There was a great deal of religious significance tied to surfing in Hawaiian culture and for the high class of society there were also certain ceremonies that would ensure you’d get the most out of the art. As previously noted, sometimes certain prayers could be performed by the Kahuna that would intend to bring great waves to the surface but this wasn’t where their influence ended. The Kahuna played a major role in what was likely one of the most important ceremonies to involve the art of surfing, the construction of a board. First in this spiritual ceremony, one of three trees would be selected in order to obtain the wood to craft the board, the wiliwili, the ‘ulu and the koa tree. When the surfer has decided on which tree to select, they would dig it out of the ground, then in the hole where it stood a fish would be placed as an offering to the gods in order to bless the ceremony. Certain craftsmen were then selected from within the community to shape the board, stain it and then prepare it for the surfer.
There were several different shapes that a rider could pick and some required more skill than others to master, naturally more prestige would come with the ability to do so. Though surfing was seen as a work of art in Hawaii it wasn’t it’s only use. Having spent so much time at sea it actually had practical applications too. Warriors would use the waves to prepare themselves, facing fears and hardening themselves to commotion, it was also an excellent way to master balance. Perhaps more simply, when out catching food from beneath the wave’s fisherman would surf the waves in their canoes in order to quickly return to shore. It was an excellent way to quickly travel across the water so naturally it wasn’t long until someone used it for travel purposes. Here is where we find what is thought to be the first use of windsurfing, some Polynesians were known to travel on a standing board with a sail attached. Obviously, this would be a very simple form of what’s done to day but a form none the less and thanks to their excellent ability to navigate the oceans via the stars it would have been an excellent way to hop between closer islands.
Polynesians certainly made surfing into something far beyond any other sport has achieved throughout history. That being said it should be noted that it’s been remarked by some historians that it may not be the first example of it in history. The practice of a form of surfing has been linked to an ancient pre-Incan civilisation from Peru named the Moche culture, dating around 2000 years ago. These people used something called a “Caballitos de Totora” which translates as “straw seahorses”. These were controlled using a paddleboard and used primarily for fishing purposes, much like with the Polynesians. Today local fishermen still use the waves to soar back to the shores.