Surfing culture

The history of stand up surfing in Australia is a great story.

Duke at Freshwater Beach 1915

Most surfers know about Duke Kahanamoku - the legendary Hawaiian waterman and 3 X Olympic gold medal winner - but don't realise at the time of his first 'surfing' exhibitions in the Australian summer of 1914-15, surfing had a 2,000 year history in Pacific Islands across Tahiti, Hawaii, Tonga and Samoa. When the Duke surfed those first few waves at Freshwater beach, he had the observing crowds stunned. You would have thought surfing became 'big' overnight...

Yet, as Douglas Booth (1995; 2002) shows in his work on the sociology of Australian beach culture, surfing participation remained based in surf lifesaving clubs until after WWII. Here it was quite strictly structured. Helped with the release of Gidget in 1959, commercial success of surf films like Big Wednesday and The Endless Summer, Duke with his 18 foot oloand popularity of music styles like The Beach Boys, surfing began a slow progression towards mainstream social acceptance. By the 1990s, surfing had become an acknowledged and legitimate leisure pursuit, cultural form and burgeoning professional sport.

Today surfing is considered 'cool', where the markers of a surfing identity are witnessed through fashion, personal adornment (tattoos, hair cuts, cars and stickers), styles and tastes of music. Throughout surfing's global growth, the surfboard has remained its only essential instrument. The rest is up to the body and waves.  I thought i should share a couple of wonderful photographs that i have come across in writing about surfboard making.

The photographs here show: (Top) The Duke emerging from the surf at Freshwater beach, Sydney in February 1915; (Left) An image from famous photographer  Tai Sing Loo, shows Duke with a surfboard on Waikiki Beach, circa 1930s.  (Below) The final two images below are actually sketches made by European explorers in the early 1800s. These give us an insight into the cultural significance of surfing to Pacific Island life.


Hawaiian surfing sketch early 1800s

Hawaiian surfing sketch early 1800s

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Duke at Freshwater beach 1915_reduced size.jpg95.21 KB
Duke with his 18 foot olo.jpg108.4 KB
Hawaiian surfing sketch early 1800s_reduced size.jpg137.79 KB
Hawaiian surfing sketch early 1800s_no 2.jpg221.87 KB