Santa Barbara Surfing Museum - 16 1/2 Helena Avenue: #C - Santa Barbara, California 93101 - Phone: 805-962-9048

History of Surfing


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A brief history of the sport of surfing

  1. Prehistoric petroglyphs in Peru depict the riding of waves by the chan chan on their caballitos (little horses) at least 1000 B.C.


  2. Early petroglyphs on the big island of Hawaii portray surf riding that predates the “discovery” of Hawaii by non-Polynesians.


  3. 1778 - Capt. James Cook marveled at and documents board surfing in the Sandwich Isles (Hawaii)


  4. The exact origin of the sport cannot be pinned down or the place where man was able to get in front of this magic rolling crest and race down the face of nalu or the first one to shape a board for this “The Sport of Kings.


  5. The sport of surfboard riding was known all through Oceania from New Guinea in the West, the Easter Island in the East, Hawaii in the North ,to New Zealand in the South.


  6. 1812 Maui, Lahaina John Papa Li writes ”boys were surfing on the north side of Pelekane on banana trunks for surfboards.


  7. 1826 The word surfboard appears in the dictionary


  8. In 1865 the Nupepa Kuokoa (The Honolulu newspaper written in the Hawaiian language) an article written on “The Ancient Sports of Hawaii“, stated that periodic surfing contests were held in “Old Hawaii."


  9. The three types of Hawaiian surfboard types are as follows.
    - The “Olo” this the largest reaching to to 26 ft.was made of koa wood or wiliwili
    - The Kiko’o ranging from 12 to 18 ft. also koa wood or wiliwili
    - The Alaia was the small surfboard 9ft. and under


  10. 1822 - Ellis stated that the surfboards were stained black and after a session of surf riding the board was dried then wiped down with coconut oil and hung to dry.


  11. 1907 - Jack London writes ”He is flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is Mercury- a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them the swiftness of the sea…”


  12. 1907 - George Freeth does the first surfboard demonstration in Redondo Beach. He is billed as: ”The man who can walk on water.”


  13. 1928 - The Santa Ana Daily Register - The First Pacific Coast Surf Board Championship meet. The entries included Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake. The event was staged by The Corona Del Mar Surf Board Club. It was at this meet that Tom Blake premiered his “Hawaiian Hollow Surfboard”


  14. 1935 - Tom Blake attached a simple fixed fin to the bottom of his patented surfboard allowing a more stable ride. This was called a “skeg.”


  15. Preston “Pete” Peterson dominated the surfing and paddling competition from 1932 up to WW2. He was referred to as ”The Greatest Waterman on the West Coast.” Preston “Pete” Peterson still competed up into the 1960’s.


  16. After WW2 the pockets of surfing along the California coast stretched from Santa Cruz to San Diego. There were surf club competitions held in Long Beach and San Onofre.


  17. 1956 - Fredrick Kohner writes his best selling novel “Gidget”. This historic injection into mainstream America creates a culture for the sport. Sandra Dee stars in the movie “Gidget” and puts Malibu on the map as the surfing capitol of the world.


  18. 1960 - Balsa surfboards are OUT - Foam surfboards IN.


  19. 1960 - The Ventures “Walk Don’t Run” makes it to #2 on Billboard’s top 100 list.


  20. 1961 - Dick Dale plays “Lets Go Trippin'" at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach this was the first Surf Rock song.


  21. 1964 - Bruce Brown presents “The Endless Summer,” the most popular surfing movie of all time.


  22. 1965 - Stan Lee creates the “SilverSurfer” for Marvel Comics.


  23. 1966 - Nat Young wins the World Surfing Championships on a George Greenough / Bob McTavish high aspect ratio short surfboard. This is the beginning of the short board revolution.


  24. 1992 - The Santa Barbara Surfing Museum is established.


  25. 1992 - Kelly Slater wins his first of eight World Surfing Titles.


  26. 1995 - Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox, and Dave Kalama experiment with tow in surfing.



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