Today there are over 23 million surfers in the world. This population includes elite professionals, diehard beach goers, weekend warriors, and vacationers. International travel has never been easier; travelers can reach once near mythical places in a few hours. Additionally, different forms of surfing have emerged in recent years, from stand up paddle boarding to wake surfing, allowing even more people to participate in the act of surfing the waves. The sudden emergence of wave pools even gave landlocked people the chance to try their hand at surfing. With recent advancements in surfing, it’s easy to get carried away with the future, but we mustn’t forget our roots. It is essential to take a careful look at history from time to time as we continue to move forward.
The act of surfing the waves is thousands of years old. It is difficult to determine the exact origin of surfing in ancient Polynesia because it predates European contact. There have even been recent discussions to consider if it was first performed in pre-Inca Peru. Before the arrival of the European colonial powers in Polynesia, surfing was widely practiced throughout Oceania, Hawaii, Polynesia, New Guinea and even as far as New Zealand. However, in Hawaii surfing has played a particularly important role in society.
In the Hawaiian island chain, surfing had a deeply religious meaning. Craftsmen fashioned planks from sacred Koa or Wiliwili trees, working after prayers and religious offerings. The old boards were up to 15 feet long and weighed over 150 pounds. Despite the heavy structure of the board, all of society loved surfing: royalty, peasants, men, women and children. Unlike many European sports, surfing has transcended class lines, as it can today. British captain, Lord Byron wrote that ‘having a neat, well-maintained and dried flotation board is to a (Polynesian) Sandwich Islander what a tilbury or a convertible, or any other fashionable light car is to a (Polynesian) Sandwich Islander. a young Englishman. “From this, it can be assumed that surfing was completely entrenched in traditional ancient Hawaiian culture. Nineteenth-century Hawaiian scholar Kepelino Keauokalani wrote that when the waves were good,” all thought of the work is over, he only that of sport remains “.
Part II: Surf & Colonialism
One can only imagine the amazement felt by the first European explorers as their gargantuan ships entered the turquoise waters of Polynesia and witnessed waves for the first time. European society as a whole looked at the ocean with awe and awe. From their perspective and experience, waves were the product of storm systems that caused shipwrecks, loss of life, loss of wealth, and loss of property. Yet in the clear waters of the Polynesian island chain, the ocean was a playground, or perhaps a theater, and the waves were a stage for those dancing gracefully on it. Naturally, surfing aroused shock, awe and confusion among these European explorers. Eventually, this confusion and misunderstanding would evolve into disdain and resentment on the part of European settlers and missionaries.
Captain James Cook, the famous British explorer who first landed in Australia, witnessed canoe surfing and bodysurfing in the Society Islands in 1777. He then witnessed standing surfing in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. Captain Cook was captivated by surfing, as were those who followed him: traders, missionaries and journalists, notably Mark Twain and Jack London. The fascination of Europeans will fade when they discover how deeply rooted surfing was in Hawaiian society. Surfing was more than just a sport; it was widely associated with indigenous religious practices.
The near wave-surfing cult was in stark contrast to the Calvinist missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in the 1820s with the aim of bring Christianity to the Hawaiian Islands chain. Hiram Bingham, the leader of the first group of missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, recounted his ship’s encounter with the surf before they even reached shore. Bingham writes: “The appearance of misery, degradation and barbarism, among the talkative and almost naked savages, whose head and feet, and much of their sunburnt skins were bare, was appalling. . Seeing surfing as clearly at odds with a Christian life, Bringham and the missionaries who followed him set out to oust surfing from Hawaiian society. During this first period of colonization and missions in Hawaii, the Hawaiian culture suffered and nearly died out. The people of Hawaii had been devastated by European disease leading to the erosion of the native population. Between 1778 and 1893, the indigenous population fell from three hundred thousand to less than one hundred thousand. Twenty-seven years after Bingham’s arrival in Hawaii and his first written condemnation of surfing, Bingham wrote: âThe decline and cessation of surfboard use, as civilization progresses, may occur. ‘explain by the increase in modesty, industry or religion. âSurfing in Hawaii was almost dead.
Fortunately, the surf dance with the near extinction was brief. A few loyal Hawaiian surfers managed to keep the sport alive during the height of European colonialism. And during the twentieth century, surfing experienced a complete renaissance. Thanks to now legendary figures, George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, surfing has managed to make its way to the continental United States and from there to the rest of the world and the 20th century will mark the golden age of surfing. .