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October 01, 2013 4 min read

Before all of the fancy polyurethane, polyester and epoxy boards we shred with today came around, what did people use to get barreled? 

Let us take you back and show you just how much surfing and all of its variations have evolved.

Bodysurfing, which obviously came before surfing, is the oldest form of catching waves.  If you can believe it or not, bodysurfing has likely been around since humans first began swimming in the ocean.   

Stand-up surfing is a relatively “new” innovation (in comparison to bodysurfing) that the ancient Polynesians first began playing around with. Still, surfing has actually been around for quite a long time.  The act of riding ocean waves with a wooden board first began in Western Polynesia over 3,000 years ago. 

Fishermen would catch waves as a super-efficient way to haul their heavy catch into the beach.  Back then, surfing was a purely aristocratic pastime: the royal, ruling class had the best boards made from the best trees, and got pick of the best waves at the best beaches.  Commoners were forbidden from surfing these beaches, but they could gain favor and prestige in the eyes of the royals with their awesome shredding abilities.  It was all about practice! 

If a surfer wanted a board, he would have to dig the tree out of the ground himself.  Then, selected craftsmen would be hired to do the rest of the board’s preparation.  This included shaping and staining.

These Polynesians were most likely the first to bring the stoke of surfing to the islands of Hawaii when they first settled there.  In ancient Hawaii, surfing was more than just recreation: it was a way of life.  Surfing was used as a way to keep the chiefs in peak physical shape.  It was also a form of conflict resolution: the upper classes could test one another’s skills in the surf in competitions for wealth, pride and even love.  Called “he’enalu”, which translates to wave sliding, the upper classes were usually the most skilled at surfing.  Hawaiians crafted and used four different types of boards to shred with:

  • Paipo: This was a more of a bodyboard that was around 2 – 4 feet and was typically used by children.
  • Alaia: This was a mid-sized board (for back then), and was at least 8 feet or longer.
  • Kiko’o:  A board that worked well for better surf, this board was anywhere from 12 to 18 feet and required great skill to maneuver.
  • Olo:  This was an even larger board, believe it or not.  The Olo was an 18 to 24-foot board that was primarily reserved for royalty, which included priests and warriors.

The Polynesians typically rode the Alaia (ah-lie-ah) on their stomachs or knees, making it the first known bodyboard.  These boards eventually evolved into the modern Paipo board, which were made of wood or fiberglass.  In 1971, surfing legend Tom Morey designed the modern bodyboard you see today.  Bodyboards can be ridden in a number of ways, including prone (stomach), dropknee, stand-up and even plank position.

Favorite ancient Hawaiian surfing and bodysurfing spots included Kahalu’u Bay and Holualoa Bay, both found on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii.

The first historical records of surfing did not appear until the late 1700s, when European explorers first made contact with the Polynesian people on the island nation of Tahiti.  It was aboard the HMS Endeavour that the British Captain James Cook detailed, in writing, how a Tahitian native caught waves with his canoe just for the fun of it.

California first caught a glimpse of surfing in 1907 when Hawaiian George Freeth visited to demonstrated surfing and lifeguarding skills for the opening of Henry Huntington’s new railroad (Huntington Beach, anyone?).  East Coast surfing started in Virginia Beach, Virginia in 1912 when James Matthias Jordan showed off to the locals by riding his massive 110-pound Hawaiian redwood longboard.

Hawaiian Olympic swimmer and water polo player Duke Kahanamoku exposed Australia to the sport during his surfing exhibition in 1914 at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach.  Kahanamoku crafted the board he used at the exhibition himself from a piece of pine.

At the start of the 20th century, Hawaiians in Wakiki began reviving the sport of surfing.  With the help of Duke Kahanamoku, surfing began to gain worldwide exposure.  The innovations in board shape and design that took place during this time helped form surfboards into what they are today.  Surf culture films, like Gidget, and beach style surf music, like The Beach Boys, helped rocket surfing to a new popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.  Much as they did back then, surf documentaries help us track the evolution of the sport, and is still a main way in which surfing grows.

While bodysurfing and stand-up surfing have been around for a few years, handboarding/handplaning is a much newer craze.  Some handboard prototypes were being sold as far back as the 1970s, but the sport of handplaning didn’t really take off until about five years ago.

Be a part of history with a Slyde→

Guest Blogger
Guest Blogger

Guest Bloggers for Slyde Handboards offer their unique stories and personal perspectives to share tales & experiences of stoke with the world at large. Each guest blog adds a fresh POV & we encourage everyone to contribute here https://goo.gl/BPw7Dz

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See the Stoke

682 reviews
Hand slyde

The leash works amazing i won't go out without my leash on....

Bula hand board

This handboard is exactly what I was looking for. The size and craftsmanship is fantastic! I have gotten some great rides with this board. Super fun.

Ready for the Senior Tour

I received my Slyde Phish just before 2 weeks of gloomy weather. Now that I’ve had a chance to road test it, I can’t wait to get back in the water.

Growing up in Long Island NY, body surfing was my first wave gliding experience. Typically we would drive straight to shore so surfing the diagonal has been a learning curve.

I look forward to many great sets this summer.

Matthew Papish (59)
Laguna Beach

So much fun!

These little boards are amazing! We bought a couple to bring with us to Hawaii and had a blast.. super easy to travel with, just fit right in my backpack. Made riding the waves so much fun and worked just as good as a full sized boogie board one of my friends had. Highly recommended. Can’t wait to try it out again!

Love my Bula!

I recently been spending a lot of time on the North Shore of Oahu, and there’s nothing better than the Bula for bigger more intense surf. Too much fun brah! Mahalo nui loa!