A Brief History Of Surfing

The history of surfing stems from Polynesian cultures. Anthropologists still do not know where the history of surfing begins before it appeared in the Polynesian culture. When Captain James Cook made his third voyage as he and his crew travelled from Tahiti to the Northwestern coastline of North America, he recorded his first encounter with Hawaiians in the late 1770s. Later, Cook returned to the islands and stopped at the Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii. After having one of their boats stolen by the natives, Cook kidnapped the Hawaiians’ High Chief in an effort to force their hand and to cause them to return the stolen vessel. But, Cook was killed, and following Cook’s death, Lieutenant James King became the First Lieutenant on the vessel called the Discovery. He was also left with the duty of completing Captain Cook’s journals. In Cook’s journals, James King dedicated two pages to describing the practice of surfboarding. This is the first documented record related to the sport practiced by the Kealakekua Bay locals in Hawaii. It is important to note that the skill of the Hawaiian surfers made evident that the history of surfing predated its first documentation and was already a vital part of the Hawaiian culture. King noted how the Hawaiians would stand or lay on long boards crafted out of hardwood. Surfing was performed by commoners and chiefs as a way to establish fame and to convey mastery or skill. Surf boards were referred to as paipo boards. The term paipo literally translates as “belly.” While surfing may have begun with a surfer lying on the belly, the native Hawaiians of the time mastered the art of standing on surf boards upright and riding waves. Even ruling chiefs of the time like Kamehameha I and Kaumuali’I were famed for their amazing surfing skills.

More On The History Of Surfing

Shortly after Cook and James discovered the Hawaiians practicing the sport in the late 1790s, the popularity of surfing declined dramatically. At the time of the arrival of the Discovery and the Resolution, surfing was widely practiced in both Hawaii and Tahiti. Once Cook’s journals were published Hawaii became a very popular travel hotspot visited by missionaries, adventurers, brigands, and captains. During the 1800s the morality and ethics of Calvinists caused surfing to diminish considerably, although surfing still continued on the Hawaiian Islands. In the early 1850s, Henry T. Cheever, a Reverend, saw surfers in Maui at Lahaina and documented his sightings in the book: “Life in the Hawaiian Islands.” He defined the practice of surfing as exciting, manly, and dangerous. Later, in 1866, Mark Twain also wrote about the practice of surfing when he visited Hawaii. He even tried the pastime himself with little success. Twain documented his experiences in, “Roughing It,” written the same year. As time passed however, the practice of surfing continued to decline.

As Europeans traveled to Hawaii they dominated the Islandsand its religions, culture, and practices. In the early 1890s, the Hawaiian Islands were taken over by Europeans. In the late 1890s, the islands became part of the United States. Surfing had seemingly become a thing of the past, with the sport only being taken up in areas like Maui, Kalehauawehe along the shore of Oahu, Kauai, and a few other Hawaiian islands.

The History Of Surfing And Its Revival

In the early 1900s, the literary icon Jack London visited Hawaii. After having established a solid career in writing and having successfully published books like “White Fang,” “Sea-Wolf,” and “The Call of the Wild,” Jack and his wife were considered celebrities when they were visiting Waikiki. There London encountered surfers and was instructed on the sport by the journalist, Alexander Hume Ford. Later, London penned, “A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki” and it appeared in the Lady’s Home Companion edition in 1907 and in 1911.

One of the surfers that London encountered in Waikiki was George Freeth who was later invited to put on a surfing demonstration in California in 1885. The demonstration earned him the moniker of the very first man to have ever surfed the waters in California. In truth however, there were at least three princes from Hawaii that had surfed in California in the Santa Cruz region prior to in the same year. Also, in 1835, Richard Henry Dana wrote in “Two Years Before the Mast” of crewmembers on Hawaiian vessels possibly using surfboards to go ashore in Santa Barbara.

Alexander Hume Ford campaigned for the art of surfing and in the early 1900s he asked that the Queen Emma Estate trustees dedicate a portion of land nearby the Moana Hotel in Waikiki so that canoeing and surfing pursuits could be preserved. Alexander Hume Ford;s efforts led to the creation of the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club in 1908. Then early in 1905 Hawaiians created the Hui Nalu Surf Club to help stir up interest in surfing. So, when London returned to the Islands in 1915, there were over 1200 members in the Outrigger Canoe Club and the Hui Nalu Surf Club had become a formalized organization with several hundred members.

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