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Surfing: History And Beyond Essay, Research Paper

The Basics

What is Surfing?

Surfing, act of riding on waves as they break over a shallow shoreline surface, such as a reef, sand bar, or some other submerged surface. People can surf with just their body, this is called body surfing, or by lying, kneeling, or standing on a surfboard.

Equipment Used – The Surfboard

Modern surfboards are constructed of a plastic foam core that can be shaped by hand or machine, then covered with a shell of fiberglass and resin. Personal boards can vary in dimensions. The high performance surfboards used by top professional competitors are about 6 to 6.5 feet long, and 18.5 inches wide, less than 2.5 inches thick, and weigh about 6 pounds. These boards are called shortboards. Most longboards are 9 feet long, 20 to 22 inches wide and about the same thickness as shortboards. On the bottom of the board there can be one to five fins near the tail, but three is the standard. These fins provide the board with directional stability and enhance performance by providing additional power and forward drive. Both boards can be used for professional or recreational contexts, however the shortboard is better for speed and aerial maneuvers.


When a wave reaches the shallow shoreline of an ocean or other large body of water, the upper portion of the wave pitches forward and the wave begins to break, a motion often indicated by crests of foam called whitecaps. The basic ides of surfing is to ride the unbroken part of a wave for as long as possible, using a variety of maneuvers to speed up, slow down, and maneuver around the breaking portion of the wave. Good surfers continue to ride the wave until the entire wave has broken and become white water.


Surfing competitions can take place anywhere that waves can be ridden, from the winter surf in Hawaii to artificial indoor wave-pools. In competition, surfers are judged using a subjective system that awards points based on the size of the wave ridden, the distance ridden, and the quality of the maneuvers performed by the surfer.

Now that we know the basics what about the other stuff???

The Roots of Surfing – Hawaii

Although no one knows exactly where and when stand-up surfing began, there is no doubt that over the centuries the ancient sport of “he’e nalu” (wave-sliding) was perfected by the Kings and Queens, and by men and women in the Sandwich Isles, long before the 15th century.

Of the Hawaiians who surfed, it was the chiefly class who claimed the highest reputation for dedicated proficiency with board and waves. They had their own prayers, chanters, board shapers, wood and beaches where they alone could surf with others of similar rank. No one dared to drop in on their wave, that meant death, or at least a near death experience. Surfing achieved a special status and respectability in ancient Hawaii. Renowned surfers were celebrated in song and dance and often enjoyed special privileges in the royal circle. Which ever board they choose, being the long or short board, the Chiefs took great pride in the skill, grace, speed and courage with which they rode the Pacific’s swells.

However humble one’s surfboard was, it was treated with respect. Even before the board was shaped a proper “surfbuilding ritual” was observed. It began with a tree. Only three types of trees were used; the wiliwili, the ulu, and the koa. They dig a hole among the roots and place the fish therein with a prayer as an offering to the gods in return for the tree he is about to shape into a board. The construction and shaping of the board took a great experienced craftsman, that they called the “shaper.” Stains were also used. They were obtained from the soot of burned kukui nuts, charcoal from burnt pandanus leaves, or the juices from young banana buds. To complete the process, a dressing of Kukiu nut oil was applied when the stain was dry, and the black, glossy board was ready for surfing.

How it Escaped Hawaii

The first European to see surfing in Hawaii and report on it was a British explorer James Cook, who sailed into the islands in 1778. Surfing in the Hawaiian islands was suppressed as a frivolous activity by Christian missionaries through much of the 19th century. It did not reappear there until the early part of the 20th century. One of the most influential surfers from the early 20thcentury was Duke Kahanamoku, known as the “father of surfing.” The popularity of surfing is mainly accredited to this one man. He was the first Hawaiian to travel outside of the islands to demonstrate his skill to viewers all over the world.

History Beyond Hawaii


At the turn of the century, Hawaiians and transplanted Europeans began surfing Waikiki, by this time it was for pure enjoyment and not because it was required for ritual. In 1912, Duke Kahanamoku was selected to be on the United States Olympic swimming team. On his way to the Stockholm for the games, he introduced surfing to both of the American coasts. He brought the gold home in the 100 meter freestyle. He was named the World’s fastest swimmer, this lead to his popularity. His fame allowed him to travel the world to demonstrate his swimming skills and the idea of riding the waves on a wooden board.

