The western world heard about surfing for the first time in the late 1770s as Captain James Cook reported from his travels to Hawaii. There, surfing had already existed for 1000 years. It was used not only as a recreational sport but to show and reinforce the status of kings and clan chiefs. With the arrival of European settlement in 1820, several cultural traditions including surfing were forbidden, as they were deemed by the Europeans to be outrageous. Before it was re-established in the 20th century the sport had almost died out. Today surfing is growing to be the most popular water sport after swimming. It is practised on coastlines around the globe, from Ireland to Indonesia and Japan. Depending on the coastal conditions, surfing can be practised on beach-, reef-, or point- breaks. Important for the quality and reliability of the waves are the size of the swell, strength of the wind and the flow of the tides. Wetsuits, shoes, gloves and hoods enable surfers to adapt to cold waters. Trends show today, however, that nothing can stop some surfers from seeking new waves. Waves are a limitless resource, and people are going to the ends of the earth to find them, including such unlikely places as the polar seas, the Great Lakes, USA, and offshore seamounts.

Commercialisation of Surfing

For many, surfing is much more than sport, it is spiritual. While the commercialization of surfing has brought it into the mainstream with some surf companies, underwriting professional surfers and prominent surfing contests. Some of these contests, especially the ones of the first league, the World Surfing Championships, draw large numbers of spectators. In this way, sponsors control the “surfing business” and at some stage the surf spirit, which promotes balance with nature, is gone. But at many local surfbrakes the spirit of surfing is still well alive. It is about sharing waves with people of all ages, races, and sexes, respect for others, having fun, helping somone in trouble and it is in the sole surfer out for a paddle.

 Surfers and the Environment

Surfers are linked to the environmental health because they are in the water daily. The ocean is one of the last truly wild frontiers, where it is a special but not rare experience to surf among dolphins, sea otters, turtles, whales, seabirds and sharks. In addition to the beauty and excitement of surfing, there is the risk of danger, which adds to many surfers passion for the sport. Despite technology that predicts waves, storms, and wind, it is still wild and every surfer knows, not to turn his back on the ocean. Because most surfers have experiences floating trash in the lineup, or worse gotten sick after surfing, it is no wonder that many surfers are conservation-conscious people. See Oceans and human health. Concerned surfers founded several environmental organisations, like the Surfrider Foundation. Represented by over 60,000 members worldwide, the Surfrider Foundation has large affiliations in the USA, Australia, Japan, Europe, and Brazil. It is an environmental protection organization where surfers get acitve in their local politics, laws, and communities to create safer and cleaner coastal playgrounds. How surfers influenced coastal development in order to conserve good surfing conditions can be seen at the example of Santa Monica Bay, California,USA.

Surf Tourism: Spanish and Indonesian case studies

Some of the best surf spots in the world are located in remote areas of lesser-developed countries. Jet airplanes and global wave forecasting is helping the surf tourism boom. But just like any other kind of tourism, it can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on local economies.
Spain: The example of the Spanish surfing village Mundaka offers an example of how surf tourism can directly benefit the local economy. There, excavations had changed the currents at the beach break, thus destroying the swell. The economy of the village was so dependent on the surfers and the annual surf competitions, that the Spanish government assigned a geological institute with the task of reconstructing the famous wave.
Indonesia: Furthermore studies on the recently discovered surf destination of the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia concluded that tourism provides a much better potential for funding educational and health development with less damage to vegetation, wildlife and water quality, than other economic sectors such as forestry or agriculture. However, if tourism does not take part in protecting the environment, local culture, and local economy, it will help to destroy the very resources upon which it depends. In the Mentawi Islands the surfing tourism industry itself as well as the local government, try to manage surfing tourism. In an effort to minimise the negative impacts and to build sustainable tourism, surf travel is nearly completely restricted to authorised surf charter companies. Consumers of surf can choose their locations wisely to support local tourism businesses and destinations that are protecting their environment. Membership to organizations like Surfrider and Surf Aid International, a humanitarian aid groud for remote regions, can also help give back to the places we get so much from.