What is surfing?

Surfing
Surfing: the sport of riding waves | Photo: Shutterstock

Surfing is the sport of riding waves in an upright or prone position. Surfers catch the ocean, river, or man-made waves and glide across the surface of the water until they break and lose their energy.

In the ocean, wave riders stand up on surfboards and navigate the water - nearly parallel to the beach - toward the shore.

There are four types of surfing waves: spilling waves, plunging waves, surging waves, and collapsing waves.

The ultimate goal of surfing is to ride and progress on the unbroken part of the wave using a surfboard.

Nevertheless, beginners can learn to surf in the whitewater part of the wave.

Many surf historians and enthusiasts believe that the essence of surfing is in bodysurfing, the art of gliding over the waves using only the body as a planing surface.

According to the University of Hawaii, bodysurfing dates back as far back as 2,000 BC, but the first evidence of bodysurfing activity in the Western world only emerged in 1899, when Australian Fred Williams got a few lessons from Polynesian islander Tommy Tana.

The origins of the pastime can be traced back to the ancient Polynesian culture, specifically in the islands of Hawaii, where it was called "Heenalu" by the natives.

The sport of surfing began between the 19th and 20th centuries, but wave riding is an old practice that has its origins in the ancient Polynesian and ancient Peruvian cultures.

Surfing: all you need is a surfboard and a wave | Photo: Shutterstock

From Pastime to Sport

The first English-speaking person to write about wave riding was James Cook.

The eighteenth-century sea captain and ocean explorer wrote about canoe surfing and board surfing during his stops in Hawaii and Tahiti between 1777 and 1779.

Modern surfing was born on the sands of Waikiki, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when the first local beach boys began taking tourists to the surf for wave-riding experiences.

Duke Kahanamoku is widely considered the father of modern surfing.

He made it a physical recreation, an outdoor activity with rules, gear, and techniques, and business.

Surfing is a sport with multiple interpretations.

For many, it's a recreational and physical activity and a competitive sport, but for others, it is a religion, a lifestyle, an addiction, and a spiritual connection with Nature.

In less than a century, the act of wave riding evolved and gave birth to several other boardsports.

Skateboarding, bodyboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, skimboarding, and kneeboarding are, in a way, part of the surfing family.

The evolution of surfing and surfboards has been a gradual process that has occurred over many decades.

The first surfboards were made of wood and were heavy and difficult to maneuver. Later, lighter and more maneuverable boards were made using materials such as foam and fiberglass.

According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), there are between 20 and 25 million surfers worldwide, and the surf industry is worth around $15 billion.

Surfing: a water sport, a religion, and a lifestyle | Photo: Shutterstock

Rich Culture and Lifestyle

Surfers are known for their love of the ocean and their laid-back, carefree attitude.

Surfing is often seen as a way of life, with many surfers traveling the world in search of the perfect wave.

In addition to being a popular recreational activity, surfing is also a competitive sport, with many professional surfers competing in contests around the world.

Surfing has even been included as an Olympic sport, with the first event taking place at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Overall, it's a fun and exciting sport with a rich history and culture.

It continues to be enjoyed by people of all ages and is a popular activity in many coastal areas around the world.

Some of the greatest surfers of all time have been instrumental in advancing the sport and pushing the boundaries of what is possible on a surfboard.

These wave riders include legends such as Duke Kahanamoku, who is credited with popularizing surfing in the United States in the early 20th century, and Kelly Slater, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest surfers of all time.

Other notable surfers include Nat Young, who won the world surfing championships in 1966, and Mark Richards, who won four consecutive world titles in the 1980s.

Surfing: A Broad Expression and Experience

Interestingly, the word "surf" has its origins in the late 17th century, apparently from obsolete "stuff."

But the surf culture developed its own lingo, and surfers' catchphrases can be instantly recognized in a non-surfing environment.

The popularity of surfing has never stopped growing, and the word entered the mainstream world.

Mark P. McCahill, a passionate windsurfer and world wide web pioneer, used the expression "surfing the internet" for the first time on February 24, 1992, in an online newsgroup.

A few months later, in June, and without previously knowing McCahill or his expression, Jean Armour Polly released an article titled "Surfing the Internet" in the Wilson Library Bulletin.

The article was written in early 1992, so Polly might have been the first to write the famous expression.

She only lost to McCahill because he made it public first via the good old Usenet.

The future of surfing is bright. With the advent of artificial wave pools and river waves, the sport will attract new participants in landlocked countries.

Surfing has different meanings to different surfers. What's yours?