On January 15, 1915, Duke introduced surfing to Australia. Duke toured the Aussie beaches and at Freshwater, gave a surfing demonstration. He gave a young man named Claude West a few lessons, gave him his pine board, and left for home. Those few lessons must have taken, because West won the Australian surfing championship from 1919 through 1924.


The idea of riding a wave perched on a board made it’s way from Hawaii to California. Tom Blake sailed to Hawaii in 1922 and became fascinated by surfing. Returning to California later that same year, he built his first surfboard by turning a redwood plank into a honeycomb structure, drilling hundreds of holes and covering this core with wood veneer. At 15 feet long, 19 inches wide, and 4 inches thick, it was considered a “lightweight” at 100 pounds. Blake refined his methods, getting the weight down to 60 pounds with the hollow construction.


The 1930’s became a period of surfboard innovation as surfing popularity spread up and down the West, East coast and Australia. In 1930, Blake got a U.S. patent for his “Hawaiian Hollow Surfboards.” He also developed the first fins, or skegs, in 1935. The first company to produce commercial surfboards was Pacific Ready Cut Homes in California. In 1937, Whitney Harrison would shape four boards a day for $100 a month. The redwood balso boards had a distinctive logo, the Swastika, but was removed prior to World War II. The first annual Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship were held in the mid 1930’s.


World War II had a profound effect on surfing. Many coastal areas where off-limits to surfers, piers became submarine watch points and most surfers were in the service. The lucky ones, though, were stationed in Hawaii and after the war brought back surfing skills to their own coastal communities. The biggest impact that the war had on surfing was the development and application of new materials such as waterproof glues, plywood, balsa, Styrofoam, and rubber. Bob Simmons had a physical disability and made money by making redwoods boards. Also, using theories he learned at Cal Tech, he designed the first twin fin boards with concave bottoms and later experimented with tail contours and rounded rails. Simmon’s followers grew and demand for plywood, Styrofoam and balsa surfboards became to big. Partnerships were formed and surfboards shops opened. Joe Quigg fashioned surfing’s first fiberglass fins and a man named Rochlen began applying colorful designs onto the boards.


A whole new slew of name-brand personalities and surfboards came along during a time of prosperity and personal free time. The demanded for Balsa surfboards depleted the supply and soon surfboard manufactures had to find some kind of substitute. Polyurethane was developed in 1956, and perfected by surfer and chemistry graduate, Gordon “Grubby” Clark. Clark and his friend Hobie Alter developed the first polyurethane foam surfboards. The surfing population by this time swelled. Newer challenges were meet in bigger waves. Rubber wetsuits developed by the Navy made surfing a year-around activity and in the early 1950’s surf film pioneers, like Bud Browne, showed why surfing was fun year-long. Trends such as the “Woody” station wagons and Hot Rods became transportation, anything that was large enough to carry surfboards.


The surfing lifestyle was in full swing with fashion, music, films, magazines, and TV fueling its image. No time was wasted to surf ‘n party, party ‘n surf. Much of this was creating a bad name for surfers. On August 1961, the United States Surfing Association was made to make surfers and surfing more acceptable. Movies started being made, such as ‘Gidget’ and Beach Party. By 1964, films and music were at a high point. Bruce Brown (The Endless Summer), and other talented film makers produced authentic surf footage thrills.


Years of television coverage by ABC Wide World of sports increased the public awareness of the sport of surfing. In 1971, the International Professional Surfing Association was formed to develop relationships between surfers and companies. It was still hard for pro-surfers to make a living. It was a time when California was in a “soul-searching,” free-spirited lifestyle. Long hair, drugs, and health food was the norm. Fame and fortune were treated as a much lighter affair. Surfers who hung out in Mexico living in micro-buses, surfing miles of uncrowded beaches realized that it could not last forever.

By the late 1970’s surfboards were in mass production due to the demand and board design went from single fin to twin fins.


The introduction of the tri fins were developed. Also, another improvement to surfing was the development of the leash, invented by Jack O’Neill. Still, surfing kept growing and growing.


