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History of Surfing

Old School Surfers


Ancient and Modern legends


The History of Surfing dates back hundreds of years. No one knows for sure who exactly invented surfing but somewhere in the Polynesian islands seems to be the consistent hypothesis.

History of the Surfboard: They surfed on 12 -24 foot surfboards carved out of a single piece of wood.

Women surfed just as much as men did and where you surfed depended on your status as a chief or commoner.

Since the pacific island cultures had no written language until the haole (white man) arrived the first known written description of surfing was in 1779 by Lieutenant James King, and officer in the Captain Cook Expedition to the Hawaiian Islands. He wrote:

"…The Men…lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan… it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity."

When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, surfing was deeply rooted in many centuries of Hawaiian legend and culture.

In 1866 Mark Twain traveled to the Hawaiian Islands and tried surfing, describing it in his book, Roughing It.

"I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it... The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me."

In 1907 Jack London visited Hawaii and described a man he surfed with, George Freeth:

George Freeth Surfer
"I saw him tearing in on the back of [a wave] standing upright with his board, carelessly poised, a young god bronzed with sunburn."

London's celebrity and power was such that in 1907, Freeth was invited to Southern California by railroad and real estate magnate Henry Huntington to put on a demonstration of wave riding.

Freeth accepted and earned the title of The First Man to Surf in California.

However an honor, that title wasn't exactly true.

In 1885, three Hawaiian princes from a military academy were visiting Santa Cruz, California and were reported to have ridden waves at the San Lorenzo Rivermouth on boards shaped from local redwood.

It’s not really known who was the first to ride a wave in the history of surfing California.

Throughout the 1920’s, the population of surfers grew very slowly.

Tom Blake Surfer
In 1928 Tom Blake, creator of the surfboard fin, organized the Pacific Coast Surfriding Championships in Corona Del Mar. The Tom Blake trophy was competed for from 1928 to 1941, when WWII cause the event to end.

Blake was the first photographer in the history of surfing to shoot surfing from the water.

Doc Ball became the first Californian to go about seriously documenting the surfing lifestyle as it existed before, during and after World War II.

After Tom Blake, he was the second surf photographer to photograph surfing from the water with a waterproof camera housing.

Modern Day writer Ben Marcus writes:

“Doc Ball's classic photo book, California Surfriders 1946 is a masterpiece of the time, showing sturdy men and women enjoying a nearly pristine California coast...It's enough to make a resident of the 21st century long for the good old days.”

In 1961, John Kelly founded the seminal surfer's environmental organization, Save Our Surf, which successfully organized to block over 35 major coastal developments which threatened the surf zones.

In 1953, in California newspapers appeared an Associated Press photo of Woody Brown and two other men riding a giant wave at Makaha. This created the first boom in the history of surfing.

Surfers Old Black and White
The Surfing Boom was beginning with surfing clubs popping up everywhere on the coast and the modern history of surfing began.

The great surfers of the era included Eddie Aikau and Buffalo Keaulana from Hawaii and from California, Fred van Dyke and Peter Cole.

Cole and Van Dyke became famous surfers, part of mainstream culture during the late '50s and early '60s.

Bud Browne, a southern Californian who pioneered the surf movie in the mid-'50s, became enamored with surfing and helped to turn it into a full-fledged industry in the 60’s.

Eve Fletcher
Unlike in ancient history of surfing, in the '50s and '60s surfing was primarily a male dominated sport. In spite of this, Eve Fletcher challenged the surf alongside the men.

Fletcher was a pretty, petite California girl who liked to hang out and surf at San Onofre near San Clemente, CA.


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