So you think surfing is a product of the modern era? Wrong! Step back more than 200 years, to Captain James Cook’s ill-fated voyage to Hawaii. Cook made a bit of a faux pas, by trying to kidnap a chief in return for a stolen boat. Angry natives murdered him, and brought to an end, the fascinating Cook diaries which record his amazing ocean voyages. His first Lieutenant was appointed to return the ships home, and complete the journal of what had been seen or encountered. His description of surfing takes up two entire pages, the first recorded account of a pastime developed after the Polynesian culture migrated to Hawaii, circa 2000B.C.
“But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity…”
Because of its origins, and the pleasant environment where the sport usually takes place, most people associate surfing with images of palm trees, south seas, and warm, sandy beaches. Until recently, few fans of the skilled sport considered England to be a hot bed of surfers. But it must have some secret attractions, because Britain now claims some ¼ of a million surfing enthusiasts. So popular is the sport, that in 2003, the University of Plymouth became the first institution to offer a degree in surfing. Their course description states: “This course provides an opportunity for those with an interest in surfing to pursue rigorous academic study of the scientific, technical and business aspects of the international surfing industries. Each year of the course is complemented with opportunities for practical surfing.”