The earliest written account of surfing, or “hee nalu” in Hawaiian, was by Lieutenant James King in 1779 just months after Captain Cook’s death. He described Native Hawaiians riding a wood plank on the swells of Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island. Even he could see how fun the sport was writing, “… they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion that this exercise gives.”
Surfing is believed to have originated long ago in ancient Polynesia, later thriving in Hawaii. It was once a sport only reserved for alii (Hawaiian royalty), which is why surfing is often called the “sport of kings.” King Kamehameha I himself was known for his surfing ability. With the end of the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) system in 1819, commoners were allowed to freely participate in the sport. With the arrival of western missionaries in the 1800’s, Hawaiian customs like hula and surfing were discouraged.
Hawaii surfing has long been part of Polynesian culture. A sport reserved for royalty, the ancients would move from their winter homes in the north shore to their summer retreats in the south of the islands to pick up the best waves all year round. The sport was popularized by Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku in the 1920's, whose statue claims prize position on Waikiki's waterfront.
Hawaii surfing waves have two distinct seasons. The biggest hit the north shores of all the islands between November and March, generated from winter storms around Alaska. The first landmass the resulting waves hit to the south are the Hawaii Islands, a distance of over 5000km, by which time the waves can be massive. The lie of the land and ocean floor on Oahu's north shore are particularly favourable to receiving monster waves and endless barrels. The north shore of Maui (Hookipa Beach) receives the best of the wind-surfing conditions.