who invented surfing

Who Invented Surfing and When Was It Invented?

Reconnecting your roots can sometimes be a tangle if you don’t have the right sources, to begin with. Over the years, researchers have been hard at work to gather historical artifacts and documents that would prove who invented surfing and when it was invented.

While there’s still a long way to go to recover this valuable information especially to the community that pioneered it, some facts have been proven true after careful cross-examination of the available data most studies have provided.

Who Invented Surfing?

From Peru

At present, the inventor of surfing is credited to two identities. Some still argue that the title should be credited to the Moche and Chimu communities of Peru, dating back to the pre-Inca empire. Archaeologists along with the Moche and Chimu people claim that surfing was first practiced by their fisherfolk. Due to the unruly waves of the Huancho beach, their daily catch would always get lost even before they reached the shore. Hence, they came up with a way to hunt their fish.

By gathering totora reeds that were abundant in the area, the Moche and Chimu fishermen created a raft that could stay afloat even as the water swelled and waves would pull them. This would also become a form of leisure for their people – taking the totora boards out to sea just to feel the motion of the water and study the behavior of the fish that was their source of livelihood.

From Hawaii

Hawaii has a more popular tale, with archeological evidence as well. Several documents on different occasions show that European circumnavigators who passed the island state described the locals as “He’e Nalu” in native Hawaiian, or “wave sliders” in English. Hawaiians participated in surfing not only for recreation but also as a cultural rite.

In their local history, records show that surfing was practiced as early as the arrival of the Polynesians, the first inhabitants of the island. Their mythology believes that their gods create roaring waves to test the bravery of their men. The Ali’l or Hawaiian royalties were often challenged to take on the most violent waves to prove their worth as a leader who would defend the land.

Surfers would also pray to the Gods to help craft the best boards. Most boards were made sturdy using koa wood and ‘wiliwili fibers’. Early Hawaiian surfboards were larger and heavier than the standard surfboard you see today. It also had no fins or traction pads, making the ritual even more challenging and taking immense skill to maneuver the board.

The Invention of Modern Day Surfing

“The Father of Surfing” and Hawaiian Native Duke Kahanomoku, and professional swimming instructor George Freeth helped revolutionize the sport as we know it today. After Duke competed in several international swimming competitions and won multiple gold medals for his motherland, he met Freeth, who was raised in the United States but was eager to know more about his Hawaiian descent.

When Freeth learned about the Hawaii surfing community, he wanted to introduce this to the world. George Freeth developed the standard-sized board that would be used in professional surfing today.

When Was Surfing Invented?

To compare, these are the current records of when surfing was invented among the featured groups and personalities:

  • According to the Moche and Chimu cultural groups of Peru, their surfing practice existed around 1000 B.C. as seen in the Viru ceremonial vessel etched with the image of a man riding a Totora board.
  • Based on historical diaries, the first documented surfers in Hawaii were seen in 1767 according to the crew of the Dolphin ship. This would be followed by a similar report in 1769 by Joseph Banks, who was on board the HMS Endeavor headed by James Cook. Lieutenant James King also wrote about the same sighting in 1779.
  • The development of modern surfing credited to Duke Kahanomoku and George Freeth began around 1916 to the early 1920s as surfing was becoming popular all over America and around the world.


Today, Peru pays homage to its cultural roots as they continue to participate in surfing using the historical totora boards in surfing competitions and to catch fish in the community. They also organize international surfing competitions as their beaches continue to serve powerful waves.

In Hawaii, surfing remains to be intertwined with their culture, especially in mythology. Many surfboards are still manufactured using indigenous materials and are painted with ethnic signs and symbols to bring them favorable conditions at sea. Hawaii is nicknamed the “Home of Surfing” and has hosted the international Pipe Masters surfing competition for decades.

Though many still debate on who invented surfing and to settle on an accurate date of its creation, you can compare the facts yourself or do your own in-depth research that could contribute to our knowledge of Surfing 101. No matter what side you choose, just remember even in surfing, it’s best to stick out for the truth.

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