What Are Your Thoughts on Surfing?

Post 864

Captain Cook invented surfing. Yeah, betcha didn’t know that did you? That’s probably because it’s not actually true, but who am I to stand in the way of a good fib? Captain James Cook, born in my hometown, incidentally, was once nobly foraging his way through the savage New World, when he stumbled upon Tahiti. My big brave boy then noticed something funny. Something he hadn’t seen before. A native not welcoming his attempts to wage war on them? No, that’s not it. No, he noticed a Tahitian surfing. A concept completely alien to the English. We see water, we see our valiant fleet of galleons plundering lands that clearly should be ours. We don’t think to don a bathing suit and have some fun in said ocean. You see, this is why we were so great in the olden days…

Captain Cook described the incident of surfing in great detail. He described seeing one Tahitian catching some waves with his outrigger canoe ‘just for fun.’ Indeed. “On walking one day about Matavai Point, where our tents were erected, I saw a man paddling in a small canoe so quickly and looking about him with such eagerness of each side. He then sat motionless and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach. Then he started out, emptied his canoe and went in search of another swell. I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and smoothly by the sea.” Ew. What was he doing on that canoe?

Surfing is one of the oldest pastimes still around, only predated by rolling a hoop down a hill and wife swapping. Throughout this post, how surfers view what they do may come across as a touch, erm, disturbingly sexual, and here is where that starts. ‘The art of wave riding is a blend of total athleticism and the comprehension of the beauty and power of nature.’ Bloody hippies.

Surfing, originally, was an endeavour all about the wooden board, and originated in Western Polynesia over three thousand years ago. Fishermen were the first to do it, realising it was the most efficient way to get to shore with their catch. You know, mackerel, haddock, mermaids, things like that. It became so common that it evolved from an activity at work, no different to using a forklift truck, to a pastime. Although I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had a bit of fun on the forklift when the boss was away, amaright? What? No? Oh, I was kidding, anyway. Ahem…

For those Polynesians, surfing was a vital way to establish social rank and political power. The man who surfed the best became the tribal chief, his prize a surfboard made from the finest tree in the village. The entire social structure, in fact, was established through surfing, with the best beaches and best boards reserved for the upper classes. Respected throughout the community were those with superior surfing skill, opening the door for commoners to elevate their social status by proving their skills on the shitty boards they were given. It’s a bit like being told to make love to a raccoon. Do well, and we’ll let you have a human…

The Mochica and Moche cultures were surfing 2,000 years ago, with the vessels the Mochica’s used known as ‘Caballitos de Tootora,’ or ‘straw seahorses.’ I mean, that’s just… that’s just completely wrong, isn’t it? Archaeologists have determined that they did this primitive form of surfing for fun, but I do wonder how they knew that. I mean, did they find a skeleton wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt and buried with his board? Hmm?

Surfing became a sport sometime during the 15th century, when kings, queens and people of Sandwich were heavily into ‘he’enalu’ or wave-sliding. Interestingly, ‘he’e’’ means ‘to change from a solid form to a liquid form’ and ‘nalu’ refers to the surfing motion of a wave. Aha, origin. Sandwich is a place, in case you’re wondering. No, they didn’t invent sandwiches.

Surfing was discouraged in Hawaii during the 1800s when European missionaries showed up and promptly subjugated all forms of native culture, including surfing. Surfing’s popularity dwindled rapidly and, by the 1900s, almost no natives were left who knew how to surf. In fact, the ancient craft of building surfboards almost went extinct, with only a small hardy bunch carrying on with the art of surfing…

In 1907, the wonderfully named George Freeth left Hawaii for California, to demonstrate surfboard riding as a publicity stunt to promote the opening of the LA Redondo-Huntington railroad, owned by Henry Huntington, who also had a beach named after him. It was at Henry Beach where Freeth surfed in front of literally a dozen or so impressed onlookers, demonstrating his gnarly skills. One woman is said to have fainted she was so damn impressed. That said, it was a hot day so, you know, there’s a small chance it could’ve been that…

