Surfing Timeline

A.D
1,200

The First Surfcraft:
Caballito, Peruvian origin

A traditional fishing craft that is also used for surfing by the native people in Peru. This type of craft dates back over 2,000 years and images of it being ridden appear on ancient pottery and elsewhere.

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Pre-1900's

Surfing in Ancient Hawaii

Surfing was practiced by adults as well as children on the main islands of Hawaii, the Marquesas, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand. The Hawaiians, probably beginning around a.d. 1,200, developed the sport into a communal obsession.

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1900's

The Surf Riders of Hawaii:
Gurrey, A.R. Jr.

Mostly forgotten, early-20th century photographer and surfer; creator of "The Surf Riders of Hawaii", a handmade, self-published booklet that came out in 1914, and is regarded by some as the first book of surfing photographs.

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1929

First Waterproof Camera Images:
Tom Blake

In 1929, Tom Blake built the first waterproof camera housing used exclusively for surf photography. Most previous surfing photos had been taken from canoes or boats but Blake produced images from the unique perspective of a surfboard.

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1935

The Surf Club movement:
Palos Verdes Surf Club

Surf club membership wasn’t mandatory for California surfers, but by the late 1930s you could have driven a Packard Super 8 from San Diego to Santa Cruz and had a hard time loading it up with nonaffiliated surfers.

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1940

Malibu:
The Magic Wave

No surf break, then or now, has ever presented itself as well as Malibu. Each wave rolled forth as if it had traveled halfway across the Pacific for the express purpose of gliding into this quarter-mile bit of shoreline.

Read more 1940's
1940

The Overwhelming
North Shore

The seven-mile North Shore wave zone that began at Haleiwa was denser and more complex than any other like-sized area in the world, with breaks often shingled one on top of the other. It was overwhelming, particularly in the early years. A handful of locals surfers rode Haleiwa in the 1920s and early 1930s, but only the small nearshore waves.

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1940's

Hobie vs. Velzy

A rudimentary form of surfboard retailing began in 1949, when longtime Southern California surfer and boardmaker Dale Velzy opened a tiny factory-storefront in Manhattan Beach. In 1954, after two or three quiet surveillance trips to Velzy’s shop, and with a $1,000 gift from his father, Hobie Alter opened a shop in Dana Point/Pacific Coast Highway “retail district” and a sufboard building rivalry was born.

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1950's

Rocket to Makaha:
Riding Big Waves in Hawaii

In the early 1950s, a handful of Honolulu surfers decided to tackle big-wave riding as a kind of Manhattan Project. John Kelly and the other original hot curlers had first ridden Makaha in 1937, and over the next fifteen years ambitious Hawaiians had continued making occasional day-trip visits to test themselves in incrementally bigger waves.

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1950

Gidget the All-Powerful

Around 1957, 15-year-old Kathy Kohner learned to surf by trading peanut butter sandwiches for the use of whatever board was lying around Tubesteak Tracy's palm-frond Malibu beach shack. By the end of summer she had her own board and had developed into a competent surfer.

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1950

The Rebel Next Door

“Things had changed from the era of the Palos Verdes Surf Club,” Greg Noll later summarized, “when the guys were polite and behaved like gentleman, to something else where we just wanted to raise hell. And it wasn’t a gradual change. It was like someone threw a switch, and all of a sudden guys didn’t give a shit about society, or what other people thought of them.”

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1960

Surfing the Newsstand

"The Surfer" went to press just before Easter in 1960. Still not quite sure if he’d created a magazine, a promo piece, or a book, Severson in the end ran a contents page subtitle describing The Surfer as his “First Annual Surf Photo Book.”

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1966

An Invincible Summer

Nothing better encapsulated the 1960s surf boom, nor more clearly marked its end, than "The Endless Summer", Bruce Brown’s cheerful monster-sized crossover documentary hit.

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1967

Revolution is not a Dinner Party

The shortboard revolution thundered across the surfing landscape for roughly three years, beginning in 1967. It was really two distinct but conjoined movements: one technical, the other cultural.

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1973

Grand Prix Dream

Beginning in 1973, a rotating cast of about 20 surfers traveled on what Queensland regularfooter Peter Townend would later call the “gypsy tour,” flying hither and yon around the world to compete in a series of unrelated pro contests.

Read more 1970's
1974

South Africa in Black and White

Visiting surfers did their best to ignore apartheid, but it wasn't always easy. In 1972, Gunston 500 invitee Eddie Aikau, a full-blooded Hawaiian, was given a polite but firm turnaround from the concierge at Durban’s Malibu Hotel. "I fear to walk in the streets here," he told a local black-owned newspaper.

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1977

Two Fins, More Wins

In mid-'77, Mark Richards built himself a 6-foot 2-inch stinger-fish hybrid. Richards finished the board off with a pair of modified fish-style fins, both angled slightly toward the nose. As a finishing touch, he ordered a new oversized surfboard label, with the initials “MR” airbrushed inside the familiar diamond-shaped yellow-and-red Superman logo.

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1981

Simon Anderson and his Mighty Thruster

By the summer of 1982, the Thruster was being copied by every forward-thinking boardmaker in the sport and by 1983 it was being used almost universally on shortboards and was popular as well among longboarders.

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1984

The Unsinkable Tom Carroll

He was among the leaders during the first half of the 1983 season, then he went on a tear down the stretch, winning four of the last six events to easily take the first of two back-to-back world titles.

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1988

Cult of the Surf Photographer

No sport in the world, in fact, was shot from so many angles. Surfers were photographed from underwater, from helicopters, from the back of a Jet Ski running full-throttle just ahead of the wave, and from a wide-angle board-mounted camera operated from the beach by remote control.

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1990s

Hear Me Roar: The Women’s Movement

After giving birth to a daughter in 1993, Andersen surfed in a world-tour contest less than three weeks after being wheeled out of the delivery room. She then rode well enough down the stretch—despite chronic lower back pain from constantly holding an infant on her hip—to win the world championship.

Read more 1990's
1990s

Kelly Slater and the New School

Kelly Slater was the youngest men’s division world-tour champion at twenty years old. He would go on to win a total of 11 World Championship victories including 5 consecutive world titles in 1994-98.

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1990s

Adventures On the New Big-Wave Frontier

From above, the Maverick’s reef looks like a huge upside-down check mark: an abrupt left explodes along the short arm, to the north, while a much longer south-running right bowls across the long arm, often passing through two or three distinct sections.

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2000

Catching the Digital Wave

Surfer called it the “Millennium Wave”—because it happened in 2000, and to emphasize that this was the single most dramatic moment in the sport’s history to that point—and it put another mile or two of distance between Hamilton and every other big-wave rider.

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2000

The Retro Movement

The retro movement tapped into a broader desire among surfers everywhere for an alternative presentation—one that didn’t involve competition, ratings, logo overkill, and gratuitous aggression.

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2000

Video Assault

People were no longer starved for surf imagery—and never would be again, thanks to the Internet. Still, the return of the traveling surf movie was a welcome development.

Read more 2000's