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The History of Surfing

The history of surfing began in the South Sea Islands many thousands of years ago and was brought to Hawaii by the first settlers from that area where it was a favorite pastime of the Hawaiian men.

19th Century history of surfing
During the 19th Century the sport of surfing dimmed but did not die! While the sport disappeared completely in Tahiti and New Zealand, it remained alive in Hawaii. Foreign contact had left very little of the old world that was recognizable. From 1895 to 1899 the Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani was an expert surfer. She rode a long alo board made of wili wili wood. She was the last of the old school, Waikiki. Niece of King Kalakaua and Queen LitimoKalani, and daughter of Governor Archibald Cleghorn and Princess Miriam Likelike, she left Hawaii to attend school in England. After she finished she traveled through Europe with her father. She was admired as a linguist, musician, artist, horsewoman, surfer and swimmer. She put on many surfboarding demonstrations for the Europeans and open their eyes to the "new" sport. As the history of surfing moves on we find the true revival of surfing came in the five year period between 1903 to 1908 as surfing was encouraged by many old timers. The most important of these was Duke Kahanamoku.
20th Century history of surfing
George Freeth was one of the young enthusiasts of surfing at that time.. Born in 1883, he taught himself at age sixteen to stand up instead of lying down. According to the story, he had been given the board by his uncle, a Hawaiian price. The board is now a treasure in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Freeth became an innovator when he experimented with shorter boards by cutting the older 16 foot surfboards in half.
The next step in the history of surfing began when George Freeth came to Redondo Beach, California for surfboarding demonstrations to promote the Redondo-Los Angeles railroad line. He remained in California to become the first lifeguard. At least 78 people owed their lives to his abilities.

There were others in those early years both Hawaiian and Caucasians who were so enthusiastic about surfboarding that they formed actual clubs. Surfing grew in popularity as the ancient art of the board was brought back by using different woods and shapes. Freeth and Duke who rescued people from capsized yacht using a surfboard were two of the early shapers.

Another of the early shapers was Tom Blake who was influenced by the ancient boards he had seen at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The original boards were 16 feet long, two feet wide, 4 inches thick and weighed one hundred and fifty pounds! Tom was responsible for bringing that size down to fifteen feet long, nineteen inches wide and four inches thick which reduced the weight by 60 pounds. Then he began making even lighter, hollow boards that looked like a cigar and by the 20's he had the weight down to 60 pounds!

Even though Blake won the first Pacific Coast Surfboard Championships on his new surfboard design before some 10,000 people, and enhanced his reputation as a surfer there was still controversy about racing the hollow board against the

solid board. The "Blake Cigar" was setting new records but the purists wanted the contests to be limited to solid boards only. Eventually it was decided there would be no limit on paddleboard design for the contests.

A year after that discussion surfboard builders were experimenting with different Kinds of materials, shapes and sizes. Imaginations ran wild. In 1930 Blake received the first ever patent for his Hawaiian Hollow Surfboard. Blake again made a design innovation by adding a small fin on the bottom rear end of the board. This allowed for more lateral stability in the turns.

The better maneuverability gave surfers the ability to create and enjoy exciting rides both for themselves and the spectators.

Duke Kahanamoku, a good friend of Blakes, was the one who took surfboard riding to Australia. He was active in many demonstrations and racing contests. His activities were key to making surfing and international sport.

And still another step in the history of surfing... Pete Peterson, on a trip to Hawaii found a board that only weighed 30 - 40 pounds. This was the beginning of the balsa surfboards and in 1937 the first commercial surfboards were produced. Whity Harrison was hired to shape the boards. He used balsa and redwood laminated with the "new" waterproof glue that was developed during WW1.

WW2 put a damper on surfboarding in both California and Hawaii as the beaches had anti-aircraft installations behind barbed wire fences. There were only a few surfers left behind who continued to work on developing better surfboards. But WW2 technology brought about resin, styrofoam and fiberglass. So after the war Brant oldsworthy, owner of a plastics company in LA gave the materials to Pete Peterson to make the first fiberglass surfboard.

Enthusiasm for surfboarding bloomed all along the Southern California coast. Commercial board manufacturing and post war prosperity made it possible for more and younger people to obtain surfboards. The fabulous fifties are now the beginning of the modern history of surfing.

21st Century history of surfing
The Space Age materials and even computers are responsible for the surfboards we now know and love. There are many many shapers that are still improving the performance and weight of the surfboard. Once you have determined your style of surfing, you can now find a surfboard to enhance your ability. Short boards, bodyboards, long boards, skim boards and more are available to choose from. You can use them for play, recreation, or even excelerate your abilities to the "extreme" and compete in contests for world championship prizes.

About the author:

Deb Andersen is the owner of http://www.water-sport-center.comwhich provides extensive information about Surfing, Water Skiing, Scuba, Kayaking and Kids Water Fun. Plus how to find your perfect water sport vacation.

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