Now surfboard designs can be done with the use of computers, new lighter materials are used to compose the board, new styles of riding (we will go into more detail in the section Evolution of the Board). You don’t even have to be a surfer to recognize the name Kelly Slater. Named “the best competitor the sport has ever seen.” Born in 1972, this six time world champion grew up in Florida and had a contract with Quicksilver before even graduating high school. He popularity also made him a star on television and in Hollywood.

Lets Not Forget the Women

Surfing is often thought as a male sport, but in fact women have been enjoying surfing since the days of ancient Hawaii and in California in the 1920’s. One of the earliest women surfers from California was Mary Ann Hawkins. The first Australian to ride a surfboard was, in fact, a woman: Isabel Letham, who rode tandem with Duke Kahanamoku in 1915, when he introduced surfing to Australia. Surfing among women really became popular with the arrival of Hollywood movies, such as Gidget Goes Hawaiian, or Ride The Wild Surf. Linda Merrill’s surfing style incorporated ballet-like artistry as she danced from the tail to the nose in the early 60’s. Joyce and Joey Hamisaki, from Hawaii, were probably the first well-respected women surfers. In 1968, Margo Godfrey was in the scene. Margo surfed with a “tom-boyish” style, and in 1975 she was the first pro women surfer. More and more women are hitting the waves. The arrival of professional surfing has helped this process; so has the twin-fin board, being small, light and easier to turn than a single fin. But the people who have been mainly responsible for this change in public attitude are the professional women surfers themselves. Two shining examples are Jericho Poppler and Rell Sunn, two ladies who have worked hard for this social change. In the mid 60’s, they were both regarded as strange, in the almost totally male-dominated sport. Jericho was 1970 and 1976 U.S. Women’s World Champion. Rell was Hawaii’s number one woman amateur surfer for five years and in 1975 joined the first women’s pro tour. When the growth of professionalism enabled them to travel and give their views to the world, they had little trouble raising genuine public support. These two ladies aren’t just ambassadors of surfing, but champions for preserving our ocean environment.

Making the Surfboard

There are many steps that take place for the masterpiece of a surfboard. There is much skill and expertise that is needed for each and every step. The first step is shaping. The shaping of the foam blank determines the characteristics and performance of the surfboard. This is the most crucial stage of manufacture. Professional shapers take about 45 minutes to shape a board. Glassing is next, once the board has been shaped it must be coated with protective layers of fiberglass that will give the foam strength and durability. Many great shapes have been destroyed due to a bad glass job. It is important the glassing of a board does not alter the shape or add excessive weight, yet it must be strong enough so that it gives you a realistic life span. Once the board has been glassed, it must be sanded in preparation for the finishing stage. Sanding is underrated stage of manufacturing. Over sanding will reduce strength and incorrect sanding will leave the board with an uneven surface that does not replicate the original shape. Next is finishing, there are several ways to finish a board. There is a gloss finish, the wet rub finish and the speed finish. If your board is going to have a gloss finish, you must out any required color spray directly onto the shaped blank prior to glassing. If the board is having a wet rub finish, the spray can be put onto the board after the sanding process.


The surfboard itself has been around since the 6th century, although it became more publicly recognized in North America at the end of the 1800’s. Boards then were crudely molded and most were fashioned out of solid wood and weighed close to 150 pounds. Granulated coral was used to sand the board and the board was stained with bark or charcoal and finished with glossy nut oil.

It wasn’t until the beginning of this century that people started to experiment with it. It evolved from a solid redwood plank around 10 feet long which acted like a sponge when it came in contact with water during the 1920’s, to a hollow longer board (up to 16 feet long) and also made of wood called the “Cigar Box.” This led to the streamlined “hot-curl” boards of the 1903’s make out of composite wood, and when supplies became available after WWII composite wood was exchanged for light weight balsa wood. During this time rubber was added to help stabilize the board, as well as a thin layer of resin and fiberglass coating the wood. The length of each board stayed around 10 feet long.

Surfboards of the 1950’s

Surfing in the 50’s was the beginning of modern surfing. A good portion of board materials and design during the 50’s was based on the use of balsa wood, and it also was extremely influential to surfboard technology. The most prominent evolution developed in the late 50’s and early 60’s was the introduction of polyurethane foam and fiberglass. The beauty of foam eliminated excess weight. With less weight to push in the water, boards were easier to turn, though small problems arose concerning buoyancy. It also aided the industry by making surfboards easier to shape, hence faster to produce and market.

