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Surf and surfboard history

Image by Wood, John George 1827-1889 in his book “The uncivilized races of men in all countries of the world; being a comprehensive account of their manners and customs, and of their physical, social, mental, moral and religious characteristics.”

Who, when, where

Have you ever wondered “where was surfing created?” or “when was surf invented?” , “who invented surfing?” or “who invented surfboards?”. We did some research about the history of surfing and surfboards. The outcome is absolutely fascinating!

The beginning of surf and surfboard

The most ancient form of surfing known to humans originates in Peru. Fishermen were surfing reed rafts to transport their nets and collect fish in their cavity. It is a 3000 years old practice, still used today on the coast of Peru. The original name in the Moche or Mochica culture was tūp. After horses were introduced to South America by the Spanish conquistadors, the practice got the name “caballitos de totora”. It means “little reed horses”.

The most spread idea about surfboards and surf history is that it begins in ancient Polynesia. How do we know that? Well, cave painting show people riding waves were found around the 12th century. European sailors wrote about surf in their sailing diaries. Captain James Cook, for example, wrote about surfing in Polynesia in his diary in 1778.

The Polynesians were great seafarers and that made spreading of the surfing practice possible. When it got Hawaii, surfing became part of the local religion. It was called he’enalu, which means “wave sliding.” Religious rituals accompanied surf board shaping as a way to ask gods to bless the surf board and the surfer. It seems there were strict rules on who and where someone could surf. However, everyone was surfing: men, women, children. That means surfing was inclusive since its origins. When Christian missionaries got to Hawaii surfing reduced significantly. Who knew surfing will come back and conquer the world?

One of the key figures in the spread of surfing around the world was Duke Kahanamoku. The Big Kahuna, or big K, was a Hawaiian surfer and swimmer. He won the 100-meter freestyle swimming contest at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. After that he became famous and traveled all over the world. Wherever he went he introduced surfing. Australia and California were two of those places and today are some of the most famous surf spots.

Ancient and modern surfboards

The ancient surf boards were made of wood and they were called “papa he’e nalu” in the Hawaiian language. They were similar in shape to modern boards but they were much longer, ranged from 10 feet (3m) to 20 feet (6m), they weigh around 35Kg/77lbs with extremes to 68 to 91kg (200lbs). Besides shape they didn’t have any of the modern surfboards extras like fins, leashes, pada track or anything like that. They were made to ride straight, that’s why more surfers could catch a wave at the same time.

Modern surfboard are made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam covered with layers of fiberglass cloth, and polyester or epoxy resin. That makes the board buoyant and at the same time light and strong and easy to maneuver. Latest surfboards technologies use carbon, Kevlar and biodegradable and ecofriendly resins in the composition.

In our days, the production is surfboards is massive, more than half a million boards are produced every year.