Hawaiian Ancient Surfing, the Sport of Gods and Royalty

Hawaiian Ancient Surfing, the Sport of Gods and Royalty

Water created worlds, bore deities, eliminated pain and purified souls. The sea in particular is an untamable, dangerous, often violent place and considered in many cultures as representing the mysteries of the underworld. As such great power naturally attracts attempts to conquer it, surfing and the riding of waves have existed since humans began swimming in the ocean.

Priests traveling across Kealakekua bay in the book Hawai`i Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands. Artist John Webber aboard Cook’s ship (Pubic Domain)

Priests traveling across Kealakekua bay in the book Hawai`i Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands. Artist John Webber aboard Cook’s ship (Pubic Domain)

Evidence of the practice of various forms of ancient surfing sports among the islands within the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island ranges from children’s games to catching waves with any piece of wood or brush. Surfing is ingrained into the very fabric of Hawaiian religion and culture. It was used as part of warriors’ training in Tahiti and Samoa where warriors often spent hours paddling head on into large surf before riding the waves. Surfing was also practiced in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, popularized by the late king Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (1918 – 2006) who was himself a keen sportsman.


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