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Women and men began surfing in Hawaii and other Polynesian islands at least as far back as the 17th century. And while Christian missionaries tried to suppress surfing in the 1800s, a Hawaiian princess helped bring it back long before Gidget and Moondoggie hit the beach.
Prior to European arrival, surfing was a communal activity on the islands for men, women and children of all social classes. Stories about the mythical MauiPrincessKelea describe her as one of the best surfers in the Hawaiian kingdom. The demi-god Mamala is depicted as a half-woman, half-shark who rode the waves. The oldest known papa he’e nalu, or surfboard, dates to the 1600s and comes from Princess Kaneamuna’s burial cave in Ho’okena on the Big Island, according to the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente.
The arrival of American missionaries in the 19th century disrupted the mixed-gender sport as they disapproved of baring skin and gambling during surf contests. When Hiram Bingham’s missionary party first encountered surfers, he wrote: “Some of our number, with gushing tears, turned away from the spectacle.”
Soon, missionaries like Bingham introduced their own games to replace the locals’ “savage” traditions. By 1847, Bingham observed: “The decline and discontinuance of the use of the surfboard, as civilization advances, may be accounted for by the increase in modesty, industry or religion.”
Contrary to Bingham’s claim, surfing never completely went away. And near the turn of the century, it experienced a revival. Modern sports writers often focus on men who contributed to the revival, like three Hawaiian princes who impressed Californians with their surfing 1885. But Princess Ka’iulani also helped revive the sport in Hawaii around that time and even brought it to England, where she surfed the English Channel. Tragically, she died at age 23 in 1899 of inflammatory rheumatism, just a year after the United States annexed her kingdom.
Surfing Spreads From Shore to Shore
Surfing continued to spread around the globe into the 20th century. At a 1915 demonstration in Sydney, Australia, Hawaiian Olympic champion Duke Kahanamoku—considered the father of modern surfing—showed 15-year-old Isabel Letham how to surf. “He took me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me on to my feet.’” Letham later recalled, according to the National Library of Australia. “Off we went, down the wave.”
Although she wasn’t the first Australian to surf, she certainly became one of the most famous. She later moved to California and became the director of swimming in San Francisco, where she tried to introduce surf lifesaving methods practiced by Australia’s Manly Life Saving Club. The Manly Club had rebuked her denied her membership because she was a woman, stating that “she would not be able to handle the conditions in rough seas,” notes Molly Schiot in Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History.
During and after World War II, surfing became a popular pastime for white, middle-class youth in California. Catchy songs spread the image of the California surfer around the country, and The Beach Boys contributed their absolute most to the cause with song titles, including “Surfin,’” “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Meanwhile, at the movies and on TV, a teenage girl named Gidget rode the waves and hung out with her surfer boyfriend, Moondoggie.
Gidget was a fictional character based on real-life surfer Kathy Kohner. Kohner learned to surf as a teenager in Malibu during the 1950s, and told her father, Frederick, that she wanted to write a book about it. Frederick ended up writing a series of popular Gidget books based on his daughter’s experiences. Filmmakers adapted these into several films and a television series starring Sally Field that spread the image of the surfer girl all over the United States.
Still, the predominant image of the surfer was a dude, not a woman, in the 1960s and ‘70s. And unlike in the late 19th and early 20th centuries surfers who brought the sport to the mainland, this “surfer dude” was white. Even so, Native Hawaiian female surfers like Rell Sunn continued to carve out a space for themselves.
Sunn began surfing at age four in Makaha, a small town on Oahu. When she became old enough to compete, she entered men’s contests because there weren’t enough for women. According to The New York Times’ obituary for her in 1998, she almost always made the finals for the men’s events.
“By 1975, she and other pioneers, like Joyce Hoffman and Linda Benson, had inspired enough women to take up the sport that Ms. Sunn was able to help found the Women’s Professional Surfing Association and establish the first professional tour for women,” reported the Times.
Sunn’s achievements earned her the nickname “Queen of Makaha.” But even before that, her given middle name, Kapolioka’ehukai, seemed to hint toward her destiny. In Hawaiian, it means “heart of the sea”—a fitting title for the woman who, in 1977, also became Hawaii’s first female lifeguard.
Surf murals, auction for Wyland board, new docu-series puts spotlight on Olympic surfing
The countdown is on for surfing’s debut into the Olympics, and the buzz is beginning locally as the Summer Games near.
