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Surfing - The Privileged Sport

From the accounts of Captain James Cook, to the Gran Canarian hippy surfers of the 1960s, here is a quick look at the history of surfing over the years and it's impact on the island. Although we don’t know who first picked up a board and ventured into the ocean to surf, the art of surfing was first observed by Europeans in 1767 in Tahiti. However, surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture and started many years before these Europeans first observed it.

Surfing as Religion

Surfing wasn't just a sport for this race, it was a religion and formed the social hierarchy. In some cases, the chief of the village would be decided by surfing and the person who surfed with the most skill would be elected to power! Surfing was so highly regarded, it formed structure of some races and only people of a high social standing were allowed to surf certain beaches!

Captain Cook and his observations of surfing

Captain James Cook gave account of seeing the local Polynesians surfing back in 1778 on the Western end of the Hawaiian islands. He was killed a year later attempting to capture a chief of this surfing race. Surfing RepressedSubsequent years saw repression of the sport by the occupying countries and surfing was banned in many places. It started to resurface in the early 1900s, championed by Hawaiian swimming gold medallist, Duke Kahanamoku. Then there was a boom in the 1960s when surfing and surf culture really got into the limelight. A New Resurgence…Fresh, innovative surfers, new liberal media and the appearance of "surf music" such as groups like The Beach Boys saw surfing catapulted to fame....And it was during this time that surfing came to Gran Canaria. As surfers travelled the world, it wasn't long before the waves on our island were attracting attention.Surfing Arrives In Gran CanariaAlthough it is impossible to say who was the first person to come here and surf on the island, it is most probable that it was a travelling surfer from a country that had already seen some development in the surf industry.

Why did they come here?

Gran Canaria enjoys a geographically privileged existence with regards to surf. Much like Hawaii (and Gran Canaria is known as "The Hawaii of the Atlantic") it receives swell (waves) from 360 degrees. So any storm in the Atlantic will usually, sooner or later, have an effect on some of our beaches. Travelling surfers would have recognised this from maps and would have come over to experiment.By the 1970s, there were surfers living in Gran Canaria from all nations: Australians, Americans and British. Talking to the local "old timers" here in Arguineguin, these surfers are remembered well. Located near where the Arguineguin football pitch is now, there was a hippy commune in what was then a forest. Here surfers lived and traded with the local fishermen. They lived there for a number of years, surfing the occasionally perfect Arguineguin waves and even shaped boards from there forest set up!Times change and all that is left of this interesting hippy era are tales and rumours.

Surfing , however, has gone from strength to strength. The island now has a very keen local surf following and have really bred good surfers. There are less foreign surfers here now, but plenty of surf schools around the island and clubs that encourage local children to get into the water. The island also holds an important World Qualifying Series event at it's prize spot - Confital (currently being held as this article goes to press!). The most consistent spots are in the north of the island (from Las Palmas to Galdar) although this all depends on wave and wind conditions. The most famous spots are Confital, Lloret and el Fronton. These are terrifying and beautiful on the right day and attract a world wide audience. A return to repression?So this sport so rich in history has, like in many other countries and islands, found its way endemically into the culture of Gran Canaria. However, surfing is not always supported by the local authorities. I was in the water a couple of weeks ago and the police came and removed us (around 20 surfers) due to it being "illegal". This is only one of many occasions surfers in the south have had problems with the police. The major issue is regulation of surfing areas. This exists in other countries where surf culture has been embraced and it's benefits appreciated. As surfing continues to grow, thrive and evolve, I am hopeful that the authorities will follow suit and allow us this privileged sport on this idyllic island.


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