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As long as humans have dwelled in and alongside the ocean, we have been drawn to the power and mysticism of the sea. Creating surfcraft to coexist within the ocean seems to be an entirely natural progression in human history.
Part 1: The Hawaiian Surfing Culture
To begin to cover the history of surfing innovation, it is only appropriate to name the Polynesians, particularly Hawaiians the true, and initial innovators in surfing.
Along with Hawaiians, ancient Samoans, Tongans and Peruvians used forms of surfcraft in daily life. Ancient Hawaiian culture incorporated surfing into their culture as more than a recreational activity, but an integral part of life.
Surfing was an art form called “wave sliding”. Hawaiians’ ancient priest was titled the"kahuna”. The kahuna’s primary task of contacting the gods through prayers for good surf and aiding surfers in the spiritual ceremony of constructing surfboards.
Creating these ancient Hawaiian surfboards required a special procedure. The tree was chosen, either a koa, ‘ulu, or wiliwili was selected and constructed by a local craftsman. The three primary shapes of boards were the eminent alaia shape or the ‘olo or kiko’o shapes. The 9’ alaia was the most celebrated board as only the most skilled in the ocean could master this board.
In 1769, Joseph Banks, traveling on the HMS Endeavour with Captain James Cook, recorded the first European sighting of the Hawaiian surfing culture. Banks documented the rituals and organization of the ancient culture, which was governed by the community chief (Ali’i). The chief was the top surfer, who rode on the finest board crafted from the best tree on the island. Only the ruling classes could ride selected breaks, but if the average Joe could prove his worth and skill in the ocean, he/she was able to ride the exclusive breaks.
Are you looking for a custom longboard to practice "he'e nalu"? Check out our 100% custom boards here
Follow our History of Surf Innovation series: Part 2: Tom Blake & George Freeth- Making Surfing Accessible For More