Although Hawaii is considered the cradle of surfing, the truth is that it’s difficult to determine its origin, since there are no written documents to testify. Despite this, it’s true that some European travellers could observe the practice of this sport in some corners of the world for which they moved.
With the emergence of modern surfing and its worldwide extension, it has been possible to reconstruct the contemporary history of this sport. Nowadays, it is practiced in almost all the world and its more developed industries are in Australia, Europe (especially Spain and France) and the United States.
The Totora horse is a type of boat, built with stems and leaves, which was used to fish in Peru and Bolivia. But, in addition to that function, it was also used to glide over the waves in a way similar to surfing. It is in the sixteenth century when, for the first time, this sport is mentioned, one could speak of the beginning of the history of surfing. It was the Spanish anthropologist and Jesuit Fray José de Acosta, who wrote about the history and customs of the indigenous people of Peru and described this activity on Totora horses as “neptuns that cut the waves of the sea.”
Nearly 200 years after the writings on the Totora horses, a crew led by the British navigator James Cook wrote about the art of gliding over the water he had observed before in Hawaii, in 1767. In Hawaiian, it was called he’enalu. The leader of the Indians, called kahuna, had the best board, made with the best tree wood. In addition, the best beaches were reserved for the nobility, while the lower classes were not allowed to surf.
In 1800, with the arrival of Christian missionaries to the island, surfing, like many other traditions, was banned in Hawaii because it was considered immoral. In the 20th century, a very small number of Hawaiians continued to surf; It had practically disappeared.
It was at the beginning of the 20th century that the custom of sliding on waves with wooden planks on the beaches of Hawaii resumed. It was a group of descendants of ancient Hawaiian kings who initiated this recovery of their customs. Among them was Duke Kahanamoku, considered the father of modern surfing.
This revival of surfing took place in three different enclaves: Hawaii, Australia and California. These points are the references of the most current surfing history. In the 60s, a musical and cinematographic culture emerged around this sport, with films like Gidget and groups like the Beach Boys, which expanded the surf culture through California and the rest of the world.
The longboards were the first to appear, in the early 60’s. In the 70-80, shortboards began to be used too, which gained much prominence in the 90s thanks to surfers like Kelly Slater.
In Europe, surfing came in 1959, when the German writer Peter Viertel surfed for the first time in Biarritz. From there, this practice spread throughout the Cantabrian coast: Cantabria, Basque Country, Galicia and Asturias. In addition, the Mundaka wave, in the Vizcaya municipality of the same name, became one of the most famous waves in the world.