History of Surfing
Surfing is one of the oldest practiced recreational
activities in the world. The act of riding waves with a wooden board
originated in Western Polynesia over three thousand years ago.
The first surfers were fishermen who found that riding waves was an
excellent method of getting their catch to shore. In the early
20th centruy surfing spread to the USA and Australia but it was in
the 1950's and 1960's when cheaper, lighter boards made of
fiberglass and foam arrived that people headed to the beach. The
sport has spread to all locations where waves are of sufficient
size. The modern day surfers are forever seeking the "perfect"
300 - 750 AD
Polynesians arrive by outrigger canoe from Tahiti.
1777 - British explorer Captain James Cook sees
canoeists riding waves in Tahiti.
1778 - Captain Cook
discovers the Hawaiian Islands and gives them the name
The Polynesians who arrived in Hawaii were excellent
fishermen and were documented as playing in the surf with
"belly boards." Thus, the first record of surfing in Hawaii,
west of Tahiti, as a social caste system
1820 - The decline of surfing was accelerated by
Christian missionaries who put restrictions on the activity,
which in turn contributed to the collapse of Hawaii's
1866 - Famous writer and humorist Mark Twain, went
to Hawaii and tried surfing, demonstrating that surfing was
not dead yet but was quickly declining.
British writer Isabella Bird writes about her visit to
“It really is amost exciting pastime,
and in a rough sea requires immense nerve. Thesurfboard is a
tough plank shaped like a coffin lid, about two feet
broad,and from six to nine feet long, well oiled and cared
1898 - The
United States declared Hawaii a U.S. territory.
1900s - 1910s
1900s - Surfing had totally disappeared throughout
the Islands except for a few isolated spots.
1900 - 1915
Hawaiian-Englishman George Freeth learns to surf and
teaches islanders and visitors alike
Famous writer Jack
London traveled to Hawaii where he was introduced to surfing
by Alexander Hume Ford and was taught to surf by George
London, Ford, and
Freeth realized that they shared a common love for the
ocean. London wrote about it, and Freeth surfed it,
and Ford campaigned on behalf of the restoration of surfing.
London News features a picture of surfing on the front
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku became a world-renowned
Surfing reached the
mainland United States in the early 1900s, with the sport
itself introduced by surfers like George Freeth, Duke
Kahanamoku and others
The Prince of Wales learns to surf on a visit to Hawaii by
‘Duke’ Kahanamoku. The Times wrote that the Prince,
“revelled in the new sport, greatly enjoying the
Soldiers returning from the First World War surf on wooden
bellyboards in the West Country, the Channel Islands and on
the south coast.
Duke Kahanamoku began participating in swimming competitions
and taking his surfboard throughout his travels, with the
mission of popularizing the sport.
1923 - Nigel Oxenden starts
Britain’s first surf club, ‘Island Surf Club’ of Jersey.
1930s - 1950s
1930s - 1950s
Surfing slowly becomes a world-wide phenomenon, gaining
popularity through film, music, and the dedication of
1934 - The first
guide to surf riding in Britain is published,
The Art of Surf Riding
by Ronald Funnell.
English actor Peter Lawford, friend of Frank Sinatra, learns
to surf in California. Marilyn Monroe surfs with him as a
Many board shapers, among them Joe Quigg and Bob Simmons
added fins, and experimented with balsa wood and styrofoam
sandwiched between plywood, using fiberglass as a protective
You can earn a scouting
badge for surfing!
like Bud Browne and Greg Noll began shooting surfing footage
and these low budget surf movies attracted a new audience.
The first English surfboards are professionally manufactured
in balsa wood by Solarbo Ltd.
1959 - Surfing really hit it big with the movie
The "modern" history of surfing began with big-wave surfers
starting to blend into the mainstream culture.
A new surfing craze was
created as boards became more affordable. Design refinements
and smaller size boards made it easier for beginners to pick
up the sport at the same time they gave advanced surfers
bigger challenges. The smaller, lighter boards opened up the
sport to women and made new maneuvers possible.
1960 - Photographer
and film maker John Severson published the first surfing
1961 - American
surfer Doug McDonald brought the first ever fibreglass and
foam surfboard to the UK. The ‘Malibu’ had arrived.
Movie Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley is released.
1963 - Movie
Beach Party hits the big screen.
- Surfing once again involved prizes or cash awards but
prizes were still nominal. Movie
Beach Blanket Bingo is released.
A more "authentic" surfing film by
Bruce Brown titled The Endless
Summer was released. Music groups like the Beach Boys
helped tp make surfing and the beach lifestyle popular.
The Fifth Annual Duke Kahanamoku
Invitation Surfing Championship was held and the first prize
had grown to $1,000.
1967 - GUL makes the
first commercial wetsuits.
1970s - 1980s
The Women's International Surfing Association and Women's
Pro Surfing are formed
Surf magazine is launched.
- Three fins are seen on surfboards for the first
- Roger Mansfield creates one of the first surf schools.
1990s - 2000s
Wahine, the first
all-women's surfing magazine is launched
The first all-women's
surf shop Water Girl opened in Encinitas
Surfers Against Sewage is launched to
campaign against pollution around Britain’s coastline
Pro surfers are
constantly pushing all limits to modernize the sport
documentaries, accessories and advertisements all contribute
to the mainstream popularity that surfing has today.
Surfing had gone from
an elite and scared island activity to a multi-billion
dollar industry showing not signs of slowing down.
San Diego State University Library
FROM POLYNESIA, WITH LOVE
The History of Surfing From Captain Cook to the Present
By Ben Marcus