The History of Surfing

Surfing originated in Polynesian and was first described in 1769 when Captain James Cook arrived in Tahiti. In Hawaii, surfing was considered an art form as much as it was a sport and recreational activity. Temples were dedicated to surfing and Hawaiians would call upon their Priests to pray for good waves.

Everybody surfed in Hawaii including women and children, but the best waves and beaches were open only to the ruling class. When missionaries arrived in the 1820s they sought to transform Hawaiian culture including getting rid of surfing where nearly naked men and women mingled freely instead of working. Surfing went into decline until the early 20th century when it was revived by Alexander Hume Ford and Jack London. Ford was living in Waikiki trying to promote Hawaii as a tourist destination and realized that surfing could become a selling point. When Jack London arrived in Waikiki he was already a famous author. Ford introduced the sport to London and he immediately fell in love. In 1907 London wrote “A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki” which was published in several magazines and garnered much attention. In 1908 Ford petitioned the trustees of the Queen Emma Estate to set aside a parcel of land next to the Moana Hotel in Waikiki for a surfing and canoeing club. In Ford’s fund-raising manifesto he described a club that would “give an added and permanent attraction to Hawaii and make Waikiki always the Home of the Surfer, with perhaps an annual Surfboard and Outrigger Canoe Carnival which will do much to spread abroad the attractions of Hawaii, the only islands in the world where men and boys ride upright upon the crests of waves.” Ford’s petition worked and the trustees of Queen Emma’s Estate founded the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club, the first modern club dedicated to the perpetuation of wave-riding.

A few years later Hawaii’s most famous waterman and Olympic swimming champion, Duke Kahanamoku, spread the sport abroad by giving demonstrations as he traveled the globe. Kahanamoku is widely credited with surfing the longest wave in history, a wave near Waikiki that carried him for more than a mile.

There are many great surf breaks in Hawaii. Our Hawaii iPhone app’s point these out as you drive around the island.