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Surfing off Hawaii
Surf riders on the north coast of Oahu
Bodyboarder in a tube

The surfing , and surfing is a water in which the dynamic form of a water wave is utilized to refer to a surfboard move around standing on the water. Today's form of surfing comes from the islands of Hawaii . After being brought to a near standstill by missionaries in the 19th century , surfing experienced a new boom in the 1950s when many Americans discovered the sport for themselves. Nowadays there are many competitions where surfers show their skills. You can surf not only in Hawaii, California or Australia , but also in Europe there are numerous beaches that are good for surfing. All you need is a surfboard, surf wax, a leash (known as a "legrope" in Australia), a two-meter-long cord that is used to secure the board to the leg, and possibly a surf suit . The two possible positions on the board are called regular foot and goofy foot .

Surfing is usually practiced on the coast of the sea and less often on rivers ( river surfing ).

At the 2020 Summer Olympics , surfing should actually be held as an Olympic competition for the first time.

History of surfing

Surfing or surfing has its origin in the South Seas, where it spread through the travels of the Polynesians . Surfing ( Hawaiian : heʻe nalu ) experienced its heyday on the islands of Hawaii, where it became a fixed spiritual and cultural part of society.

The development of surfing probably began with "body surfing". The waves were only slid off with the body without aids. Later bundles of rushes , smaller tree trunks, wooden planks or canoe tips were used to give the body more buoyancy . In the following years people surfed lying, sitting or on their knees on larger boards. In this form surfing was common all over Polynesia (and beyond). In Tahiti in particular , it has developed into “surfing while standing”. Women and men of all classes and ages went out to sea here to surf.

In the course of the settlement of Eastern Polynesia from Tahiti, surfing came in this form to the Marquesas Islands , New Zealand , Rapa, Easter Island and Hawaii. In Hawaii it finally developed furthest to the point of inclined travel. The social significance of surfing was made clear, among other things, by the fact that the bays with the highest and best waves were reserved for the kings and taboo for the rest of the population. Once a year, the Makahiki festival took place in Hawaii . Work was interrupted for three months to enjoy recreation, sports, dancing and feasts. The surf competitions, which attracted thousands of spectators, were of particular importance. Surfing was and is a national sport in Hawaii.

Since surfing existed before the colonization of Hawaii (in the 10th century AD), it can be assumed that it is at least 1000 years old. However, there is evidence that this sport is much older. Waves were also ridden in Melanesia ( e.g. Fiji Islands, New Guinea ) and Micronesia ( e.g. Marshall Islands , Carolines ), but only where there was also a great social and cultural influence from Polynesian. However, since the Polynesians are believed to have stayed in these areas in the time before Christ, it can be assumed that surfing dates back to pre-Christian times. At the World Surfing Championships, however, the winners weren't Polynesians for a long time. The first native Hawaiian to win this title was Derek Ho in 1993.

Surfing will be added to the competition program at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Executive Committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had previously decided in Lausanne to follow the proposal of the organizers of the Tokyo Games and to recommend the IOC session to include surfing in the 2020 program. The approval of the general assembly was given on August 3, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

The history of surfing in Europe is described in more detail in the corresponding article.

European influence

Surfing off Kijkduin (near The Hague , the Netherlands) in mid-November 2006.

The Briton James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1778, where he watched the local population surf the waves, as his records show.

He made his first written notes earlier in Tahiti. The island of Hawaii was discovered by settlers from the Marquesas Islands. They were led by Hawailoa , one of the greatest seafarers in Polynesia, around the year 400.

When King Kamehameha I , whose surfing achievements were celebrated long after his death, died in 1819, the previously applicable taboo laws were abolished. This prepared the ground for Christianity and initiated the collapse of Hawaiian culture. This year the Makahiki Festival took place for the last time. The missionaries who then arrived replaced the pagan customs with strict church customs. The cultural integration of surfing was lost and it was less exercised. But it never completely disappeared, because in 1866 Mark Twain described traditional surfing as a pastime.

The founding of the first Hawaiian surf clubs in 1908 ushered in an era that has never ended to this day, in which surfing developed again and, initially under the influence of Georg Freeth and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku , spread all over the world, with the latter in particular Brought about a renaissance of the almost non-existent sport. As a multiple Olympic champion in swimming, this ambassador of the Aloha first transported the sport via Australia, later with further journeys into the souls of the people. In the 1920s, it was primarily the Californian Tom Blake who gave surfing a new direction. New materials and improvements brought surfing forward every year: from the old wooden boards to the modern foam boards , from the finless surfboard to the most diverse constructions and designs of the boards.

