The history of surfing is a treasure trove of vast experience, a series of trial and error that has led surfing to the way we see and love it today. In our article, you’ll learn where the history of surfing began, how it began, and which people have contributed so much to the development of our beloved sport.


There are no records of the first surfers in the world, but it just so happens that the history of surfing began in the Pacific Ocean region. Some Peruvians claim that their first settlers were pioneers in conquering the ocean waves when they returned from fishing expeditions some 4,000 years ago.

The theory of Polynesian origins holds that their migration began on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, spread to Fiji, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, and finally reached Hawaii. There is no doubt that surfing was born during this exploration of the islands of the Pacific.

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The fact remains that Hawaii is the center of the surfing world and the place where the history of surfing began. Hawaiians learned to ride the waves on wooden boards about 1,000 years ago. Surfing was practiced by royalty and their subjects as well. Hawaiian Kings showed their art in surfing to strengthen their position on the throne. They used huge Olo surfboards, 18 to 25 feet (6 to 8 meters) long, while the commoners were only allowed to surf on shorter surfboards called Alaia.


The history of surfing in Europe did not begin until 1779, when Lieutenant James King, who participated in the last expedition of Captain James Cook, published excerpts from his diary with notes on how Hawaiians live on the ocean and enjoy the beach lifestyle.

As time passed, Europeans began to use Hawaii as a staging post for trade expeditions. In 1821, Calvinist missionaries arrived from Britain to spread their religion to the natives. They considered the Hawaiian way of life frivolous and banned surfing, thereby virtually destroying the Hawaiian way of life. All of this led to traditional Hawaiian culture almost disappearing from the face of the earth. If not for a handful of Native Hawaiians and a few curious tourists like Mark Twain, who described “swimming in the waves” in 1872 in his book, The Lightweight, the history of surfing might have ended then.


The resurgence of surfing culture began thanks to two individuals, George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku. George Freeth was a member of the Waikiki beach boys, whose members practiced surfing, then very rare. In 1907 Freeth met American writer Jack London in Honolulu. London became interested in surfing and wrote a magazine article that brought Frith fame in the Americas. George Frith moved to California, where he demonstrated his ability to ride the waves at Venice Beach, and later at Redondo Beach, where he was nicknamed “the man who can walk on water.” George Frith was indeed the first to bring surfing to the mainland United States, but his influence does not compare to what Duke Kahanamoku did–he introduced surfing to the world.

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Duke, like George Frith, was a member of the Waikiki beach boys. In 1905 he broke various world swimming records, and from 1912 represented the American swim team in the Olympics, during which he earned many gold medals. Kahanamoku traveled extensively around the world and introduced surfing to Australia and New Zealand as well as the east coast of the United States. In 1917, Duke rode the legendary big wave over the reef near the Waikiki coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, using a 50-pound, 16-foot-long mahogany board, riding for more than a mile and a half! One of Duke’s companions was California surf pioneer Tom Blake. He became the first surfer to ride the waves of Malibu in 1926. Blake also organized the first surfing competitions on the U.S. Pacific coast, which he won by riding a board he made himself.


The Hawaiians rode boards made from a single piece of different types of wood: pine, mahogany, or balsa wood. These surfboards were very heavy, had no fins, and were virtually unmanageable in big waves, though that wasn’t particularly necessary, since in those days everyone rode the waves in a straight line. In the ’30s of the 20th century, Tom Blake helped develop a hollow board called the “Cigar Box”. The board was a hollow construction of balsa wood, dowels, dowels, waterproof glue, and varnish. This type of board was lighter, more buoyant, but was just as unmanageable as its predecessors. Plus, all early surfboards tended to slide off waves over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high.

In 1937, a local Hawaiian teenager redesigned the board, coming up with a V-shaped bottom in the tail area so that the surfboard would stick better to the wave wall. This redesign led to surfers learning how to make sharper turns. After World War II, Bob Simmons, Dale Velzy, and Joe Quigg were at the forefront of a new trend in surf design in California. These shapers were already making boards with large fins and fiberglass coatings.


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It is quite possible that surfing would not have become so popular in the mid-twentieth century had it not been for the first surfers who conquered the waves of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. These men exemplified the “surfing” lifestyle, and it was with them that the history of surfing began, approaching modern-day surfing. Adventures, surf trips, and non-conformism were constant elements of their lives. This image of the surfer remains almost unshaken to this day. The first surfers earned the title of legends of the sport by pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be impossible.


In the early 20th century, the main surfing territory was the southern part of the island of Oahu around Waikiki. As boards evolved, surfers like John Kelly, Wally Froiseth, and Fran Heath began looking for more interesting waves. In 1937, they left Honolulu and set up camp in the Makaha Valley. When they woke up the next morning, they saw huge waves crashing on the reef. For the record, the Makaha spot starts when the svelte is larger than 10 feet (3 meters), with waves 20 feet (about 6 meters) high only a few times a year.

Surfing history was cut short by World War II as most of the surfers were involved in the war effort, but by the mid-1940s surfers had returned to Makaha, including a new face, George Downing. Downing began to study the spot and its waves with almost the enthusiasm of a scientist. When a svelte came in, he made notes on the period between waves, the number of waves in a set, the pause between sets, how the svelte rose and fell over a certain time. And when there was no svelte, he snorkeled, exploring the bottom. In 1950, on a trip to California, Downing made a new 10-foot board with a large fin specifically for big waves. This board allowed the start of conquering really big waves in Mackay.