Calls for artists to do Olympic-inspired surf murals in San Clemente, an auction for two Wyland-painted surfboards to help the surf team, and a docu-series telling the story of women surfers heading to Tokyo were announced in recent days.
The 2020 Olympics were postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. The games are now set to go on this summer and with them surfing’s debut – a milestone for the sport as it makes its way to a worldwide stage like never before.
In San Clemente, USA Surfing is calling out to Southern California artists with a passion for surfing to submit proposals for two murals that will put a spotlight on the team heading to Japan for the Olympics.
The two San Clemente murals will commemorate surfing’s historic Olympic debut. And what better place? Two of the four qualified surfers on Team USA, Kolohe Andino and Caroline Marks, call San Clemente home. And, USA Surfing, the national governing body for Olympic surfing, is also based in the city.
The murals will be located in the city’s historic downtown area. Deadline for submission is May 10. The work will have to be done quickly, by mid-June, with the surf competition slotted for late July.
“San Clemente has a historic and strong surfing and artist community,” USA Surfing COO Andrea Swayne said. “We look forward to seeing the artists’ visions come to life at the two locations. This is an exciting time for surfing and San Clemente – home of USA Surfing and two Olympic surfers.”
The murals will be done in conjunction with the city of San Clemente.
“Surfing is an integral part of the history and the future of San Clemente. Baseball might be the American pastime, but surfing is the San Clemente pastime. From the swell watchers to the surfboard shapers, surfing is a legacy we are proud to embrace,” Jonathan Lightfoot, the city’s economic development officer, said. “We are excited that this downtown mural project will highlight the impact of surfing to our town while we cheer on our American surf team from local watch parties this summer.”
When the idea was first pitched in late January to city officials, USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said he hoped to mimic how Colorado Springs calls its town “Olympic City USA.”
San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino is one of two male surfers who will be competing in surfing’s Olympic debut. (File photo: CHRISTINE COTTER/SCNG)
San Clemente could become the hub for surfing in the Olympics, something the town can benefit from, Cruse said.
“We should be a point of pride,” Cruse said at the time. “We want to make sure the city knows we’re here and doing all the great things, and see if there’s a way to promote both – give the city some attention as the city that hosts the national governing body.”
Artists may submit for one or both of the locations. The first location will be 102 Avenida Victoria in San Clemente on the east wall. The wall is 45-feet in length and 21.8 feet in height.
The second is 103 Avenida Del Mar on the downtown area’s main street, placed on the east wall facing the alleyway. The wall is 60-feet long and 15-feet high.
Resumes are required, which should include other samples of work and completed projects. The budget for this project is $2,500 for each location, inclusive of artist and material fees.
Work would start on May 24 and be finished by June 15. For more information on applications go to: usasurfing.org
Marine artist Wyland stands with four-time world champion Carissa Moore in Hawaii, where he recently painted two surfboards to be auctioned off for the USA Surfing team heading to Japan for the Olympic games later this year. (Photo courtesy of Wyland)
Want a Wyland-painted surfboard?
Meanwhile, bidding has launched for two surfboards marine artist Wyland created to fundraise for USA Surfing.
Wyland painted the two Timmy Patterson surfboards while on the North Shore of Oahu when this year’s pro tour launched, meeting up with USA Surfing team members bound for the Tokyo Games.
Wyland used an art style called Gyotaku, a 19th-century Japanese method of illustrating marine life by pressing ink-soaked fish onto rice paper. Both are signed by four-time world champion Carissa Moore.
The starting bid for the art boards – one with a dolphin and another with an octopus – is $8,000.
Docu-series showcases women surfers
Also announced this week is a new surfing docu-series, “Represent,” featuring female Olympic hopefuls on their journey to qualifying for the USA Surfing team.
The series, which will launch on May 6 on Ficto.tv, a free video streaming service, highlights Marks and Moore, both who made the cut, as well as Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue and Santa Barbara surfer Lakey Peterson, who were fighting for a spot on the team.
Celebrating Wahines History
March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the impacts women have made to our communities and societies. These impacts are as varied as a field of wildflowers and just as beautiful and precious. History has deigned to record some names while others are remembered only by loved ones, family and friends, for those contributions, while not noteworthy to historians, are just as important to the individuals affected. With all of this reflecting I began to wonder about the role women have played in the years with regards to surfing, a sport that is typically identified as a male dominated activity.