In 1955 Peter Viertel , a Hollywood screenwriter who was married to film actress Deborah Kerr , came to Biarritz to film . He liked the waves, got a board from California and tried his hand at surfing. With him began the French Michel Barland , Georges Henebutte (the inventor of the leash) and Joël de Rosnay , who soon founded the first surf club in France.

Surfing in Germany

In the Federal Republic of Germany, too, surfing began in the mid-1950s. At that time, the Sylt lifeguards got their first lifeboats, which were quite unsuitable for surfing. Nevertheless, Uwe Draht started his first surfing attempts with it. Dieter Behrens , Walter Viereck and others did the same. In Biarritz they bought their first real surf boards. However, they only found out later that there was a special surf wax that prevented the board from slipping off. In 1966 they founded the "Surfing Club Sylt".

In 1977 the Cologne sports students Ulrich Richter and Manfred Lauterbach founded the first German surf school in Hendaye on the Spanish-French border on the Atlantic. They were the first Europeans to give systematic group lessons in theory and practice. In 1979 Ulrich Richter wrote the first textbook in German ( Surfing, surfing: the fascinating game with the surf ). Most of the German surfing terms used today come from this book.

Only 25 years after the "Surfing Club Sylt" were other German surfing clubs founded, which finally founded the German Surfing Association (DWV) in Cologne in 1991 . In the same year the DWV started its work on the development of a sport-science-based concept for the training of surfing instructors. In the summer of 1992, the first training of DWV surfing instructors began under the direction of Norbert Hoischen. It was also the first time that international competitions, the amateur world championships in Lacanau (France), took part, and their own competitions were held. In 1996 the first German championship took place in Cap de l'Homy on the French Atlantic coast. This development has been viewed very critically from many sides since its inception. The decisive factor is the strongly commercial attitude that is adopted by training as a surf instructor.

The successes of Marlon Lipke ( ASP Europe Junior Champion 2004) and Sonni Hönscheid (multiple German champion, winner Redbull Soulwave 2003) are examples of the liveliness of the German surfing scene and its international importance.


Surf rider with surfboard on the beach


Main article: surfboard

Surfboards come in different designs and sizes, from shortboards to longboards. They usually consist of wood and fiberglass-reinforced plastic .


A boardbag is a protective cover for the board and is intended to protect the board from knocks and scratches, especially when traveling.

Surf suit

The surf suit , which is mostly made of chloroprene rubber such as neoprene , offers protection against heat loss and sunburn. The surf suit is usually a wet suit or wet suit ("wetsuit") . From a water temperature of 20 ° C, a shorty (short sleeves and legs) two millimeters thick in the torso area and one millimeter for arms and legs is sufficient. Below 16 ° C, three to four millimeters of thickness are recommended. In between and for an all-round suit, it's two to three millimeters. A Lycra shirt can be worn under the surf suit, which protects the armpits and neck from the abrasion of the skin that the surf suit can cause.


Main article: Board leash

The leash

The leash, known in Australia as "Legrope", is the connecting line between surfboard and surfer and prevents the board from being lost. It varies in length and diameter depending on the conditions of use.

Surf wax

A piece of surf wax (for cold water)

The surf wax increases the slip resistance on the board. It is applied to the top of the surfboard, ensures a secure stand and prevents slipping off the board after paddling ( take off ). As the adhesive effect of the wax depends on the temperature, a distinction is made between warm and cold water wax.

Sun protection

Due to the high levels of ultraviolet radiation on the water, the use of a zinc skin cream or waterproof sunscreen with a high sun protection factor is necessary to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

Surf waves

Waves occur when the wind blows constantly over a large area of ​​open water (so-called fetch ). The wind strength, the duration and the area of ​​the fetch determine the size of the waves, which is why wave surfing is often practiced in coastal areas with a large area of ​​free water in front. The ideal surfing conditions include light to moderate winds in the direction of the oncoming wave, which forms a "barrel" that allows the surfer to stay in the wave while it breaks. However, the topography of the water bed ( bathymetry ) in the area behind and next to the breaking wave has the greatest influence on the wave shape . Since the topographical nature of the waterbed is always different, it is difficult to predict the shape of the wave (beach breakers carry sand, which continuously changes the nature of the bottom).