The 1960’s

The 1960’s will probably be always be referred to as the revolution decade of the surfboard. The Surfboard underwent major experimentation. The jet propelled introduction of the shortboard transformed the way that everyone looked at surfing, and pretty much converted every surfer to a shortboarder overnight. Between 1968-1970 the average length of the surfboard went from 10 to 6 feet, and lost about eight pounds. Manufacturers could hardly give away the longboards and many ended up shaving off a few feet and reselling them as 6.5 footers. The major advantage over the new shape was its emphasis in speed. Now surfers could not only ride the waves vertically like the longboard, but also ride inside the pipe and carve radical turns in and out of the white water. The flexible fin came into the picture and eventually the shortboard became the basis of the all around performance board of today.

The 1970’s and 1980’s

One of the best things to happen to surfing did, in 1973, surfer Jack O’Neill invented the leash, or leg rope. This piece of stretchy yet extremely strong surgical tubing enabled the surfboard to be attached to the leg of the surfer, hence keeping the board from washing ashore every time the surfer missed a wave. Another achievement was the introduction of tri fins, which as basically two attachable “stick on” fins made of plastic that could be mounted in various positions outside of the fin that was permanently glassed on. This added greater stability to the rear of the board by enabling greater rail control in the water, and it gave the rider the chance to experiment with different fin arrangement with out committing to a certain one.

The early eighties were a quite time in surfboard design, shaper’s designs started to focus on certain areas of the board individually. There were a few new experiments in fin design, non of which became socially popular, with the exception of the three fin surfboard, in 1981, which as you can guess had three fins permanently glassed on.

The 1990’s

In the 1990’s the surfboard design started to refine a little. The longboard, which became fully accepted by the surf industry was re-launched into the market, but has been tainted with technologies and was being manufactured using much lighter materials than those used during the 50’s and 60’s. Surfboard designs also started to be directed towards certain styles of riding and certain wave types. Shapers also started to use computer software to create board templates, as mentioned before. There are plans underway to create a board making machine that will read software. The 90’s have also been a pivot point in surfing as a sport with the addition of tow in surfing. A tow in is usually required for waves that are bigger than 25 feet because the surfer is too slow to paddle into these giant waves himself.

Can’t Forget Some of the People who Made all this Happen!!!

The Kings/Queens of the waves

Duke Kahanamoku, “father of surfing,” has contributed more to the expansion of the sport than anyone else in the history of surfing. His exhibitions along the Hawaii coast and other places around the world brought surfing from the shores of Oahu to a worldwide spotlight.

Tom Blake, invented the addition of a fin to the end of a surfboard, airborne maneuvers you see today, and one of the first wind surfboards. He reduced surfboard weight by as much as 25 percent, also, revolutionized the sport and introduced aerobatic moves into the sport of surfing.

Joyce Hoffman, probably one of the most recognizable names in Women’s surfing. From 1964 – 1966, she was the top woman surfer in the world.

Bruce Brown, he will be forever remembered as the creator and narrator of Endless Summer, one of the most popular surfing documentaries of all time.

Margo Oberg, known as “the girl that surfed as good as a guy,” won 5 world titles that made her one of the top female riders in the world.

John Sverson, the founder of Surfer Magazine.

Bud Browne, brought the surf to the people with a 16mm camera for 30 years and made more than 15 surf films.

Tom Pratte, is one of the original founders of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization formed to protect the ocean for today’s surfers and for the generations to come.

Hobie Alter, his name is everywhere, on surfboards, catamarans, skateboards, and just about anything related to the ocean. He is a legend in the shaping industry. His advances in surfboard design and success in developing the first mass-produced polyurethane surfboard expanded surfing to a much larger audience.


Surfing is still a way of life. It has formed itself a culture. This culture is unlike no other around the world. Millions of surfers from hundreds of places use the same knowledge originated from Hawaiian roots. All of these surfers come together on the ocean and unit with the same styles, technics, and ethics. They ride the waves for the joy, thrill and be one with the ocean.







Surfing, “Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000

Http://ecarta.msn.com , 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation


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