Surfing history takes us back in time to the 17th century and there is evidence men, women and children all surfed together as a family activity in the Hawaiian and Polynesian Islands. Mamala was a demi-god or kapua in Polynesian culture and was recognized as a skilled surfer taking many different forms including that of a beautiful female or a combination of half shark and half woman. There are also stories of a mythical princess from Maui named Princess Kelea who was described as the best surfer in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1905, the oldest known surfboard was found in the burial cave of Princess Kaneamuna and it is believed the surfboard belonged to the Princess and entombed with her.
Fast forward to 1885 and Princess Ka’iulani demonstrated her skill on a surfboard not only to her fellow Hawaiians but to the English as well when she surfed the English Channel. From there we meet Isabel Letham, a 15-year-old Australian girl who was proficient at swimming and bodysurfing. Duke Kahanamoku taught to her ride a surfboard in the early 1900’s at Freshwater Beach and she is considered to be the first Australian, female or male, to have surfed a surfboard. Since then names like Marge Calhoun, Mary Ann Hawkins, Kathy Kohner (better known as Gidget) Rell Sunn (Hawaii’s first lifeguard), Linda Merrill, Lisa Anderson, Layne Beachley, Bethany Hamilton, and many others have continued to pursue the magic of riding a surfboard as it runs along the face of a wave. Some have their names recorded in the history books for their impact on the sport of surfing, others, their names remembered and treasured by loved ones, family and friends for their daily actions and contributions. And for us, we recognize and thank all of them, past and present, for all the paths they have blazed and all the love they have shared.
The Evolution of Beach-Going Etiquette
Surfers are scrawling their signatures into the glassy waves at Santa Monica Beach. A mother rubs suntan lotion onto her baby’s alabaster cheeks as an elderly jogger runs past barefoot in the wet sand. A homeless man sleeps nearby, sweating in the hot sun.
Robert Ritchie takes a deep breath and surveys this typical Southern California beach scenario--part interested spectator, part historian, part social scientist.
He’s in his laboratory, you know.
Ritchie, a 58-year-old native of Scotland, avid body surfer and director of research at the Huntington Library in San Marino, has of late become a learned professor of the beach. Sand between his toes, he is writing a book on a topic most Angelenos take for granted:
Beach-going. Sunbathing. Wave crashing.
To hear Ritchie tell it, his project is the history of “the changing attitudes toward water, bathing and the body itself.” Or, in other words, a scholarly look at the European ancestors of oceanside skateboarders, nude bathers and surfer dudes.
“Most people take going to the beach for granted,” says Ritchie, trudging through the sand beneath the Santa Monica Pier. “But a trip to the beach hasn’t always been one of life’s universal pleasures. It has a history. It’s developed as part of our popular culture.”
Ritchie will share his research at a presentation at the Huntington Library May 28. He will discuss how most men swam nude right up until the turn of the century. And how our present-day beach-going practices date back to the English--who discovered that a romp in the cold waters of the North Sea had certain therapeutic qualities.
He will talk about how modern beach worship has its roots in 17th century England as outings for the wealthy. Before the advent of good roads, he says, commoners either couldn’t reach the beach or were petrified of setting foot in the water once they got there.
Ritchie, who looks more comfortable in a suit and tie than Hawaiian-print swimming trunks, has spent most of his career in quiet research libraries, far from the crashing surf.
Raised in Los Angeles, he received his Ph.D in history at UCLA and spent 23 years in San Diego as a professor and, finally, as an associate chancellor at UC San Diego.
Specializing in early American history, he wrote and edited books on such topics as the politics of 17th century New York. Then, while researching a book called “Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates,” he unearthed a fascinating fact:
Seventeenth century pirates, as most mariners of the day, were afraid of the water.
“Pirates didn’t swim,” he said. “Being that the ocean was opaque, they couldn’t see what was in it. There were superstitions about monsters and leviathans and other unthinkable and deadly garbage of the deep.”
That got him thinking about “how we got from there to the modern perception of water and the beach as a place for sunshine, relaxation, picnics, Roller-blading, volleyball.”
So the professor once again hit the books, immersing himself in the library, examining paintings, diaries and other historical research.
He learned that Benjamin Franklin was an avid ocean swimmer who promoted the benefits of his chosen pursuit. In the 1600s, doctors in Great Britain began to prescribe both drinking and bathing in seawater--cold seawater--as being good for one’s health.
Beach-going soon became the rage for affluent Europeans from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea. But the upper classes didn’t swim, they merely took a quick plunge. And they plunged naked.