Surfing really took off on the East Coast of America just off Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in 1909, when the wonderfully named Burke Haywood Bridgers and a colony of surfers made it their mission to surferise America. Do you call a group of surfers a colony? Ah, apparently it’s a pack. I’d prefer a pack of twats, but that’s just me…

North Carolina is so damn proud of this that they’ve placed a highway marker reading, ‘Pioneer East Coast Surfing.’ Well, they have nothing else to be proud of. By 1914, surfing was growing rapidly in popularity due, in no small part, to the exposure generated with exhibitions by the likes of Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian invited to tour eastern American states for an extensive series of swimming carnivals. Nope, me neither.

Surfing experienced a revival in Hawaii at the start of the 20th century, soon re-establishing surfing as a sport. Many link it to the real estate boom and the boosts to tourism, all helped on by the mighty Duke himself, who became ‘Ambassador of Aloha.’ Which sounds made up, to me. Can anyone do that? If so, I’d like to be Ambassador of Bacon.

So grateful to Duke was Hawaii that, in 2002, he got a stamp with his face on it. Thanks for everything, here’s a stamp. Surfing progressed tremendously in the 20th century, seeing innovations in the board designs and ever increasing public exposure. Mostly centred around Australia, California and, of course, Hawaii. All that being so, the first ever recorded footage of surfing comes from the UK, in 1929 by one Louis Rosenberg and a number of friends, after being inspired to do so after watching some Australian surfers. Of course, the British surfers have bigger balls than the Australians, do. Have you been in the North Sea? Good God…

In 1959, a film I’ve literally never heard of until now was released, based on the life of surfer Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, giving surfing the shot in the arm it was craving. It moved surfing from an underground sub-culture to a mainstream national fad. Soon, crowds were flocking to the seaside, or whatever the hell they call that in America, to watch surfers do their thang. B-movies about surfing were popping up everywhere, too. The surfing explosion was happening and it was happening hard.

In 1962, rocking dillweeds The Beach Boys released their debut album, Surfin’ Safari. On the sleeve, which is a term I’m so outraged young people won’t be familiar with I’m not even gonna bother describing it, was written this description of surfing:

‘For those not familiar with the latest craze to invade the sun-drenched Pacific coast of Southern California, here is a definition of surfing – a water sport in which the participant stands on a floating slab of wood, resembling an ironing board in both size and shape, and attempts to remain perpendicular while being hurtled toward the shore at a rather frightening rate of speed on the crest of a huge wave (especially recommended for teenagers and all others without the slightest regard for either life or limb).’

Surfing culture continued to evolve, often misrepresented in the media, changing decade on decade. From the highs of the ‘60s to the evolution of the short board in the late ‘60s, to the hotdogging of the ‘70s, to the neon-drenched ‘80s, and the epic professional surfing of the ‘90s, surfing has remained popular and everlasting, like the hopes and dreams of all those creamed out teenage Californian hippies who will, almost certainly, end up selling oversized cars to soccer moms…

Surfing is an oddity. A pleasant one, I admit. Since 1999, Plymouth University has had a Surf Science and Technology class, which yes, if I were a parent, would deeply disappoint me, too. A person who hangs around a beach pretending to be a surfer, but isn’t one, is known by the wonderful word, ‘hodad’. Agatha Christie loved to surf, too, all the way back in 1924. And, in 1959, surf detergent was introduced by Unilever. Yes, seriously. It became so popular that the word ‘surf’ is the word for detergent in Urdu. Again, seriously…

Surfing is a way of life, and, as much as I despite those jobless hippies who engage in it, it is pretty rad. I know I don’t know much about surfing, but there is something rather magical about it. It’s not for me, though, on the account I can’t swim, but certainly cool beans nonetheless…

What are your thoughts on surfing, readers?

Ciao :)(:


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