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Surfing Sports | Surfing | Under the Sun Sports | Suntan Sports

Some people call surfing a sport. Others call the intricate dance of board and rider upon waves a way of life. Surfing is a fun-in-the-sun activity where the “surfer” uses a board to ride the surface of breaking ocean waves. The act of surfing and riding waves can be done on various equipment including surfboards (both long and short), stand up paddle boards (SUP's), bodyboards, skimboards, kneeboards and surf mats. The first surfboards were extremely heavy and long, but by the late 1940’s lighter, easier to maneuver boards started being crafted out of balsa wood. Surfboards today are made from polyurethane foam, fiberglass and resin. The newest materials being used today are epoxy and carbon fiber.

Surfing’s history started in the beautiful sun-kissed islands of ancient Polynesia. Surfing today remains an integral part of Polynesian tradition and culture. Europeans first noticed the art of surfing in Tahiti back in 1767. Lieutenant James King wrote about this water sport when finishing the journals of Captain James Cook after the famous captain's death in 1779. In the years since then, many continue to be fascinated with this form of interacting with waves.

Surfing typically starts when the surfer lies on the board, paddles out to a distance from the beach, identifies a ridable wave and then paddles like crazy to match its speed while following it inland. The real beauty of surfing begins when the wave starts to carry the surfer forward. The surfer then stands up and rides the crest, staying just ahead of the break of the wave. The most difficult trick for beginners is to actually “catch” a wave. One of the more complicated stunts in this sport involves maneuvering the board so that instead of riding at the top, the surfer allows the wave to curl over him or her and rides the “barrel”, or the hollow part of the wave.

Many popular surf spots such as Hawaii, California, Florida, Chile, Costa Rica and Australia have surf schools or camps that offer lessons for those just starting out as well as surfers looking to improve their fundamental skills. Some programs are all-inclusive and include accommodations, lessons, meals….even the surfboard! Beginners are normally taught on longboards because of stability and ease of speed when paddling. In these sunny locales (even in the winter) surfers have to protect themselves from both UV rays and the sea. Waterproof sunscreen, wetsuits, rash guards and UV wear are all part of being smart and safe in the unpredictable oceans.

Tow-in surfing is the extreme form of this sport, with surfers being towed in by jet-ski in order to catch huge 40-80+ foot waves. Maverick’s is a famous destination in the winter for some of the world's best big wave surfers. Located near San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, California, Maverick’s is legendary within the surf world. Very few surfers evolve to big wave surfers; and of those, very few have the nerve to brave these extreme conditions. Depending on the storms and the wave conditions, a surf contest is held there every winter --- by invite only.

On one hand, surfing is a culture, a sport, a spiritual experience. On the other it is a multi-billion dollar industry with a huge clothing/accessory market.  Some people make a career out of surfing by receiving corporate sponsorships from big names like Quiksilver, O’Neill, Billabong and Ripcurl. Surfers vie annually for the title of World Surfing Champion by competing in events on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Tour. A qualification system decides who can compete on the tour; a total of 44 men (the “top 44”) and 16 women.

Second to the world title is the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, specifically held in Hawaii. For the men, those three events are the Reef Hawaiian Pro - Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park; the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing - Sunset Beach; and the Billabong Pipeline Masters - Banzai Pipeline. The women's three events are the Vans Hawaiian Pro - Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park; the Roxy Pro - Sunset Beach; and the Billabong Pro Maui - Honolua Bay, Maui. The winter swells are infamous here and can reach 50+ feet in height. The Triple Crown is the ultimate test of a surfer’s abilities because it tests the rider against three different surfing challenges. 

While other surfing-related sports such as sea-kayaking and paddleboarding do not involve waves, and other waterboard sports such as kitesurfing and windsurfing need wind for power, all of these may also be used to ride actual waves.


Also known as sailboarding, windsurfing was once referred to as "surfing's ginger haired cousin" by Robby Naish, the sport’s most well-known champion. This water activity meshes the laid-back culture of surfing and the more formal world of sailing. Participants are called "sailors" and not "surfers". A 20 year old man named Newman Darby first imagined the idea of using a handheld sail that was mounted on a universal joint to control a small board in 1948, but never filed a patent. A surfer and a sailor from California formalized the idea of standing on a rudderless board, utilizing the waves and wind and moving the sail to glide along the surface of the water. Even though Jim Drake and Hoyle Schweitzer were awarded the first patent for this fun water sport they give credit for the invention to Newman Darby. What makes the sailboard special is the fact that the sail rigging is mounted to the board with a universal joint, which allows the rig to be tilted fore and aft by the sailor supporting it. This setup allows the board to be steered without using a rudder, and is notable for being the only sailcraft able to perform such a feat.

Early windsurfer boards were 12 feet long and weighed approximately 60 pounds. Nowadays the boards range from 8-12 feet and weigh 15-40 pounds. Modern variations of windsurfing include racing, freestyle, slalom, and wave sailing, with competitions held throughout the world. In the 1980's, the sport continued to evolve and became an Olympic sport in 1984 at the Los Angeles games. Beginners must develop their balance and core stability, understand basic sailing theory, and become skilled at a range of techniques before they can first attempt to windsurf. The necessary equipment obviously includes all you would normally need for the sport and everything for protecting your skin from burning from overexposure. Most windsurfers wear wetsuits but UV protective shirts, board shorts and waterproof sunscreen for extended playtimes under the sun are definitely recommended.


Kitesurfing (or kiteboarding) is a surface water sport that uses wind to pull a rider through the water on a small surfboard/kiteboard. Adrenaline junkies only! This extreme water sport is not for the inexperienced. Generally, kitesurfing is more wave-riding and Kiteboarding is a manner of riding known as freestyle. The boards used for each have slight differences. The main idea is to control the kite which propels the board and rider across the water. The board is similar to a wakeboard and unlike windsurfing, the rider’s feet are strapped to the board. The “kite” is very similar to a paragliding chute and has an emergency release that is used in case the winds get too strong. Kitesurfers have been known to glide over the surf at 40 miles an hour! 

It is said that this beach activity was started off the east coast of the United States (some say Hawaii) in the late 1990’s. Since then its popularity has grown immensely. In 2006, there was estimated to be approximately 200,000 kitesurfers, with almost 115,000 inflatable kites sold that very year. Lately, the sport has become safer due to new modernizations in kite design and safety systems. Kitesurfing is also huge in Australia and the UK.

Kitesurfing is the evolution of windsurfing. When windsurfing, there has to be a fair amount of wind to propel the sail, while only a light wind is needed to kitesurf. The bigger the kite, the less wind you need to have fun at the beach or lake. It is important to note that anyone trying out these sports should seek out a professional to educate themselves on basic techniques and safety measures. The buddy system should be used at all times, inland or in the water. One of the biggest causes of accidents in this watersport is the tangling of lines and travelling far from the sunny shore and then having no power (wind) to get back. Avid kitesurfers also always advise the use of wetsuits for warmth and protection.

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