A Brief History of Surfing
It is unknown when exactly the sport of surfing began in the islands of Hawai’i. It is known that by 1778, the year Captain Cook and his crews became the first Europeans to see Hawai’i, that surfing was a sport well entrenched within Hawaiian culture and had been around for centuries at the least.
Why or when the Hawaiians began to surf must remain a mystery, however. In the 19th century, as the islands of Hawaii began to be overrun by Protestant missionaries from the United States, surfing along with the rest of Hawaiian culture began to go by the wayside.
At the turn of the 20th century, surfing had become an almost dead sport, and it seemed as if it would soon die completely, forgotten even by the few who still held onto the tradition by the first years of the 1900’s.
In 1907 Jack London, famous journalist and author of such novels as The Call of the Wild and White Fang came to Hawaii and stayed in Waikiki. London fell in love with surfing upon first site and began to work to build its popularity worldwide.
Along with the help of two other surfers, George Freeth and Alexander Hume-Ford, began to take surfing to the United States, beginning with California. By giving demonstrations of the sport and writing of its virtues, it was sought to make surfing into a true international sport.
Even more important than these individuals was native Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, surfer, swimmer and actor. A swimmer in the 1912 Olympics, Duke became famous as one of the fastest swimmers alive, as well as starring in many movies. He used this fame to promote the sport of surfing, and during his lifetime it became popular across the United States.
By the 1950’s surfing was a recognized sport. Who could imagine the beach party movies of the 50’s without the ever-present surfboard? Surfing has become one of the most recognizable ocean sports in the world, and is only growing in popularity.
Some Basic Surfer Terminology
1. Barrel: A wave that is hollow when breaking allowing the surfer to surf inside of the crest. Also known as a Tube.
2. Carve: Turning on the wave while on your board, the basic surfing move.
3. Cutback: Reverse in direction while riding wave
4. Drop In: Catching a wave that another rider is on. This is the biggest crime in surfing etiquette
5. Duckdive: Diving under a breaking wave while paddling out to keep from losing momentum
6. Goofy Foot: Riding board with right foot forward
7. Grommet: Young Surfer
8. Hang Ten: Famous surfer move when both feet are at nose of surfboard
9. Leash: Cord attached to surfer’s ankle and to the board so that the board is not lost if surfer wipes out
10. Line-up: Place just outside of breaking waves where surfers wait to catch wave
11. Locked in: When surfer is caught inside of breaking wave
12. Nose: The front end of the surfboard
13. Paddle out: Swimming on your board out to where the waves are breaking
14. Rail: The sides of the surfboard
15. Rip: A strong current leading out to sea. Can be very dangerous for surfers.
16. Sick: Used to describe an impressive trick by another surfer
17. Tail: Back end of the surfboard
18. Wipe-out: Falling off of your board
This is hardly an exhaustive list, however it should get you started with some of the more basic terms used by surfers.
Choosing Your First Surfboard
While there are body surfers out there (people who ride the waves riding nothing whatsoever), for most people if you are interested in surfing you are going to need a surfboard of some type. (There are also body boards, but that is a different sport).
Surfboards are broken down into two basic types, which each then have their own different varieties. These two types are short boards and long boards. Short boards are generally between 5 and 10 feet long, and have a pointy nose. Long boards are at least 7 feet long, and will usually be 9 feet or longer.
When surfing first began, the only sort of board used was the long board. However, as surfing has developed over the past two centuries there have been many changes to surf boards, including the development of the short board.
For the beginning surfer, however, a long board is the way to go. Short boards, while far more maneuverable for an experienced surfer, will not provide enough stability for someone who is just starting out. The increased length, width and thickness of a long board will allow you to have room to maneuver on your board, and also make it easier for you to keep afloat and on the wave when you finally catch one.
Where to Surf
While surfing started on the beaches in Hawaii, it is now a sport that is practiced across the world. Basically any place that has a beach with waves can be surfed. Search out the nearest beach or beaches to you.
If you happen to be in Hawaii or another place with numerous beaches, then you will have a little bit more choice in where you surf. Examine the waves at the different beaches. The ideal wave for the beginner is one that breaks fairly large (but not too large!) And near the shore. You don’t want waves that are too choppy, however, but ones that break nicely and evenly and will be easy to catch.
If there are only one or two beaches near you, then you aren’t going to have too much choice in the matter of where you surf. Don’t worry, though, any wave can be ridden, it only takes a little bit of practice.
Paddling Out and Catching Your First Wave
In order to catch your first wave, the first thing you are going to have to do is paddle out into the ocean to where the waves are breaking. You do this by lying flat on your board on your stomach then using your arms to take you out into the water.
Once you are out in the water and waiting at the line-up you don’t have to lie flat on your board anymore, until you want to catch your wave. For your first time you might want to wait a little bit before trying to catch your first wave. Watch how the waves are breaking, and watch how the other surfers are getting onto the waves.
For a beginning surfer it is best, if possible, to find a beach where good surfing waves are breaking close enough to shore that you can stand up waiting for a wave, then just jump onto your board when the wave breaks. This will make it much easier for you to start catching waves and getting the hang of surfing. However, depending on the beaches near you this might not always be possible.
If there are no beaches near you with such close breaking waves, you will have to paddle to catch a wave, and paddle hard. From the ground you can get extra momentum by pushing off the sea floor, otherwise paddling is your option.
When you catch the wave, you want to be lying flat on your board. Right as the wave begins to break you will want to propel yourself forward so that you are matching pace with the breaking wave. As the wave breaks it should pull on your board and begin pushing you forward with the rest of the water. Once you have caught the wave you will want to lift yourself up.
First push up with your arms, then move into a crouching position. You don’t want to stand up all at once, because this will unbalance you and the board and cause you to wipe out. Once you have your balance at a crouch, you will be able to stand up all the way. And now you have done it! You are riding your first wave.