For some, it’s a serious sport. For others, just a way to let loose. But despite its casual association with fun and sun, surfing has a richer and deeper history than many realize.
For the people of Hawaii, wave sliding was not just a recreational activity, but one with spiritual and social significance. Like much of Hawaiian society, nearly every aspect of surfing was governed by a code of rules and taboos known as kapu. Hawaiians made offerings when selecting a tree to carve, prayed for waves with the help of a kahuna, or an expert priest, and gave thanks after surviving a perilous wipeout. Certain surf breaks were strickly reserved for the elite.
But it wasn’t just a solemn affair. Surfers competed and wagered on who could ride the farthest, the fastest, or catch the biggest wave with superior skill, granting respect, social status, and romantic success. Though it was later called the sport of kings, Hawaiian men and women of all ages and social classes participated, riding surfboards shaped from koa, breadfruit, or wiliwili trees.
Today, surfing is a multi-billion dollar global industry, with tens of millions of enthusiasts worldwide. And though relatively few of these surfers are aware of the once-crucial wave chants or board carving rituals, Hawaiians continue to preserve these traditions nearly washed away by history’s waves.
From the TED-Ed Lesson The complicated history of surfing – Scott Laderman
Animation by Silvia Prietov