Surfing, Sport of Kings


The first surfers were women: The amakua (guardian) shark god Kamohoali'i taught the Hawaiian Fire Goddess Pele how to surf; Pele taught her sister Hi'iaka and soon the men got involved.

The Hawaiian sport of surfing was practiced the the ali'i (chiefs) at a time when the rest of the world had a real fear of the ocean. William Ellis notes in 1820: Surf Boarding. ...

"a frequent game is swimming in the surf. The higher the sea and the larger the waves, in their opinion the better the sport. They use a board, which they call papa he naru (wave sliding-board), generally five or six feet long, and rather more than a foot wide, sometimes flat, but more frequently slightly convex on both side. It is usually made from the wood of the erythina, stained quite black, and preserved with great cars. After using, it is placed in the sun till perfectly dry, when it is rubbed over with coconut oil, frequently wrapped in cloth, and suspended in some part of their dwelling house.

They generally prefer a place where the deep water reaches to the beach, but prefer a part where the rocks are ten to twenty feet under water, and extend to a distance from shore, as the surf breaks more violently there. When playing in these places, each individual takes his board and pushing it before him, swims perhaps a quarter of a mile or more out to sea. They do not attempt to go over the billows which roll towards the shore, but watch their approach, and dive under water, allowing the billow to pass over their heads.

When they reach the outside of the rocks, where the waves first break, they adjust themselves on one end of the board, lying flat on their faces, and watch the approach of the largest billow; they then poise themselves on its highest edge, and paddling as it were with their hands and feet, ride on the crest of the wave in the midst of the spray and foam, till within a yard or two of the rocks or the shore; and when the observers would expect to see them dashed to pieces, they steer with great address between the rocks, or slide off their board in a moment, grasp it by the middle, and dive under water, while the wave rolls on, and breaks among the rocks with a roaring noise, the effect of which is greatly heightened by the shouts and laughter of the natives in the water.

Those who are expert frequently change their position on the board, sometimes sitting and sometimes standing erect in the midst of the foam. The greatest address is necessary in order to keep on the edge of the wave: for it they get too forward, they are sure to be overturned; and if they fall back, the are buried beneath the succeeding billow."

In 1870, Jack London wrote in Learning Hawaiian Surfing, a Royal Sport:

" that is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of the earth. The waves are a mile long, these bull-mouthed monsters, and the weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to shore faster than a man can run. A man has bitted the bull-mouthed breaker and redden it in, and pride in the feat shows in the carriage of his magnificent body. He is a Kanaka-and more, his is a man, a member of the kingly species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over creation.

Go strip off your clothes that are a nuisance in this mellow clime. Get in and wrestle with the sea; wing your heels with the skill and power that reside in you, bit the sea's breakers, master them, and ride upon their backs as a king should do."

In the 1930'S, Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian Olympic Medalist and Surfer introduced modern surfing to the world.

Today, surfing is an international sport, the North Shore of O'ahu its Mecca, and site of the final leg of the World Championship Series at Pipeline and Sunset Beach in December. Windsurfing and sky surfing have taken this ancient sport of kings to new dimensions.

The chiefs of old would have approved.




Source:  Hawai`i Resource Library


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