“They devised a horse-drawn barrel that was backed into the water,” Ritchie said. “People took off their clothes inside and then went naked for a quick plunge. But they got right out again, and redressed inside the barrel.”
Eventually, Ritchie said, resorts were built with promenades and social halls. “Since people only took a five minute dip, they had to find other things to do with the 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day.”
When better roads came along, commoners throughout Europe found their way to the beach. “And that,” Ritchie said, “threw the established social rules out the window.”
In 19th century America, mostly in the northeast, beach-going evolved as a way for the working class to wildly cast off the tensions of their big city lives with some fresh ocean air.
Ritchie knows. He has seen period paintings of raucous beach behavior--street performers and dancing girls, gambling addicts and even horse racing. For women, the first bathing suits were heavy woolen suits not much different that regular attire. Men still swam naked.
Not until about 1900 did bathing suits become the universal American beach garb--for men and women.
Eventually, the beach played a role in the shedding of female modesty. Women emerged on the sand with a leg-revealing two-piece suit in the 1930s and continued paring down their beach attire with the advent of the bikini.
Since the 1880s, Southern California, with its generous waves and body-sculpting culture, has developed its own version of a day at the beach--with its athletic wave-riders, in-line skaters and other surfside denizens going long hours under the sun without ever touching the water, the professor said.
But history repeats itself--even beach history.
Superstition of the water has turned into healthy scientific skepticism.
“Right here in Santa Monica, people are afraid of the water again,” Ritchie said, looking north toward Malibu, where a sewage spill temporarily dirtied the water this past week.
“There’s red tides, man-made pollution and sharks. Like those who came before us, we know the monsters of the deep may still be out there.”
John M. Glionna is a former national reporter for the Los Angeles Times, based in Las Vegas. He covered a large swath of the American West, writing about everything from people to politics. He has also served as the Seoul bureau chief on the newspaper’s foreign desk, where he covered the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent death of North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il. He has also written extensively about California. He teaches a journalism course at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Glionna left The Times in 2015.
A world that has long embraced love, light and acceptance is now making room for something else: QAnon.
California is contending with what could be the most contagious coronavirus variant to date, prompting officials to warn that residents face significant risk if they are not vaccinated.
About the bean: The waves of coffee
They say all good things come in waves that make a huge difference. Coffee is no different. It’s said we are now “surfing” the third wave of coffee. With all the talk about the third wave – what were the first two waves?
As far as we know, coffee as a drink has been around since the 15 th century. But coffee itself has a poetic history.
The legend (coffee prequel #1)
A bunch of goats in the Ethiopian south-western highlands stumbled upon a lovely bush with even lovelier fruit on it. Red, lush, inviting. So these curious goats ate the cherries. That event triggered a funny thing – those goats went crazy! Popping with energy, doing backflips, running, and jumping.
These goats also had a shepherd who was usually lying in the shade of a tree, minding his own business while the goats grazed the juicy grass. “What’s that commotion. ” he thought when he heard the loud bleating. When he saw his flock, he was shocked – a wild bunch of goats out of control!
He got curious … what could it be that his flock transformed from being lazy grass-grazers to a crazy bunch? He noticed THE BUSH. He picked the cherries and tasted them, but didn’t like the taste much. The story gets a bit blurred at this moment, as in the next scene we see the shepherd drinking his tasty Ethiopian brew (it remains a mystery how the beans got processed, dried, and roasted, but let’s not be distracted by unnecessary details). After a few minutes, he felt energized, youthful, ready to do backflips. And not at all sleepy!
(There is also an alternative story, where the shepherd brings the cherries to a local abbot, who brews them and shares the energizing drink among his colleagues.)
GOAT STORY's story of coffee (mug) in video
World domination (coffee prequel #2)
Fast forward a few centuries – coffee eventually spread through the Middle East in the 15 th century, finding its way to Europe a century later. It only made sense Europeans shipped the beans to their colonies in America, Asia, and soon coffee was available all around the world, while, especially in Europe, a vibrant coffee house culture emerged, mostly propelled by artists, writers, poets, and revolutionists.
A 17th-century coffee house in London (Source: londonist.com)
Household coffee kicks (First Wave)
Okay, coffee was already a drink that was enjoyed around the world. But after World War II someone got the idea that coffee could be freeze-dried. WHAAAT why would you do that? Yes, you read it right. The world was gifted with the joy of instant coffee. It was a convenient and cheap way to distribute coffee anywhere in the world. And it could be brought back to life with a splash of hot water.
