three gold medals in the Olympic Games of 1912, 1916, 1920 winning in one of the finals to Johnny Weissmüller (the first Tarzan of Hollywood) who was also named the fastest swimmer in history for his time breaking Olympic and world records several times. In addition, Duke was also a Hollywood actor playing the roles of Aztec chiefs and others, these activities led him to travel the world a lot and that is how Duke Kahanamoku introduced Hawaiian surfing in Australia and Europe.

Surfing history would not be the same without this great surfer

Surfing arrives to California

In the 1920’s, after several surfing demonstrations by Duke, surfing began to be widespread as a sport along the entire Californian coast, forming a growing surfing culture that is exported to all countries with ocean coasts and beaches. 

Until that moment, Hawaiian surfboards were used without fins, which only allowed them to go straight to the coast with the foam of the wave. When talking to a boat captain, the great innovator surfer Tom Blake realized that the use of the boat’s keel was just for more control in the curves. That’s how one day, in 1934, he found a keel among the broken pieces of boat on the beach, grabbed it and tied it to the bottom of his board. This started a process of evolution that continues up to this day, allowing surfers to run the wall of the waves as the fin helps with the direction and stability in the turns. This is without a doubt the most positive change this sport has experienced, creating a new concept of being able to surf faster waves than before which was impossible to do without fins.

First Championships

In 1965 the first World Surfing Championship was held in Punta Rocas Peru, 45 km south of Lima, the capital, where Felipe Pomar, a well-known surfer from Miraflores beach, was crowned champion. It was in this decade that the Pipe Masters was initiated, the most prestigious surfing championship in the world, even today, which is the last stage of the World Surfing Tour and where the world champion is generally defined.

It was also in this championship where great improvements were made to the sport, such as: tipped boards with curvature, the three fins, techniques such as edge grip for greater control inside the tubes.

In 1976 the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) was created and with this the WCT (World Circuit Tournament) bringing together the world’s surfing elite to travel the world by having surfing championships in all continents. Thus taking the sport of surfing into a new era of evolution with the rise of surfers like Shaun Thompson, world champion in South Africa in 1977. This year also saw the uninterrupted start of the Women’s World Tour, which crowned Margo Oberg of the USA as champion, while other names that stood out during this stage were Mark Richards of Australia, four-time world champion. On the female side, names such as Laynne Boyer appear.

At the beginning of the 80’s, the names of Tom Carrol two times world champion, also from Australia, and Tom Curren from USA stand out, being this a very competitive rivality helping the sport to take a great step in evolution. On the feminine side, names like Freida Zamba from the USA and Wendy Botha from Australia appeared. Where the feminine surfing gives a great jump of professionalism and a multitude of competitors.

Aerial maneuvers

Photo credit: Costa Rica Surfing Photography • Creador: Alfredo Barquero

At the end of the 80s, the history of surfing began to see the aerial maneuvers. With a great influence of skateboarding, it was practiced mainly in the cement pools of empty vacation houses. The surfers-skaters mainly from Southern California and Australia start to experiment aerially in critical parts of the wave or used as wave closing maneuvers. As it is the case of the world champion of 1989, Martin Potter from Australia, who includes in his performance aerials winning great scores for the innovation factor. Nowadays, professional surfing cannot be conceived without aerial maneuvers. The last 10 champions of the professional world circuit are all experts in aerials.

Outstanding professionals

At the beginning of the 90’s the history of surfing took a big jump in board technologies, suits, wave prediction and live events broadcasting. This brought a major diffusion of this sport. Its World Tour gave the possibility for athlete sponsor brands to have an exponential growth with the increasing of the audience. At this time the first super professional athletes appear with salaries of more than half a million dollars a year. Highlighting this part of the history of surfing Kelly Slater from USA, Andy Irons from Hawaii, Mike Fanning from Australia as the professional surfers of all times.

In 1992 the World Tour held 20 events on 5 different continents ranking the top 44 surfers competing in the tour each year. And the WQS (World Qualifying Series) is created, these are the classification competitions for the World Tour that are held around the world giving way to the participation of thousands of new amateur and professional surfers and generating an expansion of the sport and its brands to all corners of the planet.

Tow In

Also in the mid 90’s the history of surfing began to experiment with the prodigal son of surfing, the Tow In Surfing. Created on the northern shores of the Hawaiian archipelago by pioneers Laird Hamilton, Burzy Kerbox and Dave Kalama among others. This new sport consists of being pushed to the giant waves by a jet-ski using a rope, which allows them to catch waves of more than 30 feet that move at a great speed making them impossible to catch by rowing. Additionally, the development of this sport allows access to waves and breaks that were considered not surfable not only because of the catching of the waves but also because of the surfer’s rescuing in case of a fall. On the other hand, with the jet-ski it is now possible to enter, rescue and leave the impact zone before the other wave comes. It is also worth mentioning the dangerousness of this sport, which makes the athletes have superhuman training and in some cases they can hold on for over 4 minutes underwater.

At the beginning of the 21st century the history of surfing continues to grow at a commercial and sport level with contracts that exceed one million dollars annually and the surf stores always occupying the best commercial corners in the main cities and commercial malls. For example in Time Square New York where they occupy 3 of the 5 commercial corners overtaking brands such as Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana.

Also nowadays, surfing has expanded to all corners of the planet and it is estimated that around 100 million people have surfed at least once! And you, have you tried it yet? If you want to try it for the first time, want to try it again or improve your style visit our services page, maybe you’ll get caught up in this great sport too!