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A brief history of surfing – Part 2: The spread of surfing

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A brief history of surfing – Part 2: The spread of surfing

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This article is part of a series of four articles describing the history of surfing. In the first part, The Polynesia Islands, you can read about how surfing began in the distant past of Polynesia. This article describes the spread of surf sport from (mainly) Hawaii to the other parts of the world. The third article describes the transition from historical surfing to modernized surfing. The final article in the series looks at the formation of global surf culture and the moments that have made surfing so popular.


In 1885, three Hawaiian princes lived in a boarding school in San Mateo, California. When these three princes went to Santa Cruz’s beach during a vacation, their Hawaiian surfboards took along. According to American surf historians Kim Stoner and Geoff Dunn, the San Lorenzo estuary is the very first surf spot too be surfed in North America.

For several years, beginning in in 1907, hawaiian freediver and surfer George Freeth was flown as a promotional stunt for a major American industrialist, Henry Huntington, from Hawaii to California as “the man who can walk over water.” Freeth surfed on the waves of Huntington Beach, and showed off his surfing skills to the many spectators.

Nowadays, surfing holidays are very popular.

On the other side of the country, surfing began in the year 1909 on the north Carolina coast. Burke Haywood Bridgers is seen as the founding father of surfing on the east coast of the US. He and his group of friends were thus the first surfers to surf the Atlantic Ocean.


In 1910, Australian Tommy Walker returned from Hawaii to his hometown of Sydney with a 10″ surfboard, which he had bought for $2. Here he used the surfboard mainly on Manly Beach, which to this day is still one of Sydney’s most popular surf spots. Walker quickly mastered surfing, and was soon asked to give demonstrations on Sydney’s various beaches.

The surfing sport got a big boost when legendary swimming and surfing champion Duke Kahanamoku showed his skills on several beaches on the Australian east coast in the summer of 1914-1915. Here he pulverized his own world record swimming in a swimming pool in Sydney. In addition to his swimming skills, this legend showed his surfing skills on several beaches in Sydney such as Manly beach and Freshwater. The board that Duke Kahanamoku surfed on will be exhibited at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney.

Manly Beach, one of the first surf spots in Australia, to learn more about surfing in Australia, check out our guide to the best surf spots.


The first images of surfers in the UK were shot in 1929. It concerned Jewish immigrants living in London, who regularly drove to the southwest coast of England to surf there. The group of friends, around one Lewis Rosenberg, had been surfing for a while, after seeing this new sport on an Australian documentary. In 1929 they had built their own surfboard, which they regularly took on the steam train from London to Newquay, Cornwall.

Surfing in Cornwall

Continental Europe

Surfing in continental Europe began a little later than surfing in the British Isles. The story goes that the American screenwriter Peter Viertel stayed in Biarritz for a summer because of the filming of the movie,  “The Sun Also Rises”.

When he saw the beautiful waves of the Atlantic coast rolling up against the beaches of Biarritz, he told his good friend, the film producer Richard Zanuck. This producer would travel a little later than Peter Viertel to Biarritz to participate in the same film. On the recommendation of Peter Viertel he took his surfboard to France, and surfing in France was born. Peter Viertel quickly became addicted to surfing and continued to live in northern Spain after the film was shot, where he spent a lot of time in the water.

The strand of  Biarritz

To read learn more about the evolution of surfing check out the next article in this sereis about the modernization of surfing. 

Hans van Mourik

Co-founder SurfaWhile, ♥️ tech, travel, sports & outdoors.

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