History of Surfing Through the 1800s

surfing

Surfing is an ancient Hawaiian tradition. It was part of the native Hawaiian culture- with ties in religion, society, and the myths of the islands. It was common to ride the waves both sitting down and standing up. In the late 1700s, European explorer Captain James Cook and his crew witnessed this tradition for the first time on one of several expeditions through the Pacific. Though we know surfing started long before this, it was never documented by anyone from the western world before. It is thought that it originated from the Polynesian culture. They migrated to several pacific island regions form Asia as early as 2000 B.C. and up to the fourth century A.D., including what is now known as Tonga and Samoa, the Marquesas, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Hawaii. The Polynesians rode the waves on what they called “belly boards”, which is similar to modern day boogie boarding. It was in Hawaii where the technique of surfing standing up on longboard surfboards was mastered.

In the early 1800s missionaries from England went to Hawaii and tried to force their Calvinist Christian views on the natives, though they were resistant at first they became more accepting of these views (but they didn’t have much of a choice). The missionaries made them learn to read and write and get jobs. They thought that the Hawaiians “played” too much, so they set restrictions on that as well; this included restrictions on surfing. The harsh restrictions on the native Hawaiian lifestyle eventually caused a loss of interest in the sport of surfing. By the late 1800s only about 40,000 native Hawaiians were still alive, this was due to the contact between them and the Europeans that started in the 1700. Many natives died from disease, alcohol, and other substances that were new to them, brought to their islands from Europe. The sport had not completely died out; natives as well as brave visitors of the islands still went surfing. 1898 was the year Hawaii became United States territory, this was a major turning point in surfing history.

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