Easy-peasy, right? Right … but the quality could be debated. But we’re not here to debate the quality of any coffee, we’re just trying to explain what these coffee waves are all about. And this was the first wave of coffee. An important milestone that introduced coffee to the homes of the masses.
Going out for coffee (Second Wave)
After a few decades of people drinking mediocre coffee, a new wave took the world by storm. Big coffee companies started roasting higher quality beans and sold them to coffee shops, supermarkets, and elsewhere. This is the era that saw the emerging of big coffee chains (like the one with a star and a buck in its name). This was the era of espresso (and espresso-based drinks that later even evolved into unrecognizable monstrosities that had little to do with coffee as we know it, but again, we’re not here to judge – even a triple latte whateverpuccino with a dozen syrups and flavors was a way to get people into coffee shops). This was the era when people started to “go out for coffee” because it was so much better than a home-brewed cup. And with cafes offering a variety of beans and coffee types, the culture of coffee drinking improved immensely.
When "Going out for coffee" became a thing . the second wave of coffee.
Back to the bean (Third Wave)
The contemporary coffee scene today is all about the coffee bean. We’re now going back to the basics – looking at a coffee bean and the possibilities it has to offer. Without the gimmicks. We could call it coffee for purists. An artisanal product, in a way like wine or craft beer. The highest form of appreciation of coffee, where we appreciate subtleties of flavor, varietal, region, processing, roasting, brewing. The whole coffee circle.
The third wave of coffee introduced us to coffee production as an art form. It’s not just about the brew. It’s about the farmers, the tasters, the roasters, the barista. And the end consumers. Everybody in the coffee chain aims to be as transparent about the bean as possible.
Third Wave: it's about the coffee experience and appreciating the bean.
With special attention to the best beans that are produced in the world (namely specialty coffee), we today can enjoy the best coffee in the history of mankind. We appreciate that the coffee we enjoy is fair (especially to the farmers) and of high quality. We appreciate our coffee being roasted lighter (especially in contrast to the second wave of coffee, where dark roast was THE standard). We appreciate the clarity of flavors that is possible only with single-origin beans. And we appreciate the revival of somewhat forgotten brewing techniques such as pour-over brewing, vacuum coffee and some innovative takes on immersion coffee and even cold brewing our coffee. And brewing coffee is also returning into our homes, with affordable brewing gear (compared to the expensive coffee shop espresso machines from the second wave).
The third wave is all about the search for the perfect cup of coffee. And learn why it’s as good as it is.
Some say that transparency in the coffee chain is already what would determine the fourth wave of coffee. Others say it’s the science of a bean, incorporating measurable variants in every step of coffee production.
To be honest, we don’t care. We love the path that coffee has taken in the last few decades and we’re gladly surfing the last wave of coffee, no matter the number.
Do you have an opinion on the fourth wave of coffee?
What does coffee hold in the future? Are we already in the fourth wave or are we having the ride of our life on the third wave? Leave a comment below!
When we look up in the (online) dictionary for the word "surfing", this is what we get in return:
a) the sport or pastime of riding a wave towards the shore while standing or lying on a surfboard
b) the activity of moving from site to site on the Internet.
For the word "surf", here's the result: a) stand or lie on a surfboard and ride on a wave towards the shore b) move from site to site on (the Internet).
Interestingly, linguists believe that the word "surf" has its origins in the late 17th century, apparently from obsolete "suff", meaning "the shoreward surge of the sea".
The language specialists underline that "suff" might have been influenced by the spelling of "surge".
Alright. So, now we've got "surge".
This word dates back to the 15th century and can be translated as "a sudden powerful forward or upward movement, especially by a crowd or by a natural force such as the tide."
We can see (and hear) that there's still a logic connection with the sport of surfing. But the history challenge is not yet won.
Let's dig a bit more. "Surge" (meaning fountain or steam) comes from Old French verb "sourge" which, in turn, is influenced by the Latin "surgo/surgere" (to rise).
Linguists highlight that the word "surge" was initially used to reveal the "rise and fall on the waves," and to express a "swell with great force," as well.
The original Latin "surgo" tells us "to rise, arise, get up, stand up."
In the end, it all makes sense. Surfing involves humans "rising and standing" on a surfboard, but waves and tides also rise.
