Riding the Wave to Windsurfing – Part 1

Windsurfing itself is a relatively new activity having been invented around the mid-1960s. It’s a water sport that mixes elements of both surfing and sailing, in fact the board is essentially a surfboard with a sail (to put it crudely) that the rider operates stood up in order to reach some the fastest speed possible by any sail powered vessel available. Though technically it is a fairly recent revelation the roots of windsurfing go back far further. They lie within the history of surfing, the stories of the earliest people to ride the waves not just for recreational purposes but for practical ones too. The history goes back hundreds, possibly even thousands of years into the past and has gone on to create a culture like no other sport has achieved.

It is commonly thought that it was the Polynesians who first discovered the art of surfing. The first recorded evidence of it was written down in the 18th Century by Joseph Banks of the HMS Endeavour which took place during the first voyage of discovery of the British explorer Captain James Cook. During there stay on the island of Tahiti they observed that surfing was a huge part of their culture. It not known exactly by how much but we can be sure that it predates European contact by enough time to have become a focal point in their way of life.

It is widely known that, due to their location, Polynesians were excellent at sailing and navigating the oceans. What started off as riding the waves in single canoes soon developed into single pieces of wood. Eventually in certain places your ability to surf would determine your lot in life. Ancient Hawaii saw surfing as a true art which they named “he’e nalu” which means “wave sliding” in English. Before riders went out, they would pray to the gods for protection and sometimes if waters were too calm the would summon the Kahuna (a religious leader) who would pray to the gods for waves to better surf on.

The ability to surf was important and in Hawaii the Ali’i (Chief) was by tradition selected due to his ability to do so. Of the nobility it would be the man with greatest skill in the art of surfing along with best board made from the finest wood. The high class of society was determined by one’s ability to surf also, these people had their own prayers, special board designs, the best available wood and even private beaches in which only select people could surf from. These rules were taken very seriously and if anyone among the common rabble was found accessing any of these fine privileges given to these elite few serious punishments were handed out, sometimes it could even result in death. Though they may not have been allowed to take part in these bonus rights the commoners were able to earn prestige through their skills on the surf, possibly one day being lifted into the higher ranks of local society.

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