Surfing is one of the most popular water sports on the planet. It is the sport of riding on the top of an ocean wave while standing or lying on a board known as a surfboard. Today there are almost 23 million surfers in the world for whom this water sport is more than just a passion. Its popularity has risen steadily over the last three decades and it is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
The surfers are the people who create a special bond with the ocean and enjoy being in it and surfing on them. But do you know how the sport first originated? The first written heritage about the history of surfing was found in James Cook’s diary, a European captain who first discovered surfing. More than just a romance with water, surfing has a rich and deeper history.
Surfing- for some a serious sport yet for others a way to relax.
The first evidence of surfing was found in the Polynesia island of the Pacific ocean. Riding practices were done throughout Polynesian Pacific, West Africa, and Peru. Several cave paintings from the early 12th-century show people riding on ocean waves. But it was mostly the Hawaiin archipelago where surfing advanced the most. The Polynesians first brought surfing to Hawai and the sport went viral.
In Hawaii, surfing was not restricted just as a sport instead it became an important part of their religion. Much in Hawaiin society, surfing was governed under a code of law and taboos called Kapu. The tree choosing activity for the board was very vital and religious rituals like making offerings before shaping the board were practiced. They even used to pray to waves with a help of Kahuna, a priest, before surfing and would thank the sea after surviving a harsh water wave. These rituals served as protection and to secure the gods’ goodwill.
Unlike other sports, everybody used to surf including men, women, children, and even kings. But there was a strict code of conduct that regulated who could surf on which spot. For instance, certain spots were exclusively reserved for the elites and others for the commoners. However, it wasn’t a solemn sport, people competed and wagered on who could ride the farthest or catch the biggest waves. This in return, would grant them respect, social status, and romantic incentives.
The surfing boards were crafted from Koa, breadfruit, and wiliwili trees. Many people used to ride boards made out of Alaia. These surfing boards were thin and midsized. Others enjoyed paipo boards which were round, short and riders lay on their stomach to surf. While the chieftains rode massive olo boards which are twice as long as a longboard.
The colonization of Hawaii
Shortly after the colonization of Hawai, the island turns towards Christian missionaries. The settlement changed the lifestyle of Hawaiin remarkably and the people had to wear clothes to cover their bodies and visit Churches and schools. The missionaries regarded surfing as a sinful activity and discouraged it along with other native beliefs. Amid all this, Surfing lost its prominence but never completely vanished.
By 1890, Europeans and Americans introduced new illnesses decimating several Hawaiians, and left less than 40,000 pre-contact population that may have exceeded 800,000. To bring treatment and medical care into the community, foreign influence grew massively and the white settlers overthrew the native monarchy. When five years later, the U.S annexed the island, Surfing revived. The newly revived sport entered the American colonies and along with Hawaiians led surfing overseas.
In 1907, George Freeth gave a demonstration of surfing in southern California. In 1912, Duke Kahanamoku, a swimmer, and surfer competed in the Olympic Games in Stockholm and won the 100-meter freestyle contest. Later, with his success, he traveled across the world and spread the sport to the farthest corner of the planet. When Hawaii joined the USA as the 51st state, tourism on the islands boomed as never before. And thus bringing the sport to international fame.
In the early 50s, Jack O’Neill invented the first wetsuit to protect the surfers from the cold Californian water. By the end of that decade, surfing was immensely popular. Today, it is a multi-billion dollar industry with 23 million surfers worldwide.