Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

A Look at the History of Surfing in Hawaii

Hawaii’s State Sport

Thoughts of the beautiful islands of Hawaii often turn to surfing, which just so happens to be the state sport. Surfing has a long history here, one that dates back to the 4th century. Polynesians brought this custom here when making the trek from Tahiti and the Marquesas. They loved to play in the water on their belly boards – known as Paipo boards, according to Discover Oahu. Around this time, people started standing up on those boards to “ride” the waves. However, the first written citing of a surfer in action wasn’t documented till 1779 by Lieutenant James King of the “Discovery.”

Quit Surging?

By now, Hawaiian culture was being defined by surfers whose prized boards became a staple sighting on the islands. People here deferred to the kapu (taboos) to convince the gods to create superior surf; in 1820, Captain Cook the H’aole came here from England preaching the word of Jesus Christ to the Polynesians. In an attempt to “Americanize” the Polynesians, Captain Cook and his followers demanded the natives wear clothing, learn to read, start working hard and even quit surfing because it was considered frivolous play. Once the 1900s hit, surfing was all but dead on the islands. Only a handful of people still surfed, and they were basically confined to South Oahu.

Sport of Kings

In 1907, author Jack London and his wife arrived on Oahu, quickly meeting up with locals who loved to surf as part of the Waikiki Swimming Club. They called surfing the “sport of kings,” which London wrote about in magazines. This exposure gave surfing the jolt it needed and the sport started to be revived through the formation of the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club. Around the same time, Duke Paoa Kahanomoku and other locals decided to form their own surf club called Hui Nalu. Duke became famous as the fastest swimmer and best surfer the world over, using his clout to bring attention back to the sport of surfing.

Lets Hang 10

From there, the sport exploded, attracting the interest of even American soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor in the 1940s. The image of surfers at Makaha Beach, Sunset Beach and Waimea Beach became ingrained in the American consciousness, with photographers and filmmakers flocking to Hawaii to document this growing trend. When Hawaii was designated a state in 1959, it seemed everyone – particularly Californians – wanted to become a part of this burgeoning culture. With so many people heading there in droves, in no small part to the fame of beach party movies, surfing in Hawaii finally achieved the recognition it deserved. Today, surfing remains one of the most popular outdoor sports on the planet, starting with the perseverance of the Polynesians and Hawaiians.

If you’re coming to Hawaii to surf, consider taking in a tour or two to round out your visit to this beautiful state. An eco-adventure tour would pair nicely with some surfing! Hoku Hawaii Tours can hook you up with the best excursions around.

Skip to toolbar