Who Was the First Surfer?

June 15, 2022 3 min read

Who was the first surfer? Kahanamoku is a great example, but the sport was also a huge success on the island of Oahu. It was not until Duke Kahanamoku introduced the sport to the rest of the world that it gained international recognition. Read on to learn about these greats so you can understand the beginnings of surfing. But who was the first surfer? And how did they become famous?


A young Hawaiian boy named Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a three-time world freestyle champion and founder of the Hui Nalu Surf Club, made surfing a mainstream sport by becoming a swimming champion. He was thin and built for speed and passed through southern California on his way to the summer Olympics in Stockholm. But his fame spread beyond Hawaii. In fact, he was the first surfer to be inducted into the Swimming and Surfing Halls of Fame.

In 1912, Kahanamoku became an international star after the Olympics. He toured the United States giving swimming exhibitions and the Australia Swimming Association invited him to give a two-hour surfing demonstration. In February 1915, he was visiting Sydney and the South Bay area. While there, he met locals and took a young woman for a ride. Kahanamoku had a profound impact on the sport of surfing, and it was only a matter of time before his fame became internationally known.

George Freeth

In 1883, Freeth was born in Hawaii and brought to Southern California by Henry Huntington. Impressed by the "man who walked on water," he helped to bring the ancient Polynesian sport of surfing to the beaches of Southern California. He is now known as the "Father of Modern Surfing." Sadly, Freeth did not live to see his son's surfing dreams. He died in San Diego in 1919 at the age of 35.

Before Freeth's surfing exploits, there were few surfers in California. The word "surfer" had not yet been coined, and it was thought odd to ride a board in