We're stunned by what we found: the word "surgo," the linguistic mother of "surfing," has roughly 2,000 years.
Surfing/Surf: The Etymology of the Word
Surgo/Surgere (Latin) > Sourge (Old French) > Surge/Suff (English) > Surf (17th Century)
Tavarua Island and the Development of the First Surf Resort
Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new series, Surf History 101, where we look at innovations in the world of surfing and beyond that changed the pursuit forever. In this edition, Sam George looks at the Tavarua Resort and how it started the surf resort phenomenon.
Founded in 1984, Tavarua Island Resort, located in Fiji’s Mamanuca Island Group, was the first-of-its-kind, all-inclusive, all-exclusive surf resort. Unheard of at the time, the Tavarua concept, which afforded a limited number of well-funded “guests” exclusive access to several of the world’s premier reef breaks, effectively commoditized the previously free-spirited (emphasis on “free”) surf travel experience.
Who developed it?
Hawaiian legend chronicles what is most probably the sport’s very first surf trip, weaving the tale of Kauai’s Prince Kahikilani, who in the late 17th century sailed his outrigger across the Ke’ie’ie’ Waho Channel, bent on challenging the fearsome waves of Paumalu, known today as Sunset Beach. On this seminal surfari, the good prince unwittingly set the tone of surf travel for centuries to come, forsaking all the comforts of home, making an arduous journey and eventually holing up in a cave (granted, with an enchanting sea witch) merely to experience a new surf spot.
Generations of surfers to follow in his wake asked for little more. The first mainland surfers traveling to Hawaii specifically to surf in the 1940s thought nothing of stowing aboard Matson ocean liners, crowding into stuffy rooms at the Waikiki Tavern, or sleeping two-to-a-bunk in musty Makaha Quonset huts, fueled on white rice and gravy (and anything they could poke with a Hawaiian three-prong) just for the opportunity to ride those fabled island “bluebirds.”
During the 1960s and seventies, two decades that saw the first concerted thrust beyond surfing’s known maps, intrepid wave wanderers took pride in an ascetic ethic that eschewed amenities in return for the perceived reward of perfect, empty waves — empty, most specifically, of other travelers like themselves. And while throughout the decades there have been widely scattered outposts of civility where road-weary surfers might gather for a hot meal and a flushing toilet — The Steak House in Biarritz and Bob Rotherham’s Restaurante Punta Roca in El Salvador being two prime examples and by the late 1970s even a rough tree house “camp” at Java’s Grajagan – international surf exploration up until the early 1980s was still a decidedly “have winger-pin, will travel” affair. Then came the 1984 December issue of SURFER Magazine, featuring on its cover a shot by uber-dirtbag surf traveler/photographer Craig Peterson, which evocatively framed his longtime surfari partner Kevin Naughton jumping over the gunwale of a panga skiff, a perfect left peeling in the background, the cover blurb claiming “Fantastic Fiji.”
Fantastic was right, especially when the associated editorial feature served to introduce an entirely new sort of surf travel experience: The Tavarua Island Resort, located on a tiny, heart-shaped islet off the coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, where for an unthinkably exorbitant price a maximum number of 24 clients would be granted access to what would eventually be revealed to be two of the greatest waves on earth — with dry beds, a wet bar and three meals a day included.
Founded by American surfers Dave and Jeanie Clark, along with partner Scott Funk, Tavarua was as unique in concept as it was in location. Teaching in American Samoa with his wife Jeanie at the time, Clark, by 1982 already a relentless South Pacific explorer, came across the fabulous waves in and around Tavarua and was immediately transfixed. Sure, surfers had ridden here before: Indo-based surfer/sailor/charter captain Gary Burns has on the wall of his wheelhouse snapshots of the wave now known as “Restaurants” that he took in 1974, and in William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir the author describes surf camping on Tavarua in 1978. But Clark’s vision of what to do with Tavarua’s epic waves was something completely different.
Negotiating a cooperative agreement with tribal elders in the nearby village of Nabila, Clark was granted exclusive rights to ancestral fishing grounds that included Tavarua Island (Restaurants) and Nokuru Kuru Malagi, or “Thundercloud Reef” (Cloudbreak). This, for the first time, meant no “backpack and board bag” interlopers (read: non-paying surfers) allowed. With this “paying customers only” edict officially sanctioned by indigenous authorities, Clark then constructed a half-dozen thatched-roof bures, each equipped with hanging solar showers, added an open-air kitchen and bar, imported a couple pangas with 60-horse power outboards and hung out the “vacancy” sign. The price tag for this collective fantasy: $100 U.S. per day, cash or credit card. A fee that shocked surfing sensibilities at the time — even outraged — until the realization began to dawn on an increasing number of surfers with jobs that the price for completely catered Fijian perfection was only about $31 more a night than, say, the Motel 6 in Santa Barbara. Within only a couple of good Fijian surf seasons (and plenty of full-color coverage in the surf mags) the Tavarua “Gold Card Rush” was on – and has never stopped.
