The history of surfing dates back to 1779. In 1778, Captain James Cook made his third expedition over the Pacific Ocean. When he reached Hawaii, it became the first record of any European visiting the island. Unfortunately, Cook was killed. He devised a plan to retrieve a stolen boat that didn’t go as planned.
After Cook’s death, James King was made first Lieutenant and put in charge of recording the trip in Cook’s journals. Before returning to England, King described the first known origins of surfboard riding that was being practiced at Kealakekua Bay by the locals who lived there.
He wrote a full two pages in the journal describing what he saw becoming the first European to make a written description of surfing in Hawaii. Here is a portion of what he wrote, “The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs closed on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, then wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top. It sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity.”
Hawaiian Society And Surfing
Before Cook arrived at Hawaii, the natives did not have a written language. A code of taboos was used to rule. This included where people were allowed to surf. There were certain designated beaches and reefs for Chiefs and specific beaches and reefs where surfing was allowed for the commoners.
The commoners would ride both prone and standing up. Their boards for about 12 feet long. In contrast, the Chiefs surfed on boards that were much longer — about 24 feet.
The Polynesians migrated to Hawaii around the fourth century A.D. These were exceptional watermen who brought a vast amount of knowledge and deep love of the ocean along with them. The Polynesians also brought many customs. One of which was playing in the ocean’s surf on belly boards. Eventually, these individuals started to stand in an upright position when they were surfing.
Anthropologists can’t confirm 100 percent that surfing upright on longboards was invented in Hawaii. However, if it wasn’t invented there, it was certainly perfected by the individuals who used it as a recreational way to enjoy nature, the surf and the ocean.