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Origins of Surf | by Alex Gutenberg

hawaiian primitive

Surfing is the act of "riding" waves to the beach especially if done on a board. The definition is basic, however the feeling that comes from surfing develops in an individual way into our own concept of what surfing is. The true mystery lies in how surf comes to be.

Thousands of years ago, in a distant ocean, far from anything the civilized European world could possibly imagine, small groups of people made their homes on islands bathed by waves, in a tropical climate, covered with the problems that other people faced.

These first immigrants to the Pacific were Polynesians. They arrived to this new region about 7.000 years ago, coming parts unknown. There is a theory that they are the descendants of ancient native Peruvians that traveled on the currents of the Pacific Ocean. The only thing that can be said for certain is that there ancestors were great mariners who have always loved the sea, its challenge, and its mysteries. History books also say that the Polynesians were excellent fishers, the best divers in the world, and able shipbuilders. It's most likely that the first surfers appeared in the waters of the South Pacific.

The necessity of working in the sea and gaining a living from the sea forced these natives to enter the ocean in all types of conditions, whether calm or bay waves. Their trips proved this. It's been shown, that with time, the Polynesians developed special boats that they could ride onto land. It's unknown when work turned to leisure. The truth is that someone decided they could have fun riding wooden boards on the waves. It's also most likely that they never called what they were doing "surfing". The earliest references to "Surfing" date to 1500 years later.

Ocean-faring by choice, obligation, or tradition, the Polynesians certainly set out to conquer the Pacific from north to south. They were a beautiful people, with different from their neighbors, the Melanesians, like the aboriginal people of Australia. They had decided to look for new islands. They found an archipelago whose waves - as they have since discovered - have become world famous for their height and concentrated power.

Hawaii was discovered.

King Mokeha of Tahiti was the one who first arrives in Hawaii. Legend? Perhaps. The few stories and a couple of songs say that king was ambitious, an adventurer and a surfer. He first arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii, then continued to Oahu, and Finally Kauai, where he remained. He married one of the daughters of the local king, had children, and passed his descendants so that they could all know of his adventures in the Pacific. Truly a remarkable story.

Ancient surf had deep religions, cultural, and, in a certain way, social roots. Only the kings and their families could a surf standing up, without restrictions. Commoners, like in most places, had a hard time practicing sports. Certainly, it would have been difficult for the poorest people to obtain wood to make surf boards. After finding a tree with appropriate wood, the Polynesians had to go through a short, but intricate, ritual while cutting down the tree: a red fish had to be caught and buried at the tree's base, above the roots. It was a sign of respect to nature and an attempt to get a blessing of good luck. The boards were made from ancient hawaiian trees, such as Koa or Wiliwili that would grow to 16 to 20 feet tall.

In order to perpetuate this art, both the sport and the ceremony the Polynesians and the Hawaiians decided to put this facts into their songs and dances, as surfing was a celebration. It was a sort of congress or symposium of religion, politics, sports and culture. There were competitions, festivals and fights to the death all over surfing.


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