Depending on how the waves break, one speaks of right-handed or left-handed waves. In general, waves are defined by the surfaces over which they break (beach breakers, cliff breakers, etc.).

The wave intensity is determined by the geometry of the wave and its speed. The speed is determined by the entry angle of the shaft surface. Geometrically, waves are divided into squares (ratio <1: 1), rounds (1-2: 1) and almonds (> 2: 1) according to their length-width ratio. The wind conditions directly on the coast determine the wave quality. In stormy conditions, the surface of the wave becomes irregular and is therefore less suitable for surfing.

Learn to surf

Dry runs in a surf school

Any experienced swimmer can learn to surf. In order not to take any unnecessary risk when dealing with waves , currents and tides , however, the help of a qualified surfing instructor should be sought.

In addition to the right board, choosing a suitable beach is of great importance. A guarded, gently sloping sandy beach without stones or groynes is a prerequisite. Before you venture out on the water, you should thoroughly familiarize yourself with the safety and right of way rules. Surfers usually go into the water when there are good waves, precisely at the point when swimmers stop going into the surf . Therefore, the surfer has to bear the risk himself. You should also be physically fit enough to reduce the risk of injury. Surf fitness exercises help prepare for a surf trip. The four essential surf fitness exercises are called Power Paddle, Take Off Push-ups, Take Off Knee Crunch and Indo Balance. The aim of surf fitness exercises is to prepare the body for the shaky surfing surface. Standing on a surfboard is very shaky, because the leg muscles are not used to compensating for these movements. Exercises on unstable surfaces, such as a stability ball or balance board help to strengthen the leg muscles and the stability on the surfboard to improve.

As with any nature sport, it is also very important to take a close look at the natural surroundings. The general weather, the currents, special underwater events, dangerous animals, reefs or rocks in the sand. These are empirical values. To really be able to judge a beach, one would have to have seen it in all four seasons. It is important to find out how the beach changes with the ebb and flow of the tide . For beginners, the total low water when the tide comes in is recommended, but never the breaks of the full high water towards the end of the tide, because they have a multiple of power. In addition, the wind is often offshore (offshore) in the early morning, i.e. directed against the wave. So the wind stops the wave until the last moment and it breaks more beautifully and hollowly; the water is then often as smooth as a mirror.

If the conditions are good, surfers lie flat on the board to paddle out to sea. When you arrive at the break line, you have to sit on the board and wait for the next wave. When the wave comes, you turn to the beach and start paddling, then finally jump on the board and surf to the beach. In order to keep the risk of injury low, surfers fall in front of or next to their board if they lose their balance.


Surfing is called an extreme sport because of the high risk of injury . Serious injuries and deaths occur again and again, even with very experienced professional surfers. The main risks while surfing are collisions with hard objects, marine life, and water pollution.


Studies have shown that the greatest risk is colliding with your board. Over 60% of the injuries were caused by a collision with the nose or the fins of one's own surfboard. The most injured region of the body is the rider's head. This results in the main risk of the sport of losing consciousness and drowning in a collision with hard ground or your own surfboard.

Marine life

Marine life such as sharks , stingrays and jellyfish pose a risk to surfers. Water sports enthusiasts in warm waters often run with the so-called "stingray shuffle" through shallow waters to drive away stingrays.


In order not to hinder others and to minimize dangers, it is important to follow the surfing rules:

  • Those who drive closer to the breakpoint of the wave have priority over those who are more distant. If necessary, the latter has to get out of the wave. One wave - one surfer.
  • It is forbidden to maneuver into the right of way position behind the back of a waiting surfer. "Don't sneak!"
  • It is also not allowed to re-enter a wave when it is building up again if there is already a surfer in it. Again, one wave - one surfer.
  • The one who paddles out must always give priority to the one in the wave.
  • It is not allowed to insist on compliance with these rules if this provokes an accident.
  • Never let go of the surfboard when paddling out or duck diving through the wave, otherwise you could injure other surfers with the surfboard whirling around in the wave!

Known surfing areas


Surfing in the wake of the Upper Lock, Thun , Switzerland

The best surf spots in Europe are on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Spain and France. In northern Spain, for example, the left wave from Mundaka near Bilbao is one of the best and longest waves in the world. A World Championship Tour (WCT) contest was held here every year from October until 2007. The Canary Islands are also a good surfing area due to the high wave quality, the warm water and outside temperatures, especially in winter. The French Atlantic coast from Biarritz in the south to Bordeaux in the north has a long surfing tradition. The center is Hossegor , where the 34 best professionals will also surf for the world title in September as part of the World Championship Tour (WCT).

