Surfing Through the Ages
Whether you ride a short board, long board, paddle board or boogie board, every wave-hungry sport had its start in traditional Polynesian surfing. California State Beaches offer some of the most-craved waves on the West Coast, but for a look at surfing through the ages, turn even more westward to the Polynesian peoples who made Hawaii home.
Starting in the fourth century A.D., Polynesians began migrating to the Hawaiian Islands from the area around Tahiti. The settlers brought the traditional Polynesian pastime of paipo, or belly boarding. Paipo eventually evolved into stand-up surfing on wooden boards up to 24 feet long.
Hawaiian surfing was deeply steeped in local culture and religion. Special chants and ceremonies were invoked for surfing, board making, and summoning the perfect wave. Social classes surfed on different beaches, and people gained status by feats of prowess on the ocean. Kahunas, or experts, were revered.
However, with the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778 and the opening of the Pacific, Hawaiian surfing entered a period of decline. At the start of the 20th century, however, non-native Hawaiians and visitors to the islands began to take an interest in the sport.
Surfing supporters like Jack London, George Freeth, Duke Kahanamoku, and Doc Ball each helped popularize surfing. London wrote an important article “A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki” in 1907. In 1910, Huntington Beach city founder Henry Huntington hired Hawaiian surfer George Freeth to demonstrate the ancient art. The sport grew in popularity after the “father of surfing,” Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku, surfed at Huntington Beach Pier in 1925. John Heath “Doc” Ball further demonstrated his board skills through the ‘40s and ’50s.
The first West Coast Surfing Championship was held at Huntington Beach in 1959, earning Huntington Beach the moniker “Surf City.” Surfing became widespread in the early 1960s, hyped by “surf musicians” such as guitarist Dick Dale and singers The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.
From then on, surfing’s popularity was cresting. New advancements in board technology banished heavy redwood boards and embraced balsa wood, fiberglass and polyurethane in turn. Popular movies like The Endless Summer, the Beach Blanket series and Gidget brought the crash of the surf to the masses, and competitions and organized surfing contests sprang up from Waikiki to San Onofre.
California State Parks, looking to save coastal land and preserve the ocean, turned some of the most famous waves in the state into state beaches, including the legendary Malibu Surfrider Beach, Doheny, Trestles at San Onofre and popular San Elijo State Beach. Surfing has firmly established itself in California culture, and thanks to California State Parks, catching the perfect Cali wave will be possible for years to come.