Cowabunga! 10 Vintage Pictures of People Surfing

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Surfing is an ancient sport with an uncertain history. Some believe it was originated by Polynesian fishermen who rode wooden boards to get to the shore. Ancient Hawaiians referred to the act as "wave-sliding" and relied on Kahunas, or priests, to appease the ocean and yield choice waves. The boards were status symbols, and the bigger the board, the higher your birth: Commoners used boards that were 7 feet long, while chiefs would surf on boards as long as 25 feet.

Westerners on board the HMS Endeavour got their first look at surfing in 1769 as they traveled through the South Pacific. Joseph Banks, working on board as a naturalist, described it:

In our return to the boat we saw the Indians amuse or excersise themselves in a manner truly surprizing. ... In the midst of these breakers 10 or 12 Indians were swimming who whenever a surf broke near them divd under it with infinite ease, rising up on the other side; but their cheif amusement was carried on by the stern of an old canoe, with this before them they swam out as far as the outermost breach, then one or two would get into it and opposing the blunt end to the breaking wave were hurried in with incredible swiftness. Sometimes they were carried almost ashore but generaly the wave broke over them before they were half way, in which case the[y] divd and quickly rose on the other side with the canoe in their hands, which was towd out again and the same method repeated. We stood admiring this very wonderfull scene for full half an hour, in which time no one of the actors atempted to come ashore but all seemd most highly entertaind with their strange diversion.

Surfing wouldn't make its mainland debut until 1907; Hawaiian George Freeth demonstrated his gnarly skills at an event for a California railroad. Thanks to Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, a swimmer-turned-surfer who popularized the sport in the 1910s and '20s, surfing spread and eventually became the sport we know today.

1. Waikiki, 1925

Olympic swimmers Charlotte Boyle and Ethelda Bleibtrey pose with the surfing savior, Kahanamoku, before the 100 yards National Championships.

Bleibtrey was the first woman in the world to win three Olympic golds. She was also arrested for "nude swimming"—or not wearing stockings while swimming. Kahanamoku was also an Olympic swimmer and won five Olympic medals. 

2. Sydney, 1930

A group of surfers hold up their boards. Before the '50s, all surfboards were made out of wood, and not exactly waterproof. The wood boards would get waterlogged and heavy after being in the water too long. Tom Blake invented the hollow surfboard in 1926 and by 1930, it had become the first massed-produced board. 

3. Bondi Beach, 1931

Pictured above is 5-year-old James Easterbrook, the youngest competitor at the surfing carnival at Sydney, 1931. 

4. Sydney, 1931

A large group of surfers run to catch a party wave.

5. Santa Monica, 1935

Surf bunnies (female surfers) lay on their 'mondo boards to create a star at the beach. 

6. Hawaii, 1935

A collection of surfers ride the waves in Hawaii.

7. Hermosa Beach, 1955

Members of the Hermosa Beach club get ready for a big competition. By the '50s, wood had been replaced with fiberglass and polyurethane foam. The new material was easier and cheaper to make. New increased availability of surfboards helped surfing become a popular sport. 

8. New Quay Beach, 1955

Two girls wax their board, while a third oversees. 

9. Hawaii, 1960

Surfers hot-dogging and performing tricks in Hawaii. 

10. Gidget, 1965

Sally Field poses for a promotional picture for the TV show, Gidget. The show was based off the 1956 movie of the same name and lasted for one season. 

All images courtesy of Getty Images. 

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July 31, 2014 - 11:00am
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