From Academic Kids

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Surfing outside Kaneohe Bay, Hawai‘i.

Surfing is a popular recreational activity and sport in which individuals are propelled across the water by the force of waves, while standing on, predominantly, GRP ("fiberglass") boards. Wooden and foam (see plastic) boards ("foamies") are also used. Kayak & Kite surfing are also more popular today.

Originally developed by Hawaiian islanders (see Ngaru), before the 15th century, "he'e nalu" (wave-sliding) spread in the early 20th century to the mainland USA and Australia, where heavy timber "plank" boards were ridden directly towards beaches. However, the sport exploded in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, when cheaper, more maneuverable, and lighter boards made of fiberglass and foam became available and the teenaged baby boomers headed to the beach in droves to enjoy the maneuverability and stunts made possible by the new boards. The sport has spread to most places where waves of sufficient size and the right shape appear, including France, Brazil, South Africa, and many island states.

Wetsuits are often worn to keep surfers warm in colder water. Other surfing equipment includes leashes (to keep a surfer's board from washing to shore after a 'wipeout'), wax and/or traction pads (to keep a surfers feet from slipping off the deck of the board), interchangeable "skegs" (also know as fins), and of course in warmer climates surf trunks or board shorts. In cold water surfers can opt to wear wetsuits, booties, hoods, and gloves to manage lower water temperatures.

Surfing has a unique and often powerful appeal, which probably derives from an unusual confluence of elements: adrenaline, skill, and high paced maneuvering are set against a naturally unpredictable backdrop—an organic environment that is, by turns, graceful and serene, violent and formidable. Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control the craft in challenging conditions, but by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as the 'cutback' (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the 'floater' (riding on the top of the breaking curl of the wave), 'off the lip' (banking off the top of the wave), the 'aerial' (arcing through the air above the wave) and, if the surf conditions allow it, tuberiding. This is the 'holy grail' of surfing, where the surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of them, forming a "tube" (or "barrel"), with the rider inside the cylindrical portion of the wave. However, such situations do not exist if the waves 'dump', meaning that they break in large parts at a time (also known as a close-out).

The image of surfing powerfully differs from the sport in reality. Most people only see the pros riding; most of surfing has to do with paddling out and waiting 'outside'. However, one does not see photographs of pros paddling out.

Competitive surfing is a comparison sport where riders, competing in pairs or small groups, are allocated a certain amount of time to ride waves and display their prowess and mastery of the craft. Competitors are then judged according to how competently the wave is ridden, including the level of difficulty, as well as frequency, of maneuvers. There is a professional surfing world championship series held annually at surf beaches around the world. Though in recent years competitive surfing has become an extremely popular and lucrative activity, both for professional competitors and sponsors, the sport does not have its origins as a competitive pursuit. It is common to hear debate rage between purists of the sport, who still maintain the ideal of 'soul surfing', and surfers who engage in the competitive and, consequently, commercial side of the activity.

A non-competitive adventure activity involving riding the biggest waves possible (known as "rhino hunting") is also popular with some surfers. A practice popularised in the 1990s has seen big wave surfing revolutionised, as surfers use jetskis to tow them out to a position where they can catch previously unrideable waves (See also: tow-in surfing). These waves were previously unrideable due to the speed that they travel at. Some waves reach speeds of 60km +, jetskis enable surfers to reach the speed of the wave thereby making them rideable. Jetskis not only allow surfers to ride these waves but allow them to survive 'wipeouts'. In many instances surfers would not survive the battering of the 'sets' (groups of waves together) without drowning. This spectacular activity is extremely popular with television crews, but because such waves rarely occur in heavily populated regions, and usually only a very long way out to sea on outer reefs, few spectators see such events directly.

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A surfer on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii catches a wave while others paddle out.

Understanding Waves

Surfing conditions at a particular location or "break" that is known for surfing (see below) are almost never ideal all the time. Wind blown consistently over a large area of fetch, or open water, generates waves. These waves use a drafting effect similar to racecars and cyclists to travel vast distances efficiently. To learn more about surf meteorology, see StormSurf's Tutorials ( As waves near their ultimate destination (land), the bottom of the wave begins to run aground as the water becomes more shallow.

