Did Hawaiians Invent Surfing?

Surfing is a wildly popular sport worldwide, but did you ever wonder where it all started? Polynesians have literally been riding the waves for thousands of years, so did surfing start in the South Pacific? If so, who started it? Did the Hawaiian people “invent” surfing?


According to Surfing for Life, the story goes something like this. Captain James Cook was in the midst of his third expedition to the Pacific in 1778 with two ships in tow: the Discovery and the Revolution. During this expedition, Cook and his fellow explorers set anchor in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, the unfortunate Captain was killed less than a year later by natives after he made the mistake of kidnapping their chief to try to recover a stolen boat. Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant James King was promoted to First Lieutenant of the Discovery and took over the completing the narrative portion of the Captain’s log. Before returning to England, though, Lieutenant King wrote two pages about observing the locals of Kealakekua Bay riding “planks” over the waves on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. His was the first written description of Hawaiian surfing by a European. That was in 1779.

By the time Lieutenant King made his observations, “surfing” on the belly or standing upright on the board, was already an established part of Hawaiian culture. Island chiefs demonstrated their mastery of wave-riding skills and some islanders also made themselves popular by the way they handled themselves on their boards.

The first Polynesians migrated to the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti. In order to make the long and arduous journey, the ones who made it had to be good on the water. They brought a deep love and respect for the sea with them, and they also brought their customs, one of which was playing on boards in the waves while lying on their bellies.  Although it’s rumored that Tahitians occasionally stood on their boards, the act of standing on long boards and “riding” the waves is today believed to have been “perfected if not invented” in Hawaii by the Hawaiian people. Aloha! Thank you, Hawaii!

If you would like to “invent” surfing in your life, now is a great time to get started. Book a private surf lesson today and you can be a part of this great tradition of surfing.