2000 B.C.: A predecessor of surfing emerged in Polynesia before people arrived in Hawaii. Ancestors of Pacific Islanders may have started to ride ocean waves, and they eventually migrated from Southeast Asia to the Pacific Islands.

Approximately 400 A.D.: Hawaii’s first inhabitants came from the Marquesas Islands and probably brought surfing.

1777: European explorer James Cook and his crew witnessed the Native Hawaiians surfing in the beach. In a 1777 journal entry in A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean by Resolution surgeon William Anderson (the entry was long thought to be written by Cook until recently), he wrote: “He went out from the shore till he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise; and, watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it with great quickness, till he found that it overlooked him, and had acquired sufficient force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath. He then sat motionless, and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach.”

1820: Missionaries arrived in Hawaii and discouraged surfing, disapproving its gambling and sexual aspects. Protestant missionary Hiram Bingham I called surfing the pastime of “chattering savages.” Surfing started to go into a decline, as Hawaiians replace their traditional pastimes with games introduced by the missionaries, and the newly introduced western diseases decimate the Native Hawaiian population.

Summer 1885: Introducing surfing to California, Hawaiian princes Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, David Kawānanakoa, and Edward Keliʻiahonui made their surfboards out of the local redwood and surfed at the San Lorenzo river mouth in Santa Cruz, California. During the 1880s, they attended Saint Matthew’s School, a military school in San Mateo, California.

1890s: The Native Hawaiians were noted to be rarely seen surfing at the Hawaii beaches, and some observers recorded surfing as a discontinued pastime. In 1895, anthropologist and missionary son Nathaniel Emerson said, “We cannot but mourn its decline, [and] today is hard to find a surfboard outside of out museums and private collections.”

1900s: Surfing experienced a revival. In 1907, Alexander Hume Ford, one of the people who revived surfing and a founder of the Outrigger Surf Club, taught American writer Jack London how to surf. Afterwards, London wrote A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki.

1907: The Redondo-Los Angeles Railroad Company sponsored George Freeth, originally from Hawaii, to introduce surfing to California. Through his surfing classes for children and his demonstrations, surfing became popular in California. As a lifeguard, Freeth developed the rescue paddleboard and rescue can, which lifeguards still use today.

1912: In southern California, Native Hawaiian athlete Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the “father of modern surfing,” demonstrated and popularized surfing in California. One of the fastest swimmers in the world, Kahanamoku visited California, during his trip to the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. At the Olympics, Kahanamoku won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle swimming competition and a silver medal in the 200-meter freestyle relay swimming competition.

1915: Kahanamoku popularized surfing in Australia. Afterwards, surfers were seen riding the waves at the beaches at Sydney and developed their form of surfing.

Suggested Search Terms

For articles relating to surfing, in the field …with the words:, enter the query “surf ride” and choose 50 in the drop-down list between the word within and the phrase words of each other.

For articles relating to water sportsman Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, enter the query “duke kahanamoku” in the field …with the phrase.

For articles relating to surfer George Freeth, enter the query “george freeth” in the field …with the phrase.

Articles From Chronicling America

“Swimming in the Pacific”
The Paducah daily sun. (Paducah, Ky.) 1896-1898, August 18, 1898, Image 4

“Exciting Bathing in Waikiki”
The Scranton tribune. (Scranton, Pa.) 1891-1910, July 29, 1899, Morning, Image 5

“Surf Riding Is the Sport of Honolulu”
The Jennings daily record. (Jennings, La.) 1900-1903, September 29, 1902, Image 2

“Freeth Will Ride Atlantic Rollers”
The Hawaiian gazette (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, June 28, 1907, Image 6

“Freeth Surfing at Venice”
The Hawaiian gazette, August 2, 1907, Image 4

“Hawaiian Sports Shown for Nation’s Defenders”
Evening bulletin, October 19, 1908, Image 7

“Surf Riding Films Go To Coast”
Evening bulletin, October 29, 1909, Image 9

“Smooth Sea Spoils Surfing Stunts”
Evening bulletin (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, January 24, 1910, Image 7

“Surf Riding Is Fine”
The Bourbon news (Paris, Ky.) 1895-19??, August 29, 1911, Image 8

“Daring surf riders really walk on water off harbor of Honolulu”

“Surfing Craze Is Spreading on Mainland: Boards Now in Use at Most of the California Beaches, and Their Popularity Grows”
Honolulu star-bulletin, August 19, 1915, Page 10


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