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Definition: surfing from The Macquarie Dictionary

the sport in which one paddles a surfboard out over the surf, and then, usually standing on the board, attempts to ride on or with a wave towards the shore; surfboard riding.

Plural: surfings


bodysurfing , surfings



/'s3f19/ /'serfing/

relating to surfing

the best surfing beaches in the world.

Summary Article: Surfing
from Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society

Surfing is a surface water sport in which the participant is carried along the face of a breaking wave. Usually, an elongated surfboard is used to ride the wave, but shorter kneeboards and bodyboards can also be used. Originally developed in ancient Polynesia, surfing became a popular recreation in America during the mid-20th century and subsequently spread around the world. The rising popularity of surfing saw the introduction of professional competitions and the rise of a multibillion-dollar industry producing surfboards and surfing-related fashions and accessories. Distinctive lifestyles and subcultures also developed around surfing and surfers, with their own attitudes, codes of behavior, and folk heroes.

Surfing originated in ancient Polynesian societies, where it was deeply embedded in religion, myth, and culture. By the early 20th century, however, only a small number of people continued to surf, mainly at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. Yet interest in the sport began to grow during the 1900s. Beginning in 1912, Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian Olympic swimmer, began to popularize the sport on the United States mainland and in Australia. Subsequently, surfing developed as an integral part of beach life, especially in California, where Malibu Beach in Los Angeles county lent its name to the long, heavy, wooden “Malibu” surfboards (up to 15 feet in length) favored by surfers at that time.

20th-century Fad

From the 1920s to the 1940s, surfing was popular among a fraternity of hardy participants (many of whom were lifeguards) on the American West Coast. It was during the late 1950s, however, that the sport underwent exponential growth. This was partly because of a revolution in surfboard design and manufacture. The introduction of new materials such as polyurethane foam and fiberglass allowed the introduction of shorter and more lightweight surfboards. Longboards remained popular, but the introduction of shortboards (which averaged 6 feet 6 inches in length) allowed surfers to achieve faster speeds and make tighter turns and quicker maneuvers. This not only radically changed the way people surfed but also significantly increased the appeal of the sport.

As Drew Kampion, an author of several books on surfing and former editor of Surfer magazine, stated, “Surfing is the simple act of walking on water,” and the history of surfing is “the sum total of all waves ever ridden.”

By the late 1950s, a discernable surfing culture was taking shape. Along the Los Angeles and Orange County coastlines, an army of young surfers loaded their boards onto their “woodies” (wooden-paneled station wagons that represented the surfer's quintessential transport) and set out to pit their skills against the waves at a host of evocatively named surfing spots—Zuma Beach, Paradise Cove, The Wedge, Doheny, Mile Zero, Trestles, and many more. Surfing also grew in popularity along the American East Coast, Hawaii, Australia, and South Africa.

The growth of surfing was part of a general expansion of leisure industries geared to the teenage market during the 1950s and 1960s. During the early 1960s, especially, surfing developed into a major teenage pastime. The growing popularity of the sport was galvanized by the release of numerous movies with a surfing theme—for example, Gidget (1959) and Beach Party (1963)—and the success of surfing-oriented pop songs released by pop groups such as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.

In their celebration of an idealized teenage lifestyle of beaches, cars, and romance, these movies and records helped popularize surfing well beyond the American West Coast and, by the mid-1960s, surfing was an established component of global youth style.

From the late 1960s through to the early 21st century, surfing continued to grow in worldwide popularity. With the emergence of an international circuit of professional surfing competitions, the sport developed into a major commercial business. Surfwear also emerged as a popular style of casual clothing, and manufacturers of surf-related clothing such as Billabong, Quicksilver, and Rip Curl became major fashion brands whose appeal extended far beyond the surfing community.

Some enthusiasts, however, have disassociated themselves from the commercial aspects of surfing. These “soul surfers,” as they are often called, pursue the sport purely for personal enjoyment, and many claim to find spiritual fulfillment through the thrilling experience of riding a breaking wave.

See Also

Australia, Hobbies, Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Water Play

  • Finney, Ben and Houston, James D., Surfing: A Brief History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport ( Pomegranate Communications, 1996.).
  • Kampion, Drew, Stoked: A History of Surf Culture ( Gibbs M. Smith, 2003.).
  • Kampion, Drew, The Way of the Surfer: Living It 1935 to Tomorrow ( Harry N. Abrams, 2003.).
  • Warshaw, Matt, The Encyclopedia of Surfing ( Harvest Books, 2005.).
  • Young, Nat, The Complete History of Surfing ( Gibbs M. Smith, 2008.).
  • Osgerby, Bill
    (London Metropolitan University)
    Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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