The Portuguese Atlantic coast, with the surf centers Peniche , Ericeira and Sagres on the southern tip of Portugal, also offers very good surf spots. 120 km north of Lisbon is Nazaré , where in 2011 the Hawaiian surfer Garret McNamara let himself be pulled into the largest wave surfed until then with a jet ski.

North America

Surfing in Santa Cruz , California

The United States has the best surfing spots in and around Orange County , California . One of the best places is Encinitas . If the conditions are good, the entire Pacific coast can be used for surfing in America , as good waves almost always hit here. A well-known, very big breaking wave is Mavericks . There are also numerous surf spots in the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of the United States , but most of them only have surfable waves in the winter months. For example, the 6th competition of the ASP World Tour 2011 took place in Long Beach, New York.


In Hawaii , especially on the north and east coast of Oahu , you will find good conditions all year round. Here you will find legendary spots such as the Banzai Pipeline, Sunset and the first real big wave spot Waimea. The international Triple Crown of Surfing competition takes place every year at the well-known spots on the North Shore . The spot “ Jaws ”, which has become very well known through tow-in surfing, is located off the island of Maui .


About five kilometers west of the windsurfing and kitesurfing paradise Cabarete on the north coast of Hispaniola is a surfing area at Playa Encuentro . The “Master of the Ocean” is determined here every year in a kind of “triathlon” competition, which includes surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing .

Latin America

Costa Rica in particular has now become an insider tip. There are good surfing conditions here on the Pacific coast in every season. Especially in the (very Californian-looking) city of Jacó , many semi-professional and professional surfers meet to benefit from the surf on the neighboring "Hermosa Beach". The waves here are not very high, but they are all the faster and suitable for advanced surfers. The Caribbean coast also has its “secret spots” such as the Salsa Brava in Puerto Viejo or the reef around Isla Uvita, around 700 m from Limon.


The continent offers surfing opportunities on many beaches from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay , which is popular with surfers, and the Margaret River in Western Australia .

Shark warning system for surfers and swimmers on Noordhoek Beach in South Africa (2015)
Surfers on Noordhoek Beach in South Africa

South Africa

South Africa is considered a surfer's paradise. World-famous surfers like the Australian Taj Burrow are always drawn to South Africa's coasts to show their skills.

A favorable southeast wind blows from September to May, bringing surfers six to ten Beaufort sideshore and providing exceptionally good conditions. In winter, from June to August, the high pressure belt moves towards the equator and the low pressure channel reaches the cape. Waves with a size of less than two meters are then rather rare.

The following coastal towns in South Africa have become world-famous:

For beginners or inexperienced surfers, the areas around Algoa Bay and Silvic Bay (near Port Elizabeth) are particularly suitable.


In addition to the surf music genre , the best-known representative of which is probably The Beach Boys , there is a wealth of film material that deals with surfing:


  • 1966: In The Endless Summer Bruce Brown documents the journey of the two surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August around the world in search of the perfect "spot".
  • 1994: Endless Summer II by Bruce Brown takes up the story again, but with two new actors and an update of the surfing story since the first part.
  • 2000: Thicker than Water is the musician Jack Johnson's first work as a filmmaker.
  • 2001: Laird by Laird Hamilton is a kind of promotional film for himself
  • 2003: September Sessions by Jack Johnson
  • 2003: Step into Liquid is a documentary by Dana Brown (son of Bruce Brown) about the passion and motivation of surfers.
  • 2004: Blue Horizon shows the rivalry between surfers Andy Irons and Kelly Slater for the world title and the free "soul" surfing of Dave "Rasta" Rastovich.
  • 2004: A Brokedown Melody by Jack Johnson
  • 2004: Riding Giants by Stacy Peralta with Laird Hamilton is considered one of the best films on the subject of big wave surfing and tow-in surfing.
  • 2007: Bra Boys revolves around the life of the so-called "Bra Boys" in Australia. This is a group of young men who spend their time surfing and partying, and who also started an underground movement on the side.
  • 2009: Keep Surfing by Bjoern Richie Lob is a multiple award-winning German documentary about river surfing on the Eisbach in Munich.
  • 2015: View from a Blue Moon accompanies the globally successful surfer John John Florence and his closest friends around the world.
  • 2018: Andy Irons: Kissed by God is a film about bipolar disorder and opioid addiction by the three-time world champion in surfing Andy Irons .