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In 1953, a local photographer filmed Downing, Brown, and Buzzy Trent on 15-foot waves. It became a real sensation on the U.S. mainland after the pictures appeared in newspapers, Life, National Geographic, and other publications. Until that moment, no one had ever seen a wave of this size conquered. This event led to the first big wave surfers. Then a group of Hawaiian and California surfers set up camp in Makaha, building huts and frame houses. The number of big wave surfers grew, but Downing remained the best. Wave conquerors spent their time in the Makaha Valley surfing and fishing. But there was a problem – this spot rarely worked, so the surfers had to explore other areas. Thus began the exploration of the northern coast of the island.


The first surfers of the modern world to surf the north shore of Oahu at Sunset beach became known in 1943. In December of that year, two surfers, Woodie Brown and Dickie Cross came out to Sunset beach during a growing snowstorm and found they couldn’t get back onshore because of the huge foam and fast currents which the sudden stronger snow created. They decided to swim three miles to Waimea bay, thinking the conditions would be easier there. But Cross got on the inside and disappeared forever into the abyss after the giant set came in. Brown, after a nasty beating, still managed to make it ashore. This story adds to the list of horrific incidents that have occurred on the coast, which was already riddled with a climate of fear.

On November 7, 1957, Greg Noll and Mike Stange were standing on the shore of Waimea Bay watching the 12- to 15-foot waves. After a while, Noll said: “Fuck it, I’m paddling out.” Noll and Stange were immediately followed by Fred Van Dyke, Mickey Munoz, and Pat Curren. Noll caught the first wave that day, and his name forever went down in history as the name of the first person to ride in Waimea Bay. From that day forward, North Shore became the epicenter of surfing, and Waimea became its spiritual home.


Until then, surfing was still part of the underground and there were very few surfers. That changed when the book Gidget hit bookstore shelves in the late ’50s and the movie of the same name hit movie theaters, and from there the history of surfing took a different direction. “Gidget, The Little Girl With Big Ideas”) was a novel written by Frederick Kohner in 1957? He drew inspiration from looking at his daughter Cathy, who was surfing and represented the vibrant Malibu surf culture of the time. Columbia Pictures purchased the film rights to the book and shot the film in 1959 near Santa Monica. Both the book and the film blew up the public. Movie theaters were filled. The impact of the movie and the book cannot be underestimated, as it was Gidget who brought surfing out of the underground, turning it into a popular pastime among thousands of young people who lived near the ocean coast. It is estimated that the number of surfers in California alone has grown from 5,000 in 1956 to more than 100,000 in 1962.

The emergence of the surfing trend in music was also a catalyst for the popularization of surfing. The first compositions in this style appeared in surf movies, but soon some teams devoted all their time to this direction in music. The most notable examples are the Beach Boys, Jand and Dean, Dick Dale, and Del-Tones.

The explosion in the popularity of surfing turned it into a subculture and also provided a great opportunity to develop the commercial side of the sport. Thus a new direction in business emerged: the surf industry. John Severson’s “The Surfer” magazine first hit magazine racks in 1960, board shapers began experimenting with new materials and shakes, drawing knowledge from ship hull technology. By the late ’60s, boards were getting shorter, evolving from big long timbers to 6-foot surfboards designed specifically for speed and maneuverability.

The shorter and lighter boards spawned a new, more aggressive style of riding that has its roots in Australia. By the ’70s brands like Billabong, Quiksilver and O’Neill had emerged and were gaining momentum very quickly. There is no doubt that Jack O’Neill played a big role in the development of surfing when he invented the wetsuit. With the advent of wetsuits, surfers were able to do what they love in cold waters.


By the mid-’70s, events were taking place in Australia, Brazil, the USA, and South Africa. These unrelated competitions were grouped by IPS in 1976 in what can be called the birth stage of ASP (The Association of Surfing Professionals). In the first year of the tour, Australian Peter Townend became the first world surfing champion. Shaun Tomson of South Africa, Wayne Bartholomew of Australia, and four-time champion, the legendary Mark Richards of Australia all won titles in the following years. Thanks to these riders, surfing history moved into a new era: by 1984, the tour had expanded to 20 international events.


By the time the number of contests had grown to 60 a year, the ISP was reorganized into the ASP, which in turn introduced a two-round athlete rating system in 1992. In this system, there was a ranking with 44 of the best surfers in the world who made it into the event without qualifying. To identify new stars, the World Qualifying Series (WQS) was introduced, with 16 contenders competing to make it into the top 44.

Over time, the tour changed slightly. Until then, its stages were held in major cities in mid-summer, mainly to gather a large number of spectators. But at this time of year, conditions at the surf spots left a lot to be desired. As a result, the fast-growing surf industry, some of whose brands sponsored stages of the tour, insisted that competitions be held at the best surf spots on the planet. Global brands began organizing their events in more exotic locations such as G-Land in Indonesia, J-Bay in Africa, Mundaka in Spain, Tavarua in the Fiji Islands, Teahupoo in Tahiti, and Trestles in California. The times of the biggest swells and the highest quality waves were chosen for the events. In addition, a waiting period was introduced. In this way, the world’s best surfers began to compete on the world’s best waves.

In 1999, ASP appointed Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew) to the post of President of the Association, in which he remained for 10 years. During that time, Rabbit changed the tour in a big way – he redesigned the judging system, which at the time was based on the number of waves caught and maneuvers performed, as well as moving competitions from “so-so” beaches to surf spots with the best waves. In addition to the above, he has live-streamed competition videos, allowing a worldwide audience to watch the competition from virtually anywhere in the world.

Today, a new history of surfing is being made by the WSL (pre-2015 ASP). It has produced such global stars as Kelly Slater, John John Florence, and Mick Fanning while leading companies in the surf industry have blossomed into multi-million dollar megabrands.

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