Brief Overview of Surfing History

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Surfing has been around far longer than the existence of surfing photographs and surfing video footages. Surfing as we know it today is far different from what it was in the ancient times. But surfing has been a way of life among Pacific islanders for thousands of years before the rest of the world discovered it. Back in the ancient days, surfing prowess earned people political power.

Photo of Ancient Surfing| Photo Credit: Bishop Museum Archive

Photo of Ancient Surfing| Photo Credit: Bishop Museum Archive

It is believed that the Polynesians were the first to ride the waves as recorded by European sailors who encountered the Polynesian surfers during their voyages in the 1700s.

Probably the earliest photo of Surfer and Board back in 1890 | Photo Credit Bishop Museum Archive

Probably the earliest photo of Surfer and Board back in 1890 | Photo Credit Bishop Museum Archive

In the early 1800s European missionaries visited Hawaiian islands who discouraged all forms of native culture which included surfing. Because of this, the culture of Polynesian surfing has diminished until the beginning of the 1900s when only a few natives were left who still knew how to surf by the turn of the century. The ancient art of surfboard shaping was also in danger of becoming obsolete. Just a handful of native Hawaiians continued to create boards and surfed regularly.

Duke Kahanamoku, resurrected surfing in Hawaii and introduced the sport to the world. Duke, who grew up during the time when Hawaii was beginning to rediscover the ancient art of surfing that was almost extinct. He took time to hone his surfing skills at Waikiki.

Duke Khanamoku and His Board Photo Credit: LA Times

Duke Khanamoku and His Board Photo Credit: LA Times

Duke won three gold medals, two silver medals, and a bronze medal in 1912 and through his popularity, represented and introduced the sport to the world. He travelled across different countries to perform surfing exhibits. Duke is regarded as the Father of Modern Surfing.

Footage of Duke Kahanamoku Surfing:

International sporting agencies began to recognize surfing as a legitimate sport in the early 1900’s. The early 1960’s marked the sport’s mainstream popularity in the United States when music, movies and TV programs dedicated to the surfing lifestyle multiplied in number.

Surfing in the 60's | Photo Credit Mpora

Surfing in the 60’s | Photo Credit Mpora

Over the years, different breakthroughs have been achieved for the sport. Innovations have helped in the evolution of the boards from long heavy logs to the shorter and lighter short board models popularly used today. The way people rode surfboards in the past is different than the way we surf today, but the art and science behind the basics of surfing remains the same.

Today, surfing is a popular sport that attracts attention and raises curiosity amongst various generations. Surfing culture continues to influence people of all genders, ages, and nationalities all over the globe.

Professional surfing has further increased the popularity of the Sport. Surfing apparel and equipment have become abundant, surfing media is available all over the Internet, and the surfing industry has emerged is growing in a rapid pace.

Professional Surfing | Photo Credit: World Surf League

Professional Surfing | Photo Credit: World Surf League

Big innovations have been made for the love of the sport including wavepools. In places where good, rideable waves don’t exist, like in the city or the mountains, wavepool technology can provide fresh water waves for people to surf in.

Wave Pool in the City: Photo Credit URBNSURF

Wave Pool in the City: Photo Credit URBNSURF

A sneak peek at Kelly Slater’s Wavepool:

Recent developments have landed the sport in the 2020 Olympic games. With the help of the International Surfing Association (ISA), the highest governing body in the sport of Surfing, The International Olympic Community (IOC) has decided to add the sport in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Olympic Surfing | Photo Credit: seabreeze

Olympic Surfing | Photo Credit: seabreeze

It is expected that the inclusion of the sport in the ultimate international sporting arena will further propel the sport towards greater global popularity.


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