The History of Surfing – One of the Oldest Sports in the World

The history of surfing

The history of surfing

“Not to sound too deep or weird, but I think that the times when you really appreciate surfing are the times you’re really sort of becoming one with nature. Surfing’s as raw of a sport as it gets”
Kelly Slater

Surfing is one of the oldest sports in the world and we’re fortunate to have grown up with it. It is one of the few sports that has fashioned its own culture and lifestyle surrounding it. It’s a blend of human ability and the unstoppable power of Mother Nature. But where did surfing start? Where does it come from? Who thought it was a good idea to stand on a board in the ocean?!


The origins of surfing

Surfing itself was first discovered by Joseph Banks back in 1769 in Polynesia.  It is unknown exactly when the first person stood up on a surfboard and prior to this people could be seen bodysurfing.

Traditionally surfboards were made from trees and the chief of the community was the best wave rider and so his board was made from the best tree. In Hawaii the Kings would use surfing to show off their skills and reinforce their status. And to this day Hawaii is regarded at the ‘home’ of surfing.

Surf Bikinis

In the early 1960s, surf movies and songs inspired a surf bikini buying xtravaganza. In the mid 1990s new swimwear code was characterised by surf stars appearing in fashion magazines wearing sports bikinis for rough water.

Surfing was nearly extinct

Surfing had all but died out after visitors arrived and settled in Hawaii and didn’t take it up. By the 20th century there were only a few people still riding the waves and one group of guys called the Waikiki beach boys were to become the most important people to thank for surfing.


1920’s – The resurrection of surfing

There are a few men who can be attributed to bringing back surfing and helping craft it into the sport we all know:

George Freeth

George was a Waikiki beach boy who still loved surfing. He met an American writer who was captivated with the sport and wrote an article about George and this intriguing activity of wave riding. The article turned George into a minor celebrity with people calling him ‘The man who can walk on water.’ He then moved to California to show off his surf skills at the world famous Venice beach and helped spread the word of surfing in America.


Duke Kahanamoku

“Out of water, I am nothing” .Duke was another Waikiki beach boy who is known as the ‘Father of Modern Surfing.’ He began breaking Olympic swimming world records, which secured his status as a Hawaiian ambassador. As a result, Duke travelled the world introducing surfing to countries such as Australia and New Zealand who took to surfing like ducks to water and today are some of the most commonly associated countries with the sport.

Tom Blake

One of Dukes companions was Californian surf pioneer Tom Blake. He helped organise the 1st Pacific Coast Surfboard Championships in 1928. He chose this competition to introduce his latest invention, the Hallow Hawaiian Surfboard that he designed and made himself. It weighed half of what the traditional boards weighed at the time and consequently he was laughed at when he first took to the water. However, once he won the competition on his board people were clapping not laughing and he was well established as the leading innovator of surfing.

1930’s –THE FINS are added – Tom Blake went on to add a small fin on the bottom of a surfboard which was truly innovative and has made the sport what it is today.

1950’s – “The Golden Age of surfing” The 50’s really ignited the popularity of surfing. A show called Gidget (maybe ask your parents about that one) about surfing as well as lots of beach movies meant surfing went got worldwide recognition.


The rest as they say is surfing history

Since then surfing has gone from strength to strength with competitions all over the world and created a global community. Surfing has grown its own culture and has gone from being a small island pastime to a multi-million dollar industry.

So what are you waiting for? The waves are calling…


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