The complicated history of surfing – Scott Laderman


For some, it’s a serious sport. For others, just a way to let loose. But despite its casual association
with fun and sun, surfing has a richer and deeper
history than many realize. What we today call surfing originated in the Polynesian islands
of the Pacific Ocean. We know from various accounts that wave riding was done
throughout the Polynesian Pacific, as well as in West Africa and Peru. But it was in the Hawaiian archipelago
in particular that surfing advanced the most, was best documented, and, unlike elsewhere in Polynesia,
persisted. And for the people of Hawaii, wave sliding was not
just a recreational activity, but one with spiritual
and social significance. Like much of Hawaiian society, nearly every aspect of surfing was
governed by a code of rules and taboos known as kapu. Hawaiians made offerings when selecting
a tree to carve, prayed for waves with the help
of a kahuna, or an expert priest, and gave thanks after surviving
a perilous wipeout. Certain surf breaks were strickly reserved
for the elite. But it wasn’t just a solemn affair. Surfers competed and wagered
on who could ride the farthest, the fastest, or catch the biggest wave
with superior skill, granting respect, social status, and romantic success. Though it was later called
the sport of kings, Hawaiian men and women of all ages
and social classes participated, riding surfboards shaped from koa, breadfruit, or wiliwili trees. Many Hawaiians road alaia boards, which were thin, midsized,
and somewhat resemble today’s shortboards. Some mounted paipo boards, short, round-nosed boards on which
riders typically lay on their stomachs. But only chieftains could ride
the massive olo boards, twice as long as today’s longboards. Unlike most modern surfboards, all boards were finless, requiring surfers to drag their hands
or feet to turn. We don’t know exactly when wave sliding
was invented, but we know that it had already
been practiced in Polynesia for centuries by the time it was described in 1777
by William Anderson, a surgeon on Captain Cook’s ship
“Resolution.” Although Anderson was in awe, most of the American Christian
missionaries who arrived in Hawaii several decades later regarded surfing as sinful, and they discouraged it, along with
other aspects of native culture. The biggest threat to surfing, however,
was the threat to the natives themselves. By 1890, new illnesses introduced
by Europeans and Americans had decimated the Hawaiian people,
leaving fewer than 40,000 from a pre-contact population
that may have exceeded 800,000. At the same time, foreign influence grew with white settlers overthrowing
the native monarchy in 1893, and the U.S. annexing
the islands five years later. The end of Hawaii’s independence coincided
with surfing’s native-led revival, a revival soon exploited
by the American colonizers. But first, some Hawaiians
took surfing overseas. In 1907, George Freeth,
the so-called Hawaiian Wonder, traveled to the west coast and gave surfing demonstrations
in southern California. Then in 1914, Olympic swimmer
Duke Kahanamoku made his way to Australia and New Zealand, gliding across the southern Pacific waves and attracting rapt audiences
wherever he went. Shortly before Freeth went to California, a South Carolinian named
Alexander Hume Ford moved to Hawaii. After learning to surf, he became
a champion of the pastime. But Ford may have had unsavory reasons for his enthusiastic efforts
to boost the sport. Like many settlers, he wanted Hawaii
to become a U.S. state but was worried about its non-white
majority of natives and Asian workers. Ford thus promoted surfing
to attract white Americans to Hawaii, first as tourists, then as residents. He was helped by numerous writers
and filmmakers. Ford’s demographic plan
would fail miserably. Hawaii became a state in 1959 and remains the most racially diverse
state in the country. But the promotion of surfing
was a far greater success. Today, surfing is a multi-billion dollar
global industry, with tens of millions
of enthusiasts worldwide. And though relatively few of these surfers
are aware of the once-crucial wave chants or board carving rituals, Hawaiians continue to preserve
these traditions nearly washed away by history’s waves.

