All the World’s a Wave: The Vibrant, Mysterious History of Surfing - 30A

All the World’s a Wave: The Vibrant, Mysterious History of Surfing

By: Shannon Davidson | Posted Sep 12, 2021

The answer to who surfed the first wave will forever remain a mystery. Islanders rode crashing waves many generations before Europeans ever laid eyes on their shores, therefore no one can say for certain when or how surfing began.

We’ve compiled a brief timeline, highlighting surfing from its earliest known beginnings to the modern day water sport and lifestyle it is today.

While evidence has been uncovered of surfing first taking place in Peru some 3,500 years ago, it’s the great Pacific Islands which are most recognized as the true birth place of surfing.

The First Recorded Surf Encounter: Captain Cook Meets Tahiti

1768: The art of wave riding was first recorded by botanist Joseph Banks who was aboard Captain Cook’s very first voyage to the South Pacific in 1768. There, he witnessed Tahitian natives in a very rough surf with a piece of an old canoe.

“They swam out as far as the outermost breach, then one or two would get into it and opposing the blunt end to the breaking wave, were hurried in with incredible swiftness.”

1778: It wasn’t until Captain Cook and crew arrived in the Hawaiian Islands ten years later that it was clear just how Polynesians were truly masters of the waves. Cook described a surfer quite poetically:

“I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven so fast and smoothly by the sea.”

Check out this video of world champion surfer, Kelly Slater, surfing with dolphins: