Surfing is one of the most popular sporting activities in the world, with millions of enthusiasts riding the waves of oceans and beaches across the planet every day.
Our Editorial by WIJI takes us today to discover the dawn of the most popular wave sport today, transporting us to the years when this did not yet have a name and was only defined as a magical "gliding on the waves" (in Hawaiian: he'enalu ).

Surf-Riders, Honolulu , by Charles W. Bartlett, 1919

Although today, the tropical paradise islands of Hawaii are commonly associated with the epicenter of surfing , the truth is that the origin of this fascinating sport is shrouded in mystery. The written documents about it are few, and historians heatedly debate the available versions.
The first traces attributable to this activity are ancient and date back hundreds of years ago, when the populations of the south-eastern Pacific used wooden planks to navigate on the waves of their seas. Made by hand, they were often decorated with symbolic tribal motifs and used for sailing to nearby islands, for fishing and for ceremony.

Kanaloa (god of the oceans) and other major Hawaiian gods depicted as Tiki statues

Legend tells of how the Polynesian sea god Kanaloa taught his children to ride the waves with boards made of koa wood. Furthermore, some historical sources attest to how the native Hawaiians, called kānaka maoli , practiced surfing regularly and even organized competitions to allow kings and high-ranking chiefs to bet their properties for pure fun.

A young Peruvian boy tries his hand at his " "caballito de Totora"
In particular, the existence of an ancient structure called " caballito de Totora ", which consisted of a type of boat built with natural materials such as stems and leaves, is known. This vessel was used for fishing activities and also for gliding on the waves. The Spanish anthropologist Fray José de Acosta first wrote about it, describing the practitioners of this activity as "Neptunes who ride the waves of the sea" in his book " Historia natural y moral de las Indias ", written at the end of the 16th century.

As regards contacts with the Western world, it is undeniable that European travelers were the first to come into contact with this practice.
In fact, it was only in 1778, with the arrival of the European explorer James Cook , that the Western world experienced what we now call surfing. Cook, sailing in the waters of the Pacific, was fascinated by the technique with which the native Hawaiians used wooden planks to run on the waves and he too tried his hand at this activity.

One of the first illustrations of Native Hawaiians on early table designs

Although it was immediately recognized by the new European explorers as an exciting recreational and sporting novelty, the discipline risked disappearing together with all the other traditions belonging to the natives.
In fact, in 1800, Christian missionaries banned surfing in Hawaii , considering it immoral and contributing to the decline of the islands' original culture. European doctrine, disease, and cultural prohibitions brought by missionaries limited and nearly eliminated surfing for nearly 150 years.

 Duke Kahanamoku, immortalized with his board
In fact, it was only in the 20th century that some descendants of Hawaiian kings such as Duke Kahanamoku revitalized surfing. Duke was an Olympic swimmer and one of the managers of the first surf club on the Hawaiian beach of Waikiki, organizing a series of events that became popular and spread to Europe, Australia and the United States, thanks to his travels around the world.
Known as The Big Kahuna, he was an Olympic swimming champion and is generally considered the inventor of modern surfing.

Surfing conquers the Western world and arrives in California, USA

In the 1930s, surfing also took hold in California and the first championships and specialized magazines began to spread, giving life to " surfing" as we know it today, understood not only as a sport but also as a vehicle of values ​​and passion.

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