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Surf's Up! But Who First?

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7th Feb 2021


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Photo by Samuel Gillian | https://www.samuelgillilan.com
 The tumbling of white water in the aftermath of a large wave is a case study for how surfing came to life. The ocean spans vast distances only to bring that surf caviar to fruition in the final moments in the shape of wave breaks near coastlines. It is here the early ocean inhabitants tumbled towards the shore. The transition from liquid, fluid water towards the solid and less malleable land masts of the coast represents a transformation of important consequences. Seashells, urchins, and bi-valves lapping the coastal shores are precursors to the modern surfer. The rush of the wave is as ancient as the origins of life itself on Earth; the blue planet. 

But, who was responsible for the idea of getting a plank of wood or stone in order to ride the waves? The assumption has always been associated with the Pacific Island nations due to their prowess in traditional methods of sea navigation and atypical comfort in all things water-related. Around the mid-1980s a mind-blowing suggestion emerged that the beaches of Northern Peru, Huanchaco specifically, had tasted the nectar of surf delight around 1500 years before the history of Hawaiian surfing.

The methodology of the Huanchaqueños was to raft in reed boats and catch waves after a long day of fishing nearby to their coastal villages. The reeds were woven together to make canoe-like shapes that single occupancy fisher people could venture into the oceans. It is difficult to certify this origin suggestion because the reed boats deteriorate within a few months at best, and leave behind no definitive archaeological proof.

Meanwhile ‘surfboards’ from hundreds of years ago in the Pacific Island nations were made from heavy pieces of stone that left a footprint of the sports existence. Regardless of which surf tale originated first, human fascination with playing in the sea is as old as humans.  

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 No matter how far our species roam the mountains, there has always been a communal fascination with the ocean. Family vacations in beach towns around the world speak to the collective human desire to be near the water. Waves lapping shorelines cause a calming effect through the sounds and energetic resonance that these two elements, water, and earth, are able to produce when working together. Brain wave states are altered by proximity to the waves. Negative ions abound while walking to dip toes in the sands. People generally feel better, a welcomed counterbalance to the hectic lifestyle of urban stress. 

Next time you find yourself dipping a toe in the water to relax from a stressful week, ponder who took their toes vertical on a wave face in order to heighten the thrill of the ride of the wave. Surf’s up! 

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