The Origins of Surfing - Local St Augustine Online Magazine

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The first written account and description of SURFING

The first written account and description of SURFING was by Lieutenant James King, writing the narrative portion of Captain Cook’s Journal, which became his responsibility after Captain Cook was killed by Hawaiians (after the ill-advised kidnapping of their high chief).



Lieutenant King devoted two full pages of the journal to describing what we call “Surfing”, though he failed to fully document the spiritual and cultural significance.  Since written records of early Hawaiian culture and religion do not exist, short of searching for and finding a Hawaiian who has had that oral record passed down to them, there is no way to accurately describe those significances.  Therefore, this article can only say that Surfing played serious and important roles in the spiritual and cultural lives of Hawaiians for hundreds of years.
In ancient Hawaiian society, you could tell a man’s status by the size of his board.  Commoners rode boards up to 12 feet long, while the ruling class rode boards up to 24 feet long.

Captain Cook’s visit to the Hawaiian Islands began a terrible time for the Hawaiian people.  They were slain, infected with European diseases to which they had acquired no immunity.  Calvinist Missionaries all but forbade the activity of surfing, instead demanding modesty, industry and religion from the Hawaiians.  As the Hawaiians suffered at the hands of the Europeans, surfing declined for more than a century and a half and the culture and spiritualism of the Hawaiian people all but vanished.




Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku,
“Duke”, was a Hawaiian American who also happened to be a five time Olympic medalist. Duke is widely considered as the father of modern surfing, since, because of his Olympic fame, he was able to bring world wide attention to the sport of surfing, if not to its original spiritual and cultural significance surfing had to his ancestors.

Duke was a true surfing master and he was often called the “Big Kahuna”, although he   rejected the term, knowing the true meaning of the word “Kahuna”.  In Hawaiian history a “Kahuna” is a “Priest” or expert in certain fields.  By some accounts there are “Kahuna” or experts in more than forty different specialties.  The word “Kahuna” is believed to first have been used in reference to surfing in the many Beach Party Films of the 1960s.



In the early 1900s, Duke along with other Hawaiian-Americans brought surfing to Southern California on the U.S. west coast, Virginia Beach, Virginia on the east coast and several beaches in Sydney, Australia.

Modern surfing evolved over the years, including changes in board designs, the acceptance as surfing as a main stream sport rather than a summer pastime, and the popularization of  women surfers like Flagler Beach’s own Frieda Zamba.

The modern stars of surfing are too numerous to list, but it seems that the majority of serious surfers have, at least on some level, embraced the spirituality of surfing with a loving reverence.

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