Originally developed by Hawaiian islanders (see Ngaru), before the 15th century, "he'e nalu" (wave-sliding) spread in the early 20th century to the USA and Australia, where heavy timber "Malibu" boards were ridden directly towards beaches. However, the sport exploded in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when cheaper, more maneuverable, and lighter boards made of fiberglass and foam became available and the teenaged baby boomers headed to the beach in droves to enjoy the maneuverability and stunts made possible by the new boards. The sport has spread to most places where waves of sufficient size and the right shape appear, including France, Brazil, South Africa, and many island states. Wetsuits are usually worn in to keep surfers warm in colder weather. Other surfing equipment includes board leashes, used to keep a surfer's board from washing to shore after a 'wipeout', wax and/or traction pads, used to keep a surfers feet from slipping of the deck of the board, interchangeable "skegs" and of course in warmer climates the surf trunk or board short.
Surfing has a unique and often powerful appeal, which probably derives from an unusual confluence of elements; adrenalin, skill, and high paced maneuvering are set against a naturally unpredictable backdrop—an organic environment that is, by turns, graceful and serene, violent and formidable. Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control the craft in challenging conditions, but by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as the 'cutback' (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the 'floater' (riding the very top of the wave), and, if the surf conditions allow it, "getting barreled". This is the 'holy grail' of surfing, where the surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of them, forming a "barrel" (or "tube"), with the rider inside the cylindrical portion of the wave.
Competitive surfing is a comparison sport where riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency, of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world championship series held annually at surf beaches around the world. Though in recent years competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for professional competitors and sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of 'soul surfing', and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity.
A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularized in the 1990s has seen big-wave surfing revolutionized, as surfers use jet skis to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves. This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.
Popular surfing areas
- Newcastle, where Surfest is held annually.
- Ocean beaches of Sydney in particular Bondi Beach
- The Atlantic coast of France (eg. Biarritz)
- New Zealand
- Manu Bay and Whale Bay, Raglan
- Much of South Africa's coastline
- United States
- Much of the coast of Southern California from Half Moon Bay south, one of the most revered and dangerous spots being Maverick's.
- Most of Hawaii, especially the North Shore of Oahu. The North Shore is home to perhaps the world's most renowned and revered wave, "Pipeline" (or "Banzai Pipeline"), so named for the yawning chasms it regularly hurls over the heads of awe-struck surfers.
Anywhere else waves hit the shore. Many surfers are seen as territorial, hence the expression "locals only"
Surfing CultureSurfing is often viewed as less of a sports activity, and more of a lifestyle. Popularized in the United States during the 1950s, surf culture found increasing expression with mass-production of surf fashion, music and, later, with the booming surf magazine and movie industries in the 1960s. Bruce Brown's classic movie Endless Summer glorified surfing in a round-the-world search for the perfect wave; The Ventures, The Surfaris ("Wipeout!") and other surf rock bands melded surfing with rock and roll to create surf rock and other surf music. (True surfers don't acknowledge the Beach Boys as surf music—Surfin' USA notwithstanding). Surfing culture can be seen in their slang: hang ten, gremmies, the Big Kahuna, the woody, waxing my stick, the green room, etc, though many of these terms are now archaic. Partially due to the obsessive tendency of its participants, and partly to the predominantly stylized media representation of the sport's participants, surfing became embedded in the popular imagination as synonymous with either a naive, pseudo-spiritual hippie idealism or a drug-addled, lazy, 'beach-bum' apathy. Neither of these is probably accurate. Though today such stereotypes have long since lost whatever relevance they may have had, surfing has still failed to completely divest itself of negative social connotations, despite the best attempts of various commercial marketing strategies. (Aside: One famous Australian surfer, Nat Young, once tried to register the sport as a religion, but to no avail.)
If there is one fair generalization concerning the sport, it is the fanatical enthusiasm of its devotees. Surfing Magazine, founded in the 1960s when surfing had gained popularity with teenagers, used to say that if they were hard at work and someone yelled "Surf's up!" the office would suddenly be empty.
Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf"
on land; the number of boardsports has since grown.