5 Defining Moments in Surfing History

Duke Kahanamoku & George Freeth Introduce Surfing to the World
While surfing has been around for thousands of years, its presence as a mainstream sport in the United States was almost non-existent. That is until two legends, Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth, came to the mainland US from Hawaii to share the sport with beach goers all over the country.

The Irish-Hawaiian George Freeth ventured to Southern California in 1907 to give public surfing demonstrations at the invitation of Henry Huntington (of Huntington Beach). Freeth’s “aquatic demonstrations” in which he rode a massive 8-foot long, 200-pound redwood board were a hit. And surfing took off in Southern California.

Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii was propelled into fame, and took the sport of surfing with him when he won a gold medal for swimming in the 1912 Olympics. Like Freeth, Duke gave surfing demonstrations around the world, popularizing the sport on coasts all over the globe.

Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer Featuring WRSC’s Robert August
When Bruce Brown’s seminal surf film The Endless Summer made its 1966 summer debut, surfing was propelled into mainstream pop culture. The film follows two young surfers Mike Hynson and Witch’s Rock’s own, Robert August as they travel the world looking for waves in search of an “endless summer.”

The film has inspired countless surfers and travelers to pick up a board, pack a bag, and get out there. The film remains widely popular with surfers and non-surfers alike. If you want to see some of our other favorite surfing films, check this post.

The Invention of the Modern Thruster
Boards have come a long way since George Freeth rode his 200-pound redwood board in Huntington Beach.  Today, there are countless surfboard styles and shapes. Check out our guide to navigating the many surfboard shapes

No new board shape sent surfing skyrocketing forward quite like the modern thruster. In a time where single fins were fading in popularity to their speedy twin fin counter part, one surfer was frustrated with lack of control on twin fins. Simon Anderson, an Australian professional surfer, came up with the thruster in October of 1980 for the purpose of improving his competitive surfing. Today, the 3-fin thruster remains the industry standard for high performance surfboards.

Tow in Surfing
Before the 1990s, waves 20-feet and over were considered by most to be unsurfable. It is not that pre-1990s big wave surfers had no desire to surf larger waves, simply that waves of that size were seen as impossible to ride. A wave that big was so powerful and would move so fast that human paddle power was just not enough.

In the winter of 1992, that all changed. Famed waterman, Laird Hamilton and his crew (Buzzy Kerbox and Darrick Doerner) took a Jet Ski, towrope, and custom surfboard outfitted with foot straps to a famous North Shore spot, Backyards. The North Shore crew was able to effortlessly tow Laird into monster waves.  By the mid 1990s, tow-surfing had completely taken the world by storm. Big wave spots were riddled with dozens of Jet Skis during every major swell.   

Return to Paddle
Tow-in surfing did more than just show surfers that with the help of a Jet Ski; surfers could get into waves of gargantuan proportions. Tow-in surfing showcased just how far surfers could push themselves in big waves… and how big of a wipe out a rider could take and survive.

Armed with that knowledge, some big wave surfers have shifted their focus from towing back to paddling. With new shaping technology, big wave surfers are able to push the limits of paddle surfing to new heights, literally. Big wave surfers like Greg Long, Twiggy Baker, Ian Walsh and many more have helped push big wave surfing back towards paddling by catching some of the world’s heaviest waves including Mavericks, Jaws, Waimea Bay, and even Nazaré. With the focus of the Big Wave World Tour being almost strictly paddle, it’s clear that paddle surfing is here to stay in the big wave world.

What great surfing moments stand out to you? Comment on our Facebook page.


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