The Early Days Of Surfing
Although surfing is Hawaii s most popular sport, its earliest origins are unknown. Surfing, known to native Hawaiians as he enalu, was first observed by Europeans in 1767 in Tahiti. It is known that surfing played a central role in ancient Polynesian customs, and certainly existed for many years prior to European contact, as shown in numerous cave drawings and other evidence dating back at least 3,000 years. During this time, it is known that surfing was practiced in Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga, and it is likely that residents of many other islands in the South Pacific also surfed.
In ancient Hawaii, surfing was not just a leisure activity, but a well respected art form. Before hitting the waves, the Hawaiians prayed to the gods for strength and protection against the powerful and mysterious ocean. In ancient times, the chief and ruling class were entitled to the best boards made from the best trees. Commoners were not allowed to ride on the same beaches, but could gain prestige by becoming known for their surfing skill. The first surfboards were made of three types of trees: koa, ulu, and wikiwili. Skilled craftsmen shaped and prepared the board. Surfboards of this era had no fins, and required great skill to maneuver.
In the 1820s, missionaries outlawed many ancient Polynesian practices, including surfing. By the twentieth century, only a small number of Hawaiians continued to surf and to build surfboards. Still, Hawaiians began to revive the tradition, soon re establishing this sport in Waikiki. These surfers were seen by noted author Jack London, who was so impressed that he wrote the book “A Royal Sport: Sufing in Waikiki,” one of the first modern mentions of surfing culture.
In the earliest decades of the twentieth century, surfing began to spread to North America and to Australia. In 1908, Hawaiian surfer George Freeth officially began the California surfing culture, being recognized as the first man to surf in California. In 1912, surfing was introduced to Virginia Beach, Virginia by Waikiki native Duke Kahanamoku, and in 1915, to Australia. These early surfing pioneers were responsible for bringing the sport to worldwide attention, constantly pushing the development of surfboards and the range of surfing possibilities.
Modern surfing culture really took off in the 1950s and 1960s, along with the rise of tiki culture as well as surf music popularized by the Beach Boys. Numerous professional competitions got their start during this era, starting a trend that has continued to the present day. Today, an entire subculture revolves around surfing, along with the surf shops and events to go with it.
Today s surfboards look almost nothing like their ancient Hawaiian counterparts. Originally, surfboards were carved from a solid plank of wood. In 1930, the hollow board, supported by interior ribs, was developed. This lighter and more buoyant board was easier to ride, but still difficult to control. In the 1930s and 1940s, numerous design changes added fins and other details, greatly increasing a rider s control over the board s movement.
Today, Hawaii is world renowned as a surfer s paradise. The same volcanic activity that produced the island resulted in spectacular beaches with beautiful white sands and a multitude of great surfing locations. Many of the best surfers in the world travel to Hawaii to enjoy some of the best waves the sea has to offer.