100 thoughts on “The complicated history of surfing – Scott Laderman

  1. Reminder that if a polynesian would want to go to Australia today, they can't, because Australia hates refugees

  2. I never considered surfing as something with an ancient cultural background. Thanks for the lesson 🙂

  3. Dolphins have been wave riding long before humans, it would not surprise me if humans got the idea from them.

  4. This video is great. But historicaly inaccurate. Hawaii was never annexed, but a occupied Hawaiian kingdom from the United States.

  5. Breaks my heart that so many natives have died at the hands of cruel colonists who found them “sinful” and brought illness that killed so many. These fascinating, beautiful people and their culture amazes me. I can’t help but learn more. I find Polynesian and Maori culture so amazing. So incredibly complex and beautiful.

  6. People are people; there was/is no premium or righteous race or nation. Greed is amongst us all, from tribal wars to global conquering.

  7. white men are not even close to the first people to go to land and take it over with force no questions asked. Dont know why everyone hates on that but doesnt think about the rest of history

  8. You missed the best part of the story where surfers realized with uratane wheels the could surf on land and the 50 years later we have people jumping down 25 stairs on those land surf boards

  9. Thank you for this history lesson
    Another hidden history
    That we never
    Learn
    The truth will always come to light
    Thank you again

    Peace
    2018
    Debra Evans

  10. This was on my english language GCSE paper so thanks for giving me the context and something to write about. You guys are the best

  11. WRONG!!!! 1885 3 Hawaiian princes surfed the river mouth in Santa Cruz ca. My hometown. That, was the first time surfing was recorded in California !!!!!!!! Kook.

  12. Ted needs to do more research and show more of the other pacific islands not just polynesia. The Melanesias were the ones who gave polynesia tattooing, they also traded many things and shared many thing. Micronesians and Melanesians never lost their traditions and way of live. The whole revival of the seafarers in polynesia was not by a polynesian person but by Melanesians and Micronesians. They taught the Polynesians who to navigate the sea again.

  13. Surfing is not native to Hawaii. people have been doing this in fiji and french Polynesia for thousand of years. Hawaii was not Polynesian until Fijian and Tama french Polynesian ancestors arrived. Hawaii is not Polynesian until Fijian and Tahiti came to be created the Hawaiian people

  14. Jetsurfing is a motorized powered surfboard is a next generation of surfing..

    Here is Amazing HISTORY Of Motorized Surfboards in 5 minutes: How did it all begin?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiFI1zHhlw4

  15. Lol surfing only came from the Hawaiian islands? Come on Ted u can do better. It's rampant in most austronesian island cultures. The brits and dutch has already witnessed and documented it being practiced in indonesia islands at the coasts for hundreds of years since the 16hundreds when they discovered indonesia which is even before the western world discovered the Hawaiian islands.

  16. It always amazes me how every where was a utopia before Europeans or Americans got there, but somehow the rest of the world wants to come here now?

  17. Smh no pun intended but Europeans stayed colonizing various native lands of the earth plane. The proof is in the history. That's why the people on Sentinel island killed that Christian missionary. They knew what was up. There is definitely a debt owed to the indigenous.

  18. What annexation are you referring to? Bring forth the annexation of Hawaii! Where is the signature of the Queen? By what method under international law did the United States acquire the hawaiian kingdom?

  19. Christian missionary: I fear no man.

    Christian missionary: But that thing?!

    sees a man surfing

    Christian missionary: it scares me.

  20. So of course with every TED video must come a healthy dose of cynicism of westerners white folks and western religion. What is wrong with these bitter Marxist.

  21. Applause for Hawaii for not allowing the invaders to completely take over the island and still have their culture perserved

  22. Could you imagine a guy riding on a wave that is big enough to support a 20-foot board wow with no pollution no messed up coral perfect waves every time

  23. And the lies continue. You for forgot to mention the slaves of the Ali’i benefited from the Tahitians spending the kingdoms gold and silver.

  24. Wow, what bias. Blaming white people for the demise of Hawaii's inhabitants but neglect to mention that the Tahitians came and conquered the Polynesians in 1300AD. But yeah, let's keep blaming white people.

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