History of Surfing
"I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea," wrote Captain Cook upon his first encounter with surfing in Hawaii in 1777. It is thought that for at least two hundred years before this the Polynesian people had developed surfing from a method of returning to shore with the day's catch to a recreational activity with a hierarchy of surfboards and wave-riding styles linked to an individual's status.
The Hawaiian Islands soon became settled by traders and missionaries following in Cook's footsteps and this resulted in a decline in surfing as the population of native Hawaiians dropped through disease and interbreeding. The influence of the missionaries whose strict, religious principles saw surfing as a negative diversion from leading a pious, austere life also led to a drop in participation.
The popularity and expansion of surfing throughout the world only began at the beginning of the 20th Century when the Olympic gold winning Hawaiian swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku travelled throughout California and Australia giving demonstrations of surfing that wowed crowds and became newsworthy events.
Over the next few decades, surfing slowly grew but was hampered by a lack of knowledge over how to source or build the necessary equipment. Over this time there were two figures that had a great influence over the path of surfing. The first was Hawaiian resident Tom Blake, who was the first to add a fin onto surfboards in the 1930's hence massively improving control and manoeuvrability. The second was Bob Simmons, a Californian surfer whose design background and technical genius resulted in the first surfboards to incorporate fibre-glass and styrofoam into the construction process significantly reducing the weight of the original wooden boards. The effect of this 1950's innovation in changing the face of surfing is summed up by the writer Bev Morgan who witnessed the revolution first-hand: "The greatest single contribution to the evolution of the modern surfboard was the introduction of the light board by Bob Simmons"
In the UK, surfing was very much a rarely seen activity although there were pockets of surfers attempting to overcome the challenges of being so far away from the surfing epicentres of California, Hawaii and Australia. It was in the '60's that lifeguards started to appear on Cornish beaches to protect the increasing numbers of beach users. As Australia had a longer history of surf lifesaving some of the original lifeguards travelled from the southern hemisphere winter to work summers on the beaches of the Southwest. Of course, instinctively they brought with them their surfboards, their wave-riding skills and beach lifestyle.
From these beginnings, a combination of advanced wetsuit technology, better roads, more car ownership, greater interest in 'alternative' sports and media interest has seen surfing flourish into today's year-round sport with hundreds of thousands of passionate devotees around the whole coastline of the British Isles.
Since Cook's early sighting, many aspects of surfing have changed but the essence and feeling of riding a wave is exactly as experienced by those ancient Hawaiian kings.
For an in-depth feature on surfing history check: http://www.surfingforlife.com/history.html