The Caballito de Totora is thought to be the first surfboard – built by the Ancient Peruvians before the times of the Inca. There are also reports of sightings of surfing by the natives of Tonga and Samoa in the 1800s. However, most is known about the early origins of the craft in Hawaii. Surfing in Polynesia was first recorded by a crewmember of HMS Endeavour on James Cook’s first voyage back in 1779.
The Hawaiian for surfing is “he’enalu”. It is a core aspect of the Polynesian culture – not merely a pastime or adrenalin sport. The best surfer is the Chief (Kahuna), and he would have the most superior surfboard made from the best tree. Socially, it was divisive. The upper classes would have access to the best beaches and the best materials, whilst the lower classes would have to use other beaches and heavier wood. The only way to break the divide would be for someone from the lower classes to prove themselves with excellent surfing skills on their more cumbersome surfboards.
Surfing for the Ancient Hawaiians was a spiritual event. They prayed to the Gods to help them master the great oceans. If the tide was tame, the Hawaiian people would enlist the help of the local priest (kahuna) to help them pray to the Gods for great surf. The priest would help the surfers by leading them in a spiritual building of their surfboards. After selecting the tree for their boards, the surfers would dig out the tree and place fish in the holes as an offering to the Gods. Once this offering was in place, local craftsmen would them shape and prepare the boards. This service was usually only offered to the upper classes.
Waikiki Beach and Kahalu’u Bay are still popular with today’s surfers. Although we associate surfing with tropical settings of Hawaii, it is also a sport which springs to mind when we think of Australia. It was the Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku who introduced the art of surfing to the people of Sydney in 1915. Surfing is now second nature to most Australians living near the coast.
Modern day surfing has it’s own culture and is stereotypically enjoyed by Bermuda short wearing dudes with sun-bleached hair and shark-tooth necklaces. Other images conjured up by the term ‘surfboarding’ are bikinis, wetsuits, beach campfires, BBQs and shell jewellery. It is, however, enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities as a fitness activity, social pastime or competitively as a career. You don’t even need to travel to far flung beaches to experience the high-adrenalin thrill of surfing though, as Scotland and Cornwall have a history of very good surf conditions. Newquay has a host of fine beaches with fantastic surfing conditions – perhaps the best known being Fistral Beach.