Feature films

Surfer at the Ouakam Spot in Dakar .

TV Shows


  • Stefan Strauss, Ralf Götze: Wave Culture. Fascination with surfing; The wave rider's manual . 7th edition. Wave Culture, Karlsruhe 2017, ISBN 3-00-019073-2 .
  • Stefan Strauss, Martin Dunn: Wave Culture. Surf coach; Training book and travel guide for surfers . 2nd Edition. Wave Culture, Karlsruhe 2018, ISBN 978-3-00-048863-4 .
  • Frithjof Gauss: Surfing, from white water to green waves . Beginners textbook, Delius Klasing Verlag 2009.
  • Frithjof Gauss: Surfing Reloaded, flows and turns on the green wave . Advanced textbook, Delius Klasing Verlag 2011.
  • Jim Heimann: Surfing. 1778-2015 . Taschen Verlag, Cologne 2016, ISBN 978-3-8365-3756-8 .
  • Finn Mersn: "Surfing the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, a description of areas / spots and complete instructions for beginners", 2009. ( Info )
  • Gabriel, Tamara: Surf-Fieber auf Hawaii , Oceania Book Series Volume 3, LIT Verlag Wien / Münster 2015, ISBN 978-3-643-50658-0 .
  • Leschni Petra: The image of surfing in the media . University publication: Bochum, Univ., 2007, library: 294/55
  • Ulrich Richter: Surfing, surfing. The fascinating game with the surf. Busse, Herford 1979, ISBN 3-87120-752-7 .
  • Peter Diel, Eric Menges: Surfing. Looking for the perfect wave . 4th edition. Meyer and Meyer, Aachen 2006, ISBN 3-89899-148-2 .
  • Sutherland, Bruce: The Stormrider Surf Guide Europe . 4th edition. Low Pressure Publishing, Cornwall 2008, ISBN 0-9539840-7-9 .
  • Sutherland, Bruce: The World - Stormrider Guide . Low Pressure Publishing, Cornwall 2000, ISBN 0-9539840-0-1 .

Web links

Wikibooks: Surfing  - Learning and teaching materials
Commons : Surfing  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. heʻe nalu in Hawaiian Dictionaries
  2. Makahiki in Hawaiian Dictionaries
  3. Derek Ho, Hawaii's first ever world professional surfing champion, has died. , July 18, 2020, accessed July 22, 2020
  4. ^ IOC approves five new sports for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  5. ^ Mark Twain: Roughing it . Hartford, Conn., 1891, p. 526 ; see. also Peter T. Young: Did the Missionaries Ban Surfing? Images of Old Hawaiʻi, August 21, 2017, URL:
  6. IR Young: Wind generated ocean waves. (1999) Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-043317-0
  7. Sean Collins: Surfline's California Surf Guide. (2006) Surglich Wavetrak Inc.
  8. ^ The Bluffer's Guide to Surfing. (2008) Oval Books
  9. ^ The science of surfing
  10. Surf Fitness Exercises. Retrieved January 5, 2015 .
  11. Learn to surf , accessed November 13, 2014
  12. Lior Laver, Ioannis P. Pengas, Omer Mei-Dan: Injuries in extreme sports . In: Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research . tape 12 , April 18, 2017, ISSN  1749-799X , doi : 10.1186 / s13018-017-0560-9 , PMID 28420431 , PMC 5395874 (free full text).
  13. Mark Foo Biography and Photos | SURFLINE.COM. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .
  14. The Top 10 Dangers in Surfing. Accessed August 17, 2017 .
  15. Statistical analysis of surf accidents in surf camps. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .
  16. ^ The Dangers of Surfing. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .
  17. ^ Andrew T. Nathanson: Adventure and Extreme Sports Injuries . Ed .: Springer-Verlag London 2013. S. Chapter 7 .
  18. Pensioner dies after being hit on the head by his own surfboard . In: Mail Online . ( [accessed August 17, 2017]).
  19. White Shark Unprovoked Attack - Surfer. Retrieved August 17, 2017 .
  20. ABC News: Doing the 'Stingray Shuffle'. September 5, 2006, accessed August 17, 2017 .
  21. The rules. Retrieved August 9, 2010 .