A brief history of surfing- Part 4: The popularity of surf culture

Surf Tales General

A brief history of surfing- Part 4: The popularity of surf culture

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This article is part four of a series of four articles describing the history of surfing. In the first part, ‘The Polynesian Islands’, read about how surfing began and was practiced in the distant past in Polynesia. In the second part,  ‘The spread of surfing‘ , you will read about how the sport of surfing spread from Hawaii to the other parts of the world. In the third article we will look at the transition from historic surfing to modernised surfing. In this/our final article we will look at the formation of global ‘surf culture’.

The beginnings of surf culture: Surf Cinema

In 1959, a movie titled ‘Gidget’ was published, making it the first real surf film. The movie was about a young girl who discovers surfing and love (in that order). This film made a very important contribution to the popularization of surfing. This was the first signal that surfing would one day move from underground culture to mainstream lifestyle. In the years after Gidget, surfing culture began to be adopted by increasingly popular artforms. Bands like the Beach Boys and the Dick Dale based their music almost entirely on the Californian surfing culture that inspired them.

( To learn more about the music of Dick Dale, check out out article on the surf music in Pulp Fiction)

In 1965, the film the Endless Summer was released. In this film, a group of friends travelled the world in search of “the perfect wave”. This film has become the most important surfing film in the history of surfing as it brought surfing into every home and gave it a big boost in popularity.

Modern day surf culture

In the years after these famous surf films, the surfing scene grew into a real lifestyle, in which surfing, clothing, music, film and language came together. The business world also saw the potential of the growing surfing scene. A pioneer of commercializing surfing was Dale Velzy, an excellent boardshaper and brilliant marketer. In 1949, he opened the world’s first surf shop on Manhattan Beach, California. He gave local, influential surfers free surfboards in exchange for name recognition with which he was in fact the first surf sponsor. His business insight led to his brand being the largest surfing brand in the world in the 1980s.

From the 1980s to date, the popularity of surfing sport continued to grow. The surf virus spread further around the world: In Africa and Asia, more and more surfing was being discovered. As a result, there was a sharp increase in global surfing tourism, which has now become a billion-dollar industry. Nowadays, millions of people dive into the water every year to surf for the first time. The growing popularity of surfing has also led to surfing for the first time making its appearance at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The surfing world is now dictating a lot of cultural trends.

Surfers are now some of the biggest celebrities, surf clothing designers make some of the most sought after clothes. Surf festivals are popping up all across the world and the surf community is one of the largest activist groups against the climate crisis. We hope you will get involved with this great culture, the first way to start is by going on your first surf holidays. See you in the line up! Let’s go SurfaWhile!


I am a Journalist, Photographer & Musician from North London. I arrived at SurfaWhile after finishing my Masters in Ancient History at the University of Amsterdam. I aim to find and write about the hidden gems of the surfing world to inspire your next surf holiday as well as interviewing exiting talents in our international surf community.

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