The History of Surfing


Surfing is a popular recreational activity and sport in which individuals are propelled across the water by the force of waves, whilst standing on, predominantly, GRP ("fiberglass") boards. Wooden and foam (see plastic) boards ("foamies") are also used.

Originally developed by Hawaiian islanders (see Ngaru), before the 15th century, "he'e nalu" (wave-sliding) spread in the early 20th century to the USA and Australia, where heavy timber "malibu" boards were ridden directly towards beaches. However, the sport exploded in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when cheaper, more maneuverable, and lighter boards made of fiberglass and foam became available and the teenaged baby boomers headed to the beach in droves to enjoy the maneuverability and stunts made possible by the new boards. The sport has spread to most places where waves of sufficient size and the right shape appear, including France, Brazil, South Africa, and many island states. Wetsuits are usually worn in to keep surfers warm in colder weather. Other surfing equipment includes board leashes, used to keep a surfer's board from washing to shore after a 'wipeout', wax and/or traction pads, used to keep a surfers feet from slipping of the deck of the board, interchangeable "skegs" and of course in warmer climates the surf trunk or board short.

Surfing has a unique and often powerful appeal, which probably derives from an unusual confluence of elements; adrenalin, skill, and high paced maneuvering are set against a naturally unpredictable backdrop—an organic environment that is, by turns, graceful and serene, violent and formidable. Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control the craft in challenging conditions, but by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as the 'cutback' (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the 'floater' (riding the very top of the wave), and, if the surf conditions allow it, "getting barrelled". This is the 'holy grail' of surfing, where the surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of them, forming a "barrel" (or "tube"), with the rider inside the cylindrical portion of the wave.

Competitive surfing is a comparison sport where riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency, of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world championship series held annually at surf beaches around the world. Though in recent years competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for professional competitors and sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of 'soul surfing', and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity.
A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularized in the 1990s has seen big-wave surfing revolutionized, as surfers use jetskis to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves. This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.