There are two primary factors that contribute to the general characteristics of waves at a particular break: (1) the "swell window" or the exposure of the location to wave-generating areas of fetch, and (2) the structure of the ocean floor (composition, shape).

The swell window determines the potential of a break to receive waves. In general, the western coast of any continent usually has better breaks since winds (and, therefore, waves) tend to travel from west to east. Coastlines that face east or south (in the Northern Hemisphere) or north (in the Southern Hemisphere) that are exposed to tropical storms and hurricanes can also be surfable on a consistent basis. When waves break along a section of coastline at an angle almost perpendicular to the land, these special locations, known as point breaks, can produce very long-lasting waves that can be surfed for several hundred meters. The two main types of waves for surfing apart from the pointbreak are the reef break, waves breaking over a coral reef or rockbed, and the beach break, waves breaking onto sand bars. To learn more about the types of waves for surfing see Wave information (

The structure of the ocean floor is the biggest factor that determines the broad characterists of waves at a particular break. For instance, there are beach breaks (soft sand bottom) that generate slower, mushy waves and reef breaks (coral reef or rock bottom) that tend to generate faster, more powerful waves. Based on the structure of the ocean floor, a location may break better on a particular tide, say, an incoming high tide or a low-low tide. The continental shelf can also be a factor.

Local wind conditions, water temperature, solar radiation, the crowd factor, hazardous aquatic life, water pollution, and aggression of local surfers are other factors that can have impact on the experience one might have surfing at a particular break.

Popular surfing areas

The west coast of the Americas tends to have better surfing areas than the east coast. While the continental shelf of the west coast drops off quickly, on the east it extends a great distance, creating drag and making smaller and less powerful waves.

Anywhere else waves hit the shore. Many surfers are seen as territorial, hence the expression "locals only"; or as the rock group The Surf Punks put it, "my beach, my wave, my girl, so f--- you!".

Other surfers, however, known as "soul surfers", hold less aggressive views towards others. These surfers see surfing as more than a sport; it is an opportunity to harness the waves in and to relax and forget about their daily routines. This type of surfing has seen a rise in popularity recently.

Surfing culture

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Spectators at Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.

Surfing is often viewed as less of a sports activity, and more of a lifestyle. Popularised in the United States during the 1950s, surf culture found increasing expression with mass-production of surf fashion, music and, later, with the booming surf magazine and movie industries in the 1960s. Bruce Brown's classic movie Endless Summer glorified surfing in a round-the-world search for the perfect wave; John Milius' homage to the Malibu of his youth in Big Wednesday remains a poignant metaphor for the similarites between the changing surf and life; The Ventures, The Surfaris ("Wipeout!") and other surf rock bands melded surfing with rock and roll to create surf rock and other surf music. (Some subculture-oriented surfers don't acknowledge the Beach Boys as surf music—Surfin' USA notwithstanding). Surfing culture can be seen in their slang: hang ten, gremmies, the Big Kahuna, the woody, waxing my stick, the green room, etc, though many of these terms are now archaic. Partially due to the obsessive tendency of its participants, and partly to the predominantly stylised media representation of the sport's participants, surfing became embedded in the popular imagination as synonymous with either a naﶥ, pseudo-spiritual hippie idealism or a drug-addled, lazy, 'beach-bum' apathy. Neither of these is probably accurate. Though today such stereotypes have long since lost whatever relevance they may have had, surfing has still failed to completely divest itself of negative social connotations, despite the best attempts of various commercial marketing strategies.

If there is one fair generalisation concerning the sport, it is the fanatical enthusiasm of its devotees. One famous Australian surfer, Nat Young, once tried to register the sport as a religion, but to no avail. Surfing Magazine, founded in the 1960s when surfing had gained popularity with teenagers, used to say that if they were hard at work and someone yelled "Surf's up!" the office would suddenly be empty.

Surfers developed the skateboard to be able to "surf" on land; the number of boardsports has since grown.

Famous and notable surfers

See also

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