Surfing History Facts


Surfing History Facts

The surfing history timeline seems to first show up approximately two to five thousand years ago in the  Pre-Incan civilization also known as the Mochica or Moche culture. Enjoy these surfing history facts!

The sea craft they used were called “Caballitos de Totora”,  which means ‘Straw Sea Horses’. These crafts were  fishing vessels, but from a study of their historical images, it appears they were also used for recreational sport.

After all, the Chicama, the longest surf-able wave on the planet, was right in their backyard. Close to the city of Trujillo, Peru, the Chicama is still ridden by eager tourist surfers today.

huge wave small surfer


Surfing History Timeline – Hawaii

surfing history timeline Hawaii

Ancient Hawaii is considered their time period before the year 1810. The Kingdom of Hawaii was created in 1795 including all but the islands of Kauai and Niʻihau. In 1810 Hawaii as we know it today formed as a republic in 1893 and then became an American state in 1968.

Surfing in Hawaii was originally an art form and was entwined with religious rituals to either calm rough seas,  or to ask for protection while “wave sliding” in its mysterious and powerful forces.

The ancient Hawaiian surf boards ranged from nine to eighteen feet. The upper class, which included the priesthood,  had access to the best waves and excelled at the skill required to rule them.

They considered the best waves to be the easy rolling waves. The lower classes got the worst waves, the kind that modern surfers hope for.

Women surfed too!

All the Polynesians surfed, from Tahiti to what is now New Zealand.  Captain Cook’s seaman Joseph Banks recorded his observance of surfing in 1769.

The advent of Calvinist Christian missionaries suppressed surfing for a while because it demanded extreme modesty and behaviour from women. But not forever!


Surfing History California

surfing history california Santa Cruz

This was in the mid 1880’s. They created quite a commotion successfully surfing the waves into the mouth of the San Lorenzo river, a challenging spot for the swimmers who were in the water to witness this marvellous sport.

Following that, redwood was exported to Hawaii and became a favorite wood for surf boards on the islands.

Another big event in 1907 that brought a surfer from Hawaii, George Freeth, was the opening of the Los Angeles-Redondo-Huntington railroad. To promote the railroad, Freeth surfed not only near The Huntington Pier, but was hosted up and down the California coast to demonstrate surfing.

Freeth was also a lifeguard and made an incredible rescue of a Japanese boat that got in trouble when he was in Oceanside, CA. Using his surf board he rescued every man on board. He received a Congressional Medal for that selfless feat.

Surfing At Wrightsville Beach NC USA

surfing at Wrightsville Beach NC

Surfing was imported into the East Coast of the USA in 1909 when a group of surfers led by Burke Haywood Bridgers was invited to come over from California and introduce the sport.

And it never left. Currently Wrightsville Beach hosts the Special Needs Surf Camp and the annual women’s east coast surfing competition.


Surfing In Australia

Australia surfer 1914 Isabelle Latham

Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku (in the first tall image above) visited Australia giving surf board riding demonstrations and selected fifteen year old Isabel Latham (pictured immediately above) to ride with him on one occasion.

“She later recalled: “He paddled on to this green wave and, when I looked down, I was scared out of my wits. It was like looking over a cliff. After I’d screamed, ‘Oh, no, no!’ a couple of times, he said, ‘Oh, yes, yes!’ He took me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me on to my feet. Off we went, down the wave.” – Australian Geographic.

Isabel Latham later wanted to teach the Australian surfboard life-saving techniques in California but was barred from the Manly Surf Life Saving Club because she was not a man!

She inspired future female surfing champions, yet it is Duke Kahanamoku’s surf board on display in Sydney, Australia at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club.


Surf History Of South Africa

vintage poster surfing in South Africa


“Since 1965 South Africa has produced thirty World Champions and has won six team World titles.”  from the Surfing South Africa website, addressing the 50th Anniversary of the association. (Surfing South Africa went under boycott by international amateur and professional surfers during the years of apartheid.)

Surfing is traced as far back as 1910 in South Africa. Pilot Tony Bowman got bit by the surfing bug after reading Jack London’s description of riding the waves on Waikiki Beach in his novel the Cruise of the Snark.  Bowman settled in Muizenberg in 1921. He constructed his own conception of surf “boats” and corresponded with  the Honolulu Tourist Association to obtain photos of surfing. He was than able to copy the size  of the boards that Hawaiians were surfing on at that time.

Muizenberg became a popular resort for surfing and other water sports.

The Film “Endless Summer“, 1966 revealed the marvels of the waves around the South African coast at Cape St. Francis. For some incredible details about that film, read “The Secret History of The Endless Summer, the Most Influential Surf Movie Ever”  here.

Every sport has gone through the growing pains of gender and class issues. “Otelo Burning”  2012, depicts the personal and political struggle of a sixteen year old Zulu boy when his talent for surfing is discovered by an older (and white) man who introduces Otelo to the potentially glamorous life of stardom.

Best Surfing Movies Of All Time

surfing history California old beach wagon


Opinions will differ so I took this list from here.

The Endless Summer 1966

Riding Giants 2004

Surfwise 2007

North Of The Sun 2012

Five Summer Stories 1972

Soul Surfer 2011

Step Into Liquid 2006

Morning Of The Earth 1972

North Shore 1987

The September Sessions 1972

Surf’s Up 2007 (an animated mockumentary)

Big Wednesday 1978

Point Break 1991

Blue Crush 2002

Gidget 1959

Surf Cam Malibu

surf cam Malibu

You can take a look right now at the Malibu surf cam! That web page  also provides links to web cams around the world. What fun to get a window on far away places.



Are you a surfer? Or a ballet dancer in pointe shoes who might like to be one? I hope you enjoyed this brief surfing history timeline. Please feel free to leave a question or comment below!

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Astounding Surfing History Facts