When The Royal Sport Of Surfing Came To America

Culture |

Arguably the most iconic surfing picture ever. Greg Noll, Waimea Bay 1957

Surfing is hailed as one of the oldest sports known to man. Riding the wave has evolved into an art, and those who participate in the sport appreciate both the athletic and natural aspects of the sport. Surfing requires being able to wrap one's mind around the power of mother nature, and has led to a culture and lifestyle associated with the sport.

Surfing began in Western Polynesian over three thousand years ago when people would ride waves on large boards made out of straight wood. It is believed that the first people to experience the sport of surfing were lazy fisherman who found that they could ride waves in as a faster means of bringing their catch of the day to shore. Having others see this quicker means of transportation led others to give it a try, which ultimately developed into a relaxing past time. Once surfing became associated with relaxation rather than work, surfing was revolutionized.

There are no exact records of when stand-up surfing turned into a sport, but 15th century royalty were known for enjoying "he'enalu," or wave-sliding. The earliest records of surfing date back to the 1700s when the Europeans first came to know Tahiti. Captain James Cook wrote about how Tahitian natives would seemingly be out in the surf merely for fun, a confusing concept of the times. The first Polynesians to settle in Hawaii likely had basic surfing skills, but only the high class were skilled in the sport. The upper class was able to develop their skills as others who attempted to catch their waves would be punished. During these times surfboards underwent a sacred ritual prior to production whereby the board maker would make an offering of fish to the gods before shaping the board. 

At some point in time for unknown reasons, surfing began to die down.  However, the start of the 20th century involved a surfing revival by Hawaiians living near Waikiki.  Surfing evolved mainly in Hawaii, Australia, and California. 

Surfing began to hit the mainstream by 1959 partly due to the release of the film Gidget, which increased the sport's popularity and transitioned surfing from an underground culture to more of a fad.  The Beach Boys further popularized surfing by including their own definition of surfing with their album in the 1960s.  By the 1980s surfing had really hit the mainstream through portrayals of surfers such as Jeff Spicoli from the ever-popular Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Once the fad phase of surfing during the 1960s had died down, surfing involved shorter boards and professional athletes, which led to contests starting in the 1970s. Even though surfing has hit the mainstream, it continues to be a one of the more quiet sports.  Many surfers pride themselves on surfing waves in remote locations that others are either unable to experience or do not even know about.  Due to the increased amount of surfers in the water, certain waves or areas are widely known for being an area where non-locals are not allowed.  

 

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