The First Surfer

Blue Planet Climate Change History Oceans

Surfing first began when humans entered our beautiful oceans. As soon as we could swim, we could bodysurf. But the development of surfing as we know it today - with a surfboard - is a somewhat recent discovery. Unsurprisingly, its roots can be found in Lilo and Stitch’s home nation of Hawaii.

Man surfing with colored hair

Man Surfing

Captain James Cook made Europe's first recorded trip to Hawaii in 1778. Unfortunately, after an attempt to kidnap the local’s chief, he was killed by the Hawaiians. James King was then made First Lieutenant, and aimed to complete Cook’s journals. As such, he devoted two full pages to  the tales of surfboard riding, which he observed from the local tribes. This became the earliest known account of surfing.

“The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us'd to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direct.”

Koala surfing

Koala Surfing

By the late 18th century, ‘riding the waves’ became an integral part of Hawaiian culture.The Chief was even chosen as he who was the greatest surfer. He had to have the best board, made with the best wood.  But it was not always so light-hearted. Ancient Hawaiians did in fact consider the sport to be more of an expression of art. This art was labelled - ‘he’e nalu’ - which means ‘wave sliding’ in English. The art began as entry into the mysterious and all-encompassing ocean to pray to the gods for strength and protection.

So it seems even the Ancient Hawaiians understood the beauty and significance of our waters. And this sport remains popular today, developing throughout the modern world and growing in popularity. Beaches across the earth will find surfers daring to ride the wave. But what happens if our oceans become tainted? If instead of riding waves, we ride plastic? If instead of beautiful, clear waters, they become dirty and poisonous?

Save our legacy. Save our beauty. Save our oceans.

Surfing Gorilla


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