Who Invented Surfing in AD 400?

Tracking down the singular person who invented surfing has proven difficult due to various cultures and countries' histories having their own say on who invented surfing.

Let’s uncover who invented surfing and sculpted it into what we can call today modern surfing.

Who Invented Surfing

Surfing as we know it today, was invented by the practices of the Polynesians who voyaged from Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands, bringing with them early forms of surfing on bellyboards or bodyboards. Around AD 400, a significant shift occurred in the art of surfing, marking the invention of standing upright on boards. 

This transition from bodyboarding to the modern stance on a surfboard is a pivotal moment in the evolution of surfing, laying the foundation for the exhilarating and dynamic sport we know today.

Who invented surfing is often questioned and recognised as difficult to distinguish, however roots to surfing are also tied back to Peru, Africa and America.

Who Invented Surfing in America

The introduction of surfing to America involves a rich history intertwined with Hawaiian influence. In July 1885, four Hawaiian princes, namely David Kawananakoa, Edward Keliʻiahonui, Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole, and Elle Mancini, brought surfing to Santa Cruz, California, as they surfed the mouth of the San Lorenzo River on custom-shaped redwood boards. George Freeth, a pivotal figure known as the "Father of Modern Surfing," further promoted the sport in California in 1907, demonstrating surfboard riding along the coast inspiring many future American surfers.

On the East Coast, surfing made its debut in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in 1909 when Burke Haywood Bridgers and a colony of surfers introduced the sport. North Carolina, recognized as the birthplace of East Coast surfing in 2015, honoured Bridgers and the surfers with a highway marker. Their activities marked the earliest appearances of surfboards in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Wrightsville Beach Museum Waterman Hall of Fame continues to celebrate their contributions, highlighting the shared migration of surfing from Hawaii to both California and North Carolina.

Who Invented Surfing in Peru

Surfing in Peru has ancient roots, and while it's challenging to attribute its invention to a specific individual, the practice of riding a vessel with a wave has been in use since the pre-Inca cultures, approximately three to five thousand years ago. The Moche culture, in particular, utilised the "caballito de totora" (little horse of totora), as evidenced by archaeological findings dating back to around 200 CE.

The early documentation of Inca surfing comes from Jesuit missionary José de Acosta in 1590, who described the fishermen in Callao de Lima skillfully navigating the rough waves, resembling Tritons or Neptunes painted upon the water. The tradition of using Caballitos de Totora persists, with local fishermen still employing them, and tourists can enjoy riding these traditional vessels for recreational purposes.

Who Invented Surfing in Africa

West Africans, including those in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal, and western Central Africans in places like Cameroon, displayed a distinctive skill in surfing and are often in the conversation for who invented surfing. Historical accounts reveal the practice dating back to the 1640s CE, where Michael Hemmersam described parents tying children to boards and introducing them to the water. In 1679 CE, Barbot documented Elmina children in Ghana learning to swim using boards or bundles of rushes, providing entertainment for onlookers.

James Alexander's account in 1834 CE portrayed boys in Accra, Ghana, swimming with light boards, anticipating waves, and skillfully navigating them. Further south in Cameroon in 1861, Thomas Hutchinson detailed fishermen riding small dugouts, emphasising the diversity of surfing practices across different African coastal communities.

Who Invented Surfing In Australia

While it's challenging track who invented surfing in Australia to a single individual, it gained prominence through the influence of Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic swimmer and surfer from Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku is credited with introducing and popularising surfing in Australia during his visits in the early 1910s. His demonstrations and surfboard riding exhibitions played a crucial role in sparking interest and laying the foundation for the vibrant surf culture that Australia is known for today.

When Did Surfing Become Popular

Now we know who invented surfing, it's time to discuss the transition to surfing on a global scale. Modern surfing began to gain popularity in the early 20th century. The turning point can be traced back to the efforts of individuals like Duke Kahanamoku, often referred to as the "Father of Modern Surfing." Duke, an

Olympic swimmer and surfer from Hawaii, played a pivotal role in popularising the sport internationally. His visits to Australia and the United States in the early 1910s included surfboard riding exhibitions, showcasing the thrill and artistry of surfing. This exposure contributed significantly to the spread of surfing culture, leading to its increasing popularity as a dynamic water sport and lifestyle choice.

History of Surfing Timeline

Pre-20th Century: Ancient cultures, including Polynesians and Peruvians, engage in early forms of surfing.

1912-1915: Duke Kahanamoku, the "Father of Modern Surfing," introduces and popularizes surfing in Australia and the United States.

1914: George Freeth, credited as the person who invented surfing in the modern world, demonstrates surfboard riding in California.

1920s-1930s: Surfing gains traction in California, with the formation of surf clubs and the establishment of iconic surf spots.

1940s-1950s: World War II leads to a decline in surfing popularity but contributes to the development of surf culture among military personnel.

1960s: The "Surfing Boom" emerges, marked by the mainstream popularity of surfing, surf music, and the rise of surf competitions.

1970s: Shortboard revolution: Surfboard design evolves with the introduction of shorter and more manoeuvrable boards, plus professional surf tours and competitions gain momentum.

1980s-1990s: The globalisation of surfing: International surf destinations gain popularity and technological advancements in surfboard materials and design.

2000s-Present: Continued growth of the surf industry, with an emphasis on sustainability with the inclusion of surfing in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Summing It Up: What To Do Now

So now you have traced back who invented surfing you can appreciate how far the sport has come from wooden plants to optimised performance boards. Amazing right?

If your interested in learning more about surfing discover our many guides that will inform you on your surfing journey. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook & Instagram to stay informed on our amazing surf shots and stories shared from surf creators around the world!

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was the first person to start surfing?

The exact first person to start surfing is unclear due to its ancient origins, but Duke Kahanamoku, often regarded as the "Father of Modern Surfing," played a pivotal role in popularising the sport in the early 20th century.

Why was surfing banned in Hawaii?

Surfing was banned in Hawaii during the 19th century by missionaries and colonial authorities due to cultural and religious beliefs, considering it a threat to traditional values.

Who is the father of surfing?

Duke Kahanamoku is often referred to as the "Father of Modern Surfing" for his instrumental role in popularising and spreading surfing internationally in the early 20th century.

Where did surfing originate from?

Surfing originated from various ancient cultures, including Polynesians, Peruvians, and Hawaiians. The modern form of surfing, as we know it, gained prominence in Hawaii.

Did Africans create surfing?

While not the creators, West Africans and Central Africans independently developed the skill of surfing. Ancient cultures in Africa engaged in surfing-like activities, contributing to the diverse history of the sport.

Who was the king of surfing?

The title "king of surfing" is often associated with Duke Kahanamoku, who not only popularised the sport but also showcased extraordinary skill and style in the waves.

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