Surfing - A History

It's quite obvious that we love surfing down here at Anchor Chief. Nothing like hitting a sunrise sesh, watching some gnarly comps go down or even just to sit on the dunes and get some shots of the surf. But, how did we get here? Surfing as it is today is vastly different from when it originated. Let's take a look at where surfing came from and how the culture surrounding it has evolved into the current high-octane competition-fuelled sport that we see take place today. 

Surfing - The Origins

The first recorded instance of surfing dates back to 1778, when Captain James Cook observed a Tahitian man surfing down the waves on one of his early expeditions through the Polynesian Islands. Although this may be the first evidence of surfing, the practice had more than likely been in place in Polynesia long before that. We know that in ancient Hawaiian culture surfing was not just an activity for leisure. It was a ritual performed to 'tame the ocean' and had religious and mystical beliefs tied into the practice. It was an integral part of their culture, with their boards symbolising status within the community, and the skill of the surfer denoting hierarchy. 

As surfboards were created then, they were huge, solid chunks of wood, spanning from 3-6m in length and weighing anywhere from 50-90kg. The Chief of the tribe would always be the best wave rider, and would be rewarded with the highest quality board made from the best tree. Surfing continued to be at the centre of these cultures until European settlers invaded and disapproved of the practice, deeming it 'lazy' and 'unproductive'. Through the 19th century the practice of surfing diminished, until the early 1900's, when Hawaiian born Duke Kahanamoku came along. 

The Resurgence

The definitive beginning of what Surfing is today can be traced back to one man. The Duke. Growing up riding a traditional 16'(4.8m!) Hawaiian surfboard, he was an extremely skilled surfer and swimmer, who won 3 olympic golds for swimming between 1912 - 1920. After his Olympic career he decided to travel the world to give swimming exhibitions, in which he also gave demonstrations of surfing. This would be the spark to the fire that popularised surfing over the entire world. On Christmas Eve 1914, at Sydney's Freshwater Beach, Duke gave a surfing demonstration that would be regarded as the major event that created a surfing culture in Australia. After Duke had done his international tours and demonstrations, surfing would take hold in many continents, thus reviving the art of surfing, allowing it to flourish into what it is today. 

The Evolution of the Modern Surfboard

Surfboards themselves have gone through huge changes over the last century to become what we know today as a normal surfboard. The first massive change happened in the early 1900's when George Freeth, decided to cut his surfboard in half, to be able to manoeuvre the board more easily and gain more control while riding waves. This first step started years of innovation on surfboard design, with the next major change being the hollow surfboard.

Created by Tom Blake in 1926, the board was much lighter and way easier to control in the water, yet it still wasn't perfect. The next big changes happened when boards were carved down at the edges and pointed at the ends, making a 'V' shape at the nose and tail, which allowed for surfers to be able to turn and ride into barrels rather than just straight plowing down waves. These boards were known as "hot curls" as you could ride through the 'curl' of a wave.

From here boards rapidly began improving, with the addition of the keel fin, which was also invented by Tom Blake. While these fins were nothing like what we see today, and more of a little block of wood underneath the board they improved stability and control, and of course seeded the idea for the single fin board which was created in the 1960s. From there twin fins, thrusters and quads were added to the boards, as well as the major changes in material, from hardwood to balsa core to foam core and then on to pretty much any usable material that boards are made from these days, which can include recycled plastic (shoutout Spooked Kooks) and Mycelium (mushroom spores!).

The Culture 

The origination of surf culture can be traced back to So Cal in the 60's. Before then, surfing was becoming more and more popular, yet it didn't have a particular identity yet. This changed dramatically when during the hippie movement of the 60's surfing became more than just an activity and more of a lifestyle. The growth of surf culture came from the ideals of an 'endless summer' and rejecting modern capitalism to embrace a spiritual existence. Essentially, escaping from the engrained study, work, pay bills, repeat cycle of life that was embodied by white collar workers during that era, surfing culture grew away from the mainstream and embraced the styles, sounds and lingo that is still at the heart of surf culture today.

As with any culture that started out away from the mainstream, (look at skating, grunge music, punk culture etc) surfing evolved over the years into being more and more mainstream the more popular it got. Spawning music genres based around it (surf-rock, surf-punk etc), clothing brands adopting "surf styles" and eventually moving into the limelight with sporting competitions, surf films, pro-surfer sponsorships and entire surfing brands being born, the culture has grown into one of the biggest sporting industries worldwide, generating billions of dollars each year. This year would have been the first year for surfing to feature in the Olympic games in Tokyo (thanks Corona), marking a massive milestone in the sport. 

Next time you're heading out for a surf, watching the Ripcurl Pro, listening to Skegss on the radio or even throw up a shakas, you'll know just how many hundreds of years that surfing has been around, and how it has developed from an ancient part of polynesian culture, into the worldwide surf culture we have today. We'll also leave you with this psycho clip from Rage Team. 

Peace out ✌️ 🤙