Historians are to this day still uncertain where surfing actually comes from, and throughout my research for this article I found that many websites have different information and theories. What they all can agree on though, is that Hawaii played a major role. While there are reasons to believe that surfing started in Peru up to five thousand years ago, several sources point to a European ship that witnessed surfers in Tahiti around 1769.
In pre-contact Polynesia, surfing was more than just a sport or a hobby, it was an integral part of their culture, a way of life and an art form, to the point that the most skilled surfer would be the chief of the tribe.
For the Hawaiians back then, the art of surfing was a spiritual process. First a priest would help the men to select the right tree, which they then had to dig out before putting a fish in the hole where the tree once stood as an offering to the gods. The board was then shaped out of that tree by a craftsman and prepared for the surfer.
This went on until the first contact with the western world was made and the Europeans forced a new way of life onto these tribes, by suppressing their culture and even surfing itself.
In the mid 1800’s Waikiki became more and more popular and Americans that could afford it, would visit this area and watch and learn from the locals. Wikipedia even tells me that Mark Twain had a couple of failed attempts to surf here back in 1866. But the sport really started gaining its modern popularity in the 1960s, surfboards were reinvented and redesigned and music from bands like the Beach Boys gained international attention. Not long after that surfing came to Europe where the wetsuit was invented.
Now, half a dozen decades later we can enjoy surfing all around the world and even witness it in the Olympic Games of 2021.