Surfing is a sport of riding breaking waves toward the shore, especially by means of a surfboard.
Surfing is one of the world’s oldest sports. Although the act of riding a wave started as a religious/cultural tradition, surfing rapidly transformed into a global water sport.
Contemporary surfboards are made from polyurethane and fibreglass. They are 6-6.5 feet or 1.8-2 metres long, and 43–48 cm or 17–19 inches wide, 5 cm 2 inches thick, and very light 2.3–2.7 kg 5–6 pounds. Carefully shaped rails (edges of the board), noses, and tails, together with three fins, allow riders to move their craft freely around the wave and have transformed surfing into a gymnastic dance. Today the wave is the apparatus upon which surfers perform spectacular maneuvers such as “tailslides” (withdrawing the fins from the wave and allowing the board to slip down the face of the wave), “floaters” (“floating” the board along the top of a breaking wave), “reverses” (rapid changes of direction), 360s (turning the board through 360 degrees on the face of the wave), and “airs” (flying above the face of the wave).
There are several types of boards. The Moche of Peru would often surf on reed craft, while the native peoples of the Pacific surfed waves on alaia, paipo, and other such water craft. Ancient cultures often surfed on their belly and knees, while the modern-day definition of surfing most often refers to a surfer riding a wave standing on a surfboard – this is also referred to as stand-up surfing.
In Polynesian culture, surfing was an important activity. Modern surfing as we know it today is thought to have originated in Hawaii. The history of surfing dates to c. 400 AD in Polynesia, where Polynesians began to make their way to the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. They brought many of their customs with them including playing in the surf on Paipo (belly/body) boards. It was in Hawaii that the art of standing and surfing upright on boards was invented.
In places like Tahiti, Tonga, and Samoa, surfing was a large part of a warrior’s training. European records describe how the ‘warriors in training’ charged big waves to show their athleticism, skill, and bravery. Samoans even have words to describe the specific activity of surf riding as “fa’ase’e” or “se’egalu.”
The earliest records of the Hawaiian origin of surfing date back to 1769. During the first James Cook’s voyage on the HMS Endeavour, the botanist Joseph Banks first wrote about wave riding at Matavay Bay, Tahiti.
The ancient Hawaiian people did not consider surfing a mere recreational activity, hobby, extreme sport, or career as it is viewed today. Rather, the Hawaiian people integrated surfing into their culture and made surfing more of an art than anything else. They referred to this art as heʻe nalu which translates into English as “wave sliding.” The art began before entering the mysterious ocean as the Hawaiians prayed to the gods for protection and strength to undertake the powerful mystifying ocean. If the ocean was tamed, frustrated surfer would call upon the kahuna (priest), who would aid them in a surfing prayer asking the gods to deliver great surf. Prior to entering the ocean, the priest would also aid the surfers (mainly of the upper class) in undertaking the spiritual ceremony of constructing a surfboard.
After the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, the lost tribal tradition of surfing was revived in California. A joint effort between writer Jack London and Alexander Hume Ford led to the invitation of Hawaiian surfer George Frith to California in 1907. Frith was awarded the title ‘The First Man to Surf in California’. A few years later, in 1911, London, Ford and Frith opened the first surf club in Waikiki, the Outrigger Canoe Club.
The most famous Surfer was Duke Kahanamoku who was born in 1890. ‘The Duke’ was a talented swimmer and obviously one of the best surfers on the Hawaiian Islands. In 1912, he competed in the Olympic Games in Stockholm and won the 100-meter freestyle contest, not least because of the crawl technique that he copied from surfing. After his success, he traveled around the world and introduced surfing in all regions where the conditions made it possible e.g. in Australia or California.
In the early 20th century, however, concomitant with the development of Hawaii as a tourist destination, surfing underwent a revival, and the sport quickly spread to California and Australia.
In the early 50s Jack O’Neill invented the first wetsuit which protected the surfers from the cold Californian water. The big surf boom happened one decade later. Because of the wetsuit and the smaller boards that provided for radical turns, surfing became a mass sport. Also Hollywood movies like ‘Gidget’ and ‘Endless Summer’ that showed surfing and its lifestyle made the sport bigger and bigger.
Surfers represent a diverse culture based on riding the waves. During the 1960s, as surfing caught on in California, its popularity spread through American pop culture. Several teen movies, starting with the Gidget series in 1959, transformed surfing into a dream life for American youth. The sport is also a significant part of Australia’s eastern coast sub-cultural life, especially in New South Wales, where the weather and water conditions are most favourable for surfing.
During the winter season in the northern hemisphere, the north shore of Oahu, the third-largest island of Hawaii, is known for having some of the best waves in the world. Surfers from around the world flock to beaches like Backdoor, Waimea Bay, and Pipeline. However, there are still many popular surf spots around the world: Teahupo’o, located off the coast of Tahiti; Mavericks, California, United States; Cloudbreak, Tavarua Island, Fiji; Superbank, Gold Coast, Australia.
Many surfers claim to have a spiritual connection with the ocean, describing surfing, the surfing experience, both in and out of the water, as a type of spiritual experience or a religion.
Another prominent form of surfing is body boarding, where a surfer rides the wave on a bodyboard, either lying on their belly, drop knee (one foot and one knee on the board), or sometimes even standing up on a body board. Other types of surfing include knee boarding, surf matting (riding inflatable mats) and using foils. Body surfing, in which the wave is caught and ridden using the surfer’s own body rather than a board, is very common and is considered by some surfers to be the purest form of surfing. The closest form of body surfing using a board is a handboard which normally has one strap over it to fit on one hand.
Swell is generated when the wind blows consistently over a large space of open water, called the wind’s fetch. The size of a swell is determined by the strength of the wind, and the length of its fetch and duration. Because of these factors, the surf tends to be larger and more prevalent on coastlines exposed to large expanses of ocean traversed by intense low pressure systems.