History of Surf

by Shopify API

Frederick Kinski - June 29, 2020

History of Surf

Surfing is an amazing sport with an impressive history. The exact origins of surfing are not certain, but it was first observed by Europeans on a ship in Tahiti back in 1767. Research suggests that surfing dates back to the ancient Polynesian cultures that existed long ago. The art of surfing, known as heʻe ʻana (heʻe means to surf, and ʻana is the nominalizing particle) in the Hawaiian language, was recorded by Joseph Banks aboard HMS Endeavour during the first voyage of James Cook, during the ship's stay in Tahiti. Surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture and predates European contact. The chief (Ali'i) was traditionally the most skilled wave rider in the community with the best board made from the best wood. The ruling class had the best beaches and the best boards, and the commoners were not allowed on the same beaches, but they could gain prestige by their ability to ride the surf on their boards. In Tahiti and Samoa surfing was a popular pastime that was often used as part of warriors' training. Warriors often paddled to surf breaks and were recorded in print by early European historians as spending many hours bravely paddling head-on into large surf and riding waves. Canoes often accompanied surfing parties and the men would often swap between canoeing and paddling boards, and then catch fish after their recreational activities. In Hawai'i, surfing became ingrained into the very fabric of Hawaii'an religion and culture. The sport was also recorded in print by other European residents and visitors who wrote about and photographed Samoans surfing on planks and single canoe hulls; Samoans referred to surf riding as fa'ase'e or se'egalu. Edward Treager also confirmed Samoan terminology for surfing and surfboards in Samoa. Oral tradition confirms that surfing was also practiced in Tonga, where the late king Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was the foremost Tongan surfer of his time. 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 surfers 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.

Hawaiians would carefully select one of three types of trees. The trees included the koa (Acacia koa), ʻulu (Artocarpus altilis), and wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) trees. Once selected, the surfer would dig the tree out and place fish in the hole as an offering to the gods. Selected craftsmen of the community were then hired to shape, stain, and prepare the board for the surfer. Aside from the preparatory stages prior to entering the water, the most skilled surfers were often of the upper class including chiefs and warriors that surfed amongst the best waves on the island. These upper class Hawaiians gained respect through their enduring ability to master the waves and this art the Hawaiians referred to as surfing. Some ancient sites still popular today include Kahaluʻu Bay and Holualoa Bay.

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