- See World Wide Web for "surfing" the web; see also Wind surfing
Surfing is a popular recreational activity and sport in which individuals are propelled across the water by the force of waves, whilst standing on, predominantly, GRP ("fiberglass") boards. Wooden and foam (see plastic) boards ("foamies") are also used. Kayak surfing is also becoming popular.
Originally developed by Hawaiian islanders (see Ngaru), before the 15th century, "he'e nalu" (wave-sliding) spread in the early 20th century to the USA and Australia, where heavy timber "malibu" boards were ridden directly towards beaches. However, the sport exploded in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when cheaper, more maneuverable, and lighter boards made of fiberglass and foam became available and the teenaged baby boomers headed to the beach in droves to enjoy the maneuverability and stunts made possible by the new boards. The sport has spread to most places where waves of sufficient size and the right shape appear, including France, Brazil, South Africa, and many island states. Wetsuits are often worn to keep surfers warm in colder water. Other surfing equipment includes leashes (to keep a surfer's board from washing to shore after a 'wipeout'), wax and/or traction pads (to keep a surfers feet from slipping of the deck of the board), interchangeable "skegs" (also know as fins), and of course in warmer climates surf trunks or board shorts. In cold water surfers can opt to wear booties, hoods, and gloves to manage lower water termperatures.
Surfing has a unique and often powerful appeal, which probably derives from an unusual confluence of elements: adrenaline, skill, and high paced maneuvering are set against a naturally unpredictable backdrop—an organic environment that is, by turns, graceful and serene, violent and formidable. Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control the craft in challenging conditions, but by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as the 'cutback' (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the 'floater' (riding on the top of the breaking curl of the wave), 'off the lip' (doing an air off the wave) and, if the surf conditions allow it, riding barrels. This is the 'holy grail' of surfing, where the surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of them, forming a "barrel" (or "tube"), with the rider inside the cylindrical portion of the wave. However, such situations do not exist if the waves 'dump', meaning that they break in large parts at a time.
The image of surfing powerfully differs from the sport in reality. Most people only see the pros riding; most of surfing has to do with paddling out and waiting 'outside'. However, one does not see photographs of pros paddling out.
Competitive surfing is a comparison sport where riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency, of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world championship series held annually at surf beaches around the world. Though in recent years competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for professional competitors and sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of 'soul surfing', and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity.
A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularised in the 1990s has seen big wave surfing revolutionised, as surfers use jetskis to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves. This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.
Popular surfing areas
- France, particularly the Atlantic coast south of the Gironde
- The Atlantic coast of France (eg. Biarritz)
- New Zealand
- Manu Bay and Whale Bay, Raglan
- Much of South Africa's coastline
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Much of the Northern California coast from San Francisco south including Half Moon Bay, which is home to one of the most revered and dangerous spots, Mavericks.
- Southern California, from San Diego to above Santa Barbara, features outstanding beaches such as La Jolla, Huntington Beach, San Onofre, Rincon and Sunset, and is where American surfing music and culture began to evolve.
- Most of Hawaii, especially the North Shore of Oahu. The North Shore is home to perhaps the world's most renowned and revered wave, "Pipeline" (or "Banzai Pipeline"), so named for the yawning chasms it regularly hurls over the heads of awe-struck surfers.
- The eastern central coast of Florida, particularly Brevard County, is renowned as the "small wave surfing capital of the world," and is home to such surfing luminaries as Kelly Slater, Todd Holland, and Matt Kechele.
- The Mid-Atlantic region includes popular spots such as North Carolina's Outer Banks, Virginia Beach, Ocean City (Md.), and the Jersey Shore.
The west coast of the Americas tends to have better surfing areas than the east coast. While the continental shelf of the west coast drops off quickly, on the east it extends a great distance, creating drag and making smaller and less powerful waves.
Anywhere else waves hit the shore. Many surfers are seen as territorial, hence the expression "locals only"; or as the rock group The Surf Punks put it, "my beach, my wave, my girl, so f--- you!.
Other surfers, however, known as "soul surfers", hold less aggressive views towards others. These surfers see surfing as more than a sport; it is an opportunity to harness the waves in and to relax and forget about their daily routines. This type of surfing has seen a rise in popularity recently.
Surfing is often viewed as less of a sports activity, and more of a lifestyle. Popularised in the United States during the 1950s, surf culture found increasing expression with mass-production of surf fashion, music and, later, with the booming surf magazine and movie industries in the 1960s. Bruce Brown's classic movie Endless Summer glorified surfing in a round-the-world search for the perfect wave; The Ventures, The Surfaris ("Wipeout!") and other surf rock bands melded surfing with rock and roll to create surf rock and other surf music. (Some subculture-oriented surfers don't acknowledge the Beach Boys as surf music—Surfin' USA notwithstanding). Surfing culture can be seen in their slang: hang ten, gremmies, the Big Kahuna, the woody, waxing my stick, the green room, etc, though many of these terms are now archaic. Partially due to the obsessive tendency of its participants, and partly to the predominantly stylised media representation of the sport's participants, surfing became embedded in the popular imagination as synonymous with either a na´ve, pseudo-spiritual hippie idealism or a drug-addled, lazy, 'beach-bum' apathy. Neither of these is probably accurate. Though today such stereotypes have long since lost whatever relevance they may have had, surfing has still failed to completely divest itself of negative social connotations, despite the best attempts of various commercial marketing strategies. (Aside: One famous Australian surfer, Nat Young, once tried to register the sport as a religion, but to no avail.)
If there is one fair generalisation concerning the sport, it is the fanatical enthusiasm of its devotees. Surfing Magazine, founded in the 1960s when surfing had gained popularity with teenagers, used to say that if they were hard at work and someone yelled "Surf's up!" the office would suddenly be empty.
Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land; the number of boardsports has since grown.
Famous and notable surfers
- Layne Beachley, Australia
- Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, olympian and Ambassador of Surfing
- Bethany Hamilton, Kauai and shark attack survivor
- Laird Hamilton, Hawaii, California, Big wave Rider and tow-in surfing inventor
- Andy Irons, Kauai
- Keala Kennelly, Kauai
- Kelly Slater, Florida
- Rell Sunn, Queen of Makaha, O‘ahu