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Around The Surfing World

Surfing: The Sport Of Kings

Surfing: The Sport Of Kings 1

All it takes is one ride on a surfboard, and you’re hooked. It’s all you want to do. And if you do it too much, like dismissing chores or missing work, you stand likelihood of being coined a “surfbum”.

Not that Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of Kahuna in 1959’s Gidget did surfers any good, either. Gidget was the first major feature film on surfing, and when it brought the masses to the sport like never before, it also brought along Robertson’s portrayal of what many thought of as the typical surfer: A bum.

Now if you are a surfer, it certainly doesn’t insinuate that you’re a bum; it just means you like to surf. But who wants to be labeled a bum of any sort? Well, the next time you’re deemed as such, just inform the source that surfing is actually the sport of kings.

Tracing the origins of surfing, we know that the sport migrated from Western Polynesia to the Hawaiian Islands somewhere around 1000 A.D. But, back then, it was much more than just a sport, it was a way of life, bordering on religion.

All classes surfed, but the Hawaiian kapu system of laws was in place. Chiefs were tops, and they used the sport to prove their strength, agility and royalty over the commoners. They even held contests with land as the stakes.

Even the making of surfboards was a ritual. Kahuna would search in earnest for just the right tree. Once found, they would sacrifice a fish as an offering to the gods and stand guard over the specimen overnight, praying for successful completion.

Surfboards themselves, even further defined the social classes of kapu. There were four types, three of which were surfed upon only by the commoner: The Paipo, a short board, 2’ to 6’ in length and mostly ridden by women and children; the Alaia, 6’ to 12’, for the more agile surfer; and the Kiko’o, 12’ to 18’, for the advanced wave rider. The fourth board was the Olo. It was 15’ to 18’ and reserved for the ali’i, or ruling class.

And the ali’i did surf.

In 1810, when Kamehameha became the Hawaiian Islands’ first king, he united the islands into one royal kingdom. Not only was Kamehameha a great warrior and diplomat, the dude was a surfer, man!

Surfing: The Sport Of Kings 2
King Kamehameha I

And the sport of kings was the sport of queens, as well. One of Kamehameha’s wives, Ka‘ahumanu, was a surfer, too. The couple surfed Kooka, a break located at Pua`a, in north Kona, often riding lele wa`a, or canoe leaping.

Surfing: The Sport Of Kings 3
Queen Ka‘ahumanu

In, lele wa’a, surfers jump from an outrigger canoe, with their surfboard, and then ride the wave to shore. Not an easy maneuver, lele wa’a further illustrated the ali’i’s strength and prowess over the commoners.

A half-century later, missionaries came in and not only killed off the better part of the Hawaiian population with STDs, but they also considered surfing hedonistic and banned it altogether. But another king endeared to surfing, would come along to the rescue.

In 1872, upon the death of King Kamehameha V, King Kalakaua came to power and immediately reinstated the sport of surfing.

Surfing: The Sport Of Kings 4
King Kalakaua

These are the roots of the sport we all love. Surfers are not bums. On the contrary, surfing is, indeed, the sport of kings.

Marion Stratford

Marion Stratford is a freelance writer from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. A surfer for 45 years, he has covered surfing as a correspondent for the Florida Times-Union and is currently a National Surfing Examiner with

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