What it’s meant to surfing
The Tavarua Island Resort, long since upgraded to five-star status, has been more than just a sweet trip, but has, in fact, had a profound effect on international surfing and surf culture. With its introduction of the fully-catered surf trip, Tavarua virtually invented the surf charter business, whose various entities now offer pre-paid, pre-planned, two-week surf “adventures” to just about every coastline on Earth, providing a much wider, more gainfully-employed demographic a homogenized taste of what an earlier generation of surf traveler once sacrificed home, hearth and girlfriends for. Subsequently, much more so than earlier “lone wolf” surf explorers, this increased tourist traffic has fostered flourishing indigenous surfing cultures, whose younger populations over the years have literally grown up working around, and eventually surfing next to, visiting foreigners. Hard to believe this all started under a hanging solar shower, and though by Fijian government decree in 2010 Tavarua relinquished its exclusive surfing rights, losing a measure of its glamour, the heart-shaped island of Dave Clark’s dream is still the standard against which all chartered surfing experiences are measured.
Why it’s not going away
Two words: Cloudbreak and Restaurants. And if you even need to ask…go snowboarding.
Duke Kahanamoku, Waikiki Beach
The beach boys of Waikiki were the first ambassadors of surfing, and among their ranks in the 1920s emerged the Olympian and three-time gold medalist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, whose travels around the world spawned surf schools across the globe. Although there were many instances of Hawaiians exhibiting their surf skills abroad, experts agree Kahanamoku is the father of modern surfing. He gave surfing exhibitions in Australia and Southern California that seeded the sport's interest on new shores, but his story began on Waikiki as a beach boy, helping visitors unlock the thrill of their first wave.
Surf instructor Tammy Moniz of the Moniz Family Surf School says Khanamoku “took the spirit of Hawai'i with him and shared his passion and the culture of surfing with foreign places, and taught in Waikiki in the same sand that we teach [today].” Hawaii would not become a state until 1959, long after Kahanamoku traveled the world to share the sport of surfing, but by then it was already a marker of sun-soaked luxury for mid-century American travelers—an era started by the Moana Surfrider, the first luxury hotel to open on Waikiki in 1901, and perpetuated by the many hotels that followed in the 1950s.
Waikiki has since been a postcard destination of Hawai'i and surfing, and despite its many evolutions, that surf history and culture remains the heartbeat of the destination. American travelers keep on coming—many, with the hopes of learning to surf.
Town once feared 10-storey waves - but then extreme surfers showed up
At the market in the ancient fishing village of Nazare, Portuguese pensioners shop for their fruit and vegetables. Retired fishermen chat over coffee. And a record-breaking American surfer sips on a cucumber and celery smoothie. Garrett McNamara, a 52-year-old from Hawaii, until recently held the world record for the highest wave ever surfed. For most of his life, he had never visited Europe and had to take some time to find Portugal on a map.
"I never envisaged this," says McNamara, who tends to surf in the Pacific Ocean. "Portugal was never a destination."
For centuries, Nazare has been a traditional seaside town, where fishermen taught their children to avoid the huge waves that crash against the nearby cliffs. But over the past eight years, those same waves have turned the place into an unlikely draw for extreme surfers like McNamara, their fans and the global companies that sponsor the athletes.
Tall as a 10-storey building, the waves are caused by a submarine canyon — five kilometres deep, and 170 kilometres long — that abruptly ends just before the town's shoreline.
When McNamara first saw the giant walls of water in 2010, "it was like finding the Holy Grail," he says. "I'd found the elusive wave."
Up in the town's 17th-century fort, tourists now ogle surfboards in the same rooms where the marine police used to store confiscated fishing nets. Out in the bay, professional drivers are test-driving new watercrafts, metres from where villagers dry fish on the beach. In the port, surfers rent warehouses next to the quays where fishermen unload their catch.
