Timeline History of surfing | Timepath
1777
Surfing almost died
First champion

History of surfing

Surfing has a richer and deeper background than you might think. This Timepath will show you how surfing started and how it evolved up to now. Powered by surf-escape.com

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First documentation of surfing

The first documentation of surfing was done by a surgeon Joseph Banks on the ship of Captain James Cook in 1777.


Surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture and predates European contact. The chief (Ali'i) was traditionally the most skilled wave rider in the community with the best board made from the best wood.


The ancient Hawaiians had mainly three types of board: Olo, Alaia, and Paipo. The Olo was 15 to 20 feet long and solid wood.


When Americans came to Hawaii, they didn’t think much of surfing. They even discouraged it.

First documentation of surfing
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Surfing almost died due to illnesses

Surfing almost died when European and American diseases came to Hawaii the population decreased enormously. By that time there were hardly any surfers left. At that time only 40.000 people were living in Hawaii from a pre-contact population of 800.000.

1907 George Freeth came to California and did surfing demonstrations

But in 1907 a guy called George Freeth came to California and did some surfing demonstrations at Huntington Beach. And in 1914 Duke Kahanamoku (The Duke) made his way to Australia and New Zealand. And everybody got enthusiastic about surfing in this region.

1907 George Freeth came to California and did surfing demonstrations

Tommy Walker returned to Manly Beach Australia

In 1910, Tommy Walker returned to Manly Beach, Sydney, with a 10 ft surfboard "bought at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, for two dollars." Walker became an expert rider and in 1912 gave several exhibitions in Sydney.

Tommy Walker returned to Manly Beach Australia
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Duke Kahanamoku

Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku went to Australia en New Zealand. He surfed the Pacific Waves and was attracting audiences.

Alexendar Hume Ford first champion

Alexendar Hume Ford became the first champion in Hawaii. He came from California. He wanted to grow the sport and that Hawaii became part of the USA. Ford attracted white Americans while Hawaii was a fusion of al kind of people and backgrounds.

Alexendar Hume Ford first champion

From 1959 Surfing got promoted

More and more Americans came to Hawaii and in 1959 Hawaii became a status of the United States. The Americans started to promote surfing.

First shortboard

From the early 1960's a huge evolution started due to the invention of the shortboard.

From the brainchild of Greenough and McTavish, a 1966 shortboard was crafted with the ability to change the way we surfed at that point of time.

First shortboard
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First professional event

In 1975, professional contests started. Mark Richards set an early precedent by claiming four consecutive titles. In 1975 Margo Oberg became the first female professional surfer.

First professional event

IPS becomes APS and surfing became more professional

Around early 80's the original IPS concept into the Association of Surfing Professionals. And surfing became a more professional sport worldwide, organizing surf events on great surf spots around the globe.

Tom Curren (from the USA) and Tom Carroll (from Australia) where one of the champions in the 80's. Check out the video below of Tom Curren making his pro debut in '82.

Kelly Slater came to the pitch

The 90's where dominated by young talent Kelly Slater. Becoming 6-times world champion in this decade. His first win was in France.

Kelly Slater is still considered the greatest surfer of all time. And is still competing.

Check out this look back on the 90's by Kelly Slater


Most successful female surfer in history: Layne Beachley

Layne Beachley from Australia is regarded as the most successful female surfer in history. Layne went on to win a 7th world title in 2006 before retiring from the ASP World Tour in 2008.

Most successful female surfer in history: Layne Beachley
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ASP became WSL

2015 saw the ASP officially become the World Surf League (WSL), overseeing the key product areas of the elite men's and women's World Championship Tours, the Qualifying Series (QS), the Big Wave Tour, the Big Wave Awards, the World Longboard Championships and the World Junior Championships.

ASP became WSL

First artificial full sized wave pools

Surf Snowdonia in Great Britain (Wales) is the world's first full-sized surf pool powered by Wavegarden. With six-foot waves peel down the line for 20 seconds.


But honestly, there were wavepools for decades already. The first footage is from 1929 from a swimmingpool in Germany that provided waves. But that was just for swimming. Every decade from the 60's a surfpool popped up in some kind of dessert, like Big Surf, Walt Disney tried it, Sunway Lagoon, But not providing the quality waves that are delivered nowadays in different surfpools down the globe.

One of the newest is Alaia Bay in the heart of the Alps in Switzerland.

First artificial full sized wave pools
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Biggest wave ever surfed

Garreth McNamara was the first to set the world record for the biggest wave ever surfed at Nazaré in Portugal (2011). Below see you the mindblowing footage of that moment.


In 2017, Rodrigo ‘Koxa’ Augusto do Espírito Santo, a Brazilian professional big wave surfer and extreme waterman, broke this world record. Again at Nazaré, in November 8, 2017.

2021 Surfing debut at the Olympic Games

In 2021, after postponing the Olympics for a year due to Corona surfing made it's debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

  • Carissa More (USA) won gold at the womens final
  • Italo Ferreira (Brazil) won gold at the mens final