25 Facts about Surfing

June 21 is the day we celebrate International Surfing Day. With that in mind, we present to you 25 facts about surfing that may just encourage you to get out there, take a lesson, catch a wave, or simply watch some surfers as they engage in this global phenomenon. “Hang Loose”, and have a great day!!!

Surfing was first written about by a fellow named Joseph Banks during the third voyage of Captain James Cook around Polynesia. When? Try 1779!! Yes, this is an ancient sport. Further coverage was of the Samoans who would surf on huge planks or canoes.

Surfing was all but banished from the world by missionaries from Germany and Scotland when, in the 1800’s, they arrived in Hawaii and discouraged or outlawed surfing along with many other local customs. Surfing was almost extinct by the 20th century.

The modern surfing revival kicked off around the world at various times, with surfers travelling across the globe bringing surfing wherever they went. Hawaiian students brought surfing to California in 1885. And by 1912, a guy named James Matthias Jordan Jr. tore through the waters of Virginia Beach on a 50-kilo, 9 foot Hawaiian Redwood surfboard.

Surfing hit Australia in 1915 courtesy of the famous Duke Kahanamoku. His original board is still on display at the Freshwater Surf lifesaving club in Sydney.

Today, surfing is practiced around the world wherever there are waves to be found. Pro surfers ride famous breaks in Hawaii, Australia, California, Fiji… the list goes on. And kids in poorer parts of the world are often seen surfing on planks, or broken surfboards left behind by travelling visitors.

There are an estimated 23 million surfers worldwide, with over 1.7 million surfers in America alone.

Modern surfing today is divided into various genres including longboarding, shortboarding, stand up paddle surfing, tow-surfing, and even foilboarding, where surfers catch waves on a surfboard with a submerged hydrofoil which lifts them out of the water with only the foil in the wave.

Contests are held annually to see who can ride the biggest wave. In 2014, Andrew Cotton unofficially rode and 80 foot wave.

The holy grail of riding a 100-foot wave was quietly and unofficially achieved by Laird Hamilton and Brett Lickle in December, 2007.

Surfing’s popularity, inevitable led to its commercialization, and today represents a 7.29 billion dollar a year industry.

The best surfers, in the best contests get the most money….In 2009, Kelly Slater, a surfer originally from Florida, earned over 3 million dollar from surfing and surfing related endorsements.

Waves come in all shapes and sizes, and the largest recorded wave was 1740 feet (530m) in an unlikely place called Lituya Bay in Alaska.

Most surfers ride a wave anywhere from a few seconds, to a few dozen seconds, however, in a place called Pororoca, in the Amazon River, a surfer was recorded riding a single wave for 37 minutes. Now that’s surfing stamina at it’s best.

Surfing in Germany seems impossible with no ocean wave access. However, on the Eisbach River, on something affectionately known as the “Eisbach wave” an active community of over 1000 surfers regularly rides this fast, cold, standing river wave.

In 2005, Josema Odriozola, and engineer, and sports economist Karin Frisch combined their skills and embarked on a project called Wavegarden. This project is the first commercially successful inland artificial surfing wave park effort.

Surfboards over the years have gotten smaller and lighter. Original surfboards often weighed over 100 lbs., with modern ultra light shortboards weighing less than 4.5 lbs.

The slang term “Hang Loose” or Shaka is a greeting gesture, often associated with Hawaii, and generally means, “stay calm and relaxed, everything is going to be ok”.

Surf culture is deep with tradition and localism. “Locals Only” surf breaks are common near beach towns, especially those who receive seasonal vacationing surfers.

Wolfpak is a group started in 2001, who enforce a level of respect and understand at Pipeline in Hawaii. Often regarded as a surf gang, yet well received by the community, they group has gotten attention over the years due to their violent means and methods. Founder, Kala Alexander has been quoted: “I don’t care if it’s Kauai or Brooklyn. And I believe wherever you go, locals have the right of way. That’s how it should be, and how it used to be here.”

Surf Films have been popular since the mid 1900’s. One of the more famous surf films is a 1966 documentary film called “Endless Summer” filmed and narrated by Bruce Brown. There isn’t a surfer out there who hasn’t heard of this film, and probably has watched it half a dozen times.

Surfing and Elvis Presley are forever tied together in surfing history with his surf film – Blue Hawaii (1961) about a guy who has just gotten out of the Army, and is back in Hawaii with his friends, his surfboard, and his girlfriend. 102 minutes of great scenery, Elvis acting and singing… and surfing!

The surfing lifestyle elicits many positive traits in a person: Patience, a positive attitude, and willingness to embrace challenges. Facing your fears, living in the now, living with passion and choosing your own unique path are also things surfer have in common. There is more to this lifestyle than people initially think when they hear the term “Surfer”

Surfing in the media is always surrounded with stories about sharks, and how surfers look “just like seals” to the sharks. Yes, shark attacks on surfers happen, however, they are RARE. In 2000, there were 79 recorded shark attacks with 16 being fatal. 79… Worldwide… compare that to attacks by dogs, injuries and deaths by car accidents, deaths due to cancer and other serious illnesses… 79?!?!? Worldwide? Why do I suddenly feel same getting in the water?

With surfing going mainstream many years ago, there are all sorts of initiatives being starting with kids and surfing. “Surfers Not Street Children” in Durban, South Africa is supported by O’Neill and surfer Jordy Smith. They are committed to inspiring kids still living on the street, through a combination of surfing and psychosocial services.

Surfing is easy and difficult at the same time. Going to a surf camp for a week (if you are lucky to get the time off work) or taking some lessons over a weekend from a proper surf school will have most people standing up and riding their first waves…that is the easy part. However, if you want to ride the big ones, or ride some of the meanest waves on the planet, then you are going to need a lifetime of training, practice and dedication. That’s the difficult part. But no matter what, surfing and surfer around the world, young and old, new and professional all share the same stoke of just getting out there and riding.