"It's a very interesting mixture of history and tradition — and a surfing community," says Maya Gabeira, who holds the record for the biggest wave ever surfed by a female surfer, achieved at Nazare last January, and who has had a base in the town since 2015. "We're not the predominant thing here."
The dynamic constitutes a sea change for both the big-wave surfing world, whose members have historically gravitated toward the surf hubs of Hawaii and California, and the 10,000 villagers of Nazare, who were used to having the place to themselves over the winter.
The story of how it happened depends on who is telling it.
For Dino Casimiro, a local sports teacher, the tale begins in 2002, when he was appointed by the former mayor to help popularise water sports among locals, and publicise Nazare's waves among foreigners.
For Jorge Barroso, the former mayor, the turning point was in 2007, when he gave Casimiro permission to hold a water sports competition off the most northerly — and the most deadly — of the town's two beaches.
And for the town's current mayor, Walter Chicharro, the story starts soon after his election in 2013, when he pumped more money into publicising and professionalising the town's surfing scene.
But the watershed moment really came in 2010, when McNamara finally took up a five-year-old invitation from Casimiro to come to Nazare, and try out the waves that break off the town's north beach.
For all concerned, these were uncharted waters — literally and metaphorically. Not only had McNamara never visited Europe, but the villagers, many of whom knew someone who had died at sea, had never considered their tallest waves swimmable, let alone surfable.
Bodyboarders like Casimiro had long tried their luck. But surfing — particularly in the winter — was thought impossible.
"I thought he was crazy," says Celeste Botelho, a restaurant owner who gave subsidised meals to McNamara and his team throughout the 2010 winter. "We thought of that beach as a wild beach."
Botelho even avoided growing too attached to McNamara and his family: She feared he might soon drown.
McNamara was meticulous in his preparation, spending that winter studying the rhythm of the swell and the contours of the seabed, sometimes with the help of the Portuguese navy.
A year later, in 2011, McNamara was ready to surf Nazare's waves at somewhere near their peak. That November, he conquered a 23-metre wave — turning McNamara into a world-record holder, and Nazare into a name recognised throughout the surfing world.
The tourists started to turn up in meaningful numbers in late 2012, eager to see the world's tallest waves. Previously, the town's hotels and restaurants emptied out in September. Now they had business year-round.
From surf schools to souvenir shops, surfing is now big business in Nazare.
When Paulo Peixe founded the Nazare Surf School, shortly before McNamara broke the world record, surfers were seen as "guys who don't like to work," Peixe says. "Now it's different. There's the idea that surfing is good."
Botelho, initially so fearful of McNamara's project, has now named her menu after him. The town has played host to a surf-themed film festival, while the World Surf League, professional surfing's governing body, runs regular competitions here.
"I don't think there's any other place on the planet right now that is as popular a big-wave surfing location as Nazare," said Tim Bonython, a documentary filmmaker, legendary in the surfing world, who recently bought a house in the town.
At least 20 professional surfers stay in Nazare during any given week over the winter, several officials and surfers reckoned. They are drawn not just by the height of the waves, but by their regularity: Big swells hit Nazare for unusually long stretches of the year.
"It's so consistent," said David Langer, an American surfer who moved here in 2013. "It's literally 10 times more active than any other big-wave place."
Some big-wave surfers have yet to be convinced. The biggest waves here are so tall that it's hard to tackle them without being towed toward them by a Jet Ski. Purists would rather paddle into the waves unassisted, Bonython said.
And then there's the risk. All big waves are dangerous, but Nazare is particularly unpredictable.
"It's unlike any other wave at big-wave spots," says Andrew Cotton, who broke his back at Nazare last year. At other big-wave sites, he says, the waves break in the same place, "and there's always a safe zone and an impact zone," he says. Whereas Nazare "is just all over the place."
The town is now so used to surfers, and the business they bring, that even the fishermen, who sometimes jostle for space in the water with surfers, are generally welcoming.
"Surfers have a different relationship with the sea," says Joao Carlines, a retired fisherman who now dries fish on the beach for a living. "But I'm happy the town's become known for surfing because it means we have people coming here in the winter."
But there are tensions. The number of outsiders buying property in Nazare is still relatively low, but property prices and rental rates are rising, as they are in the rest of the country.
That bodes well for one generation of property-owning Nazarenes, but some fear that the next generation will eventually have to move from the town centre to find affordable housing.
"The bad part," says Peixe, the surf school director, "is that we're probably going to lose the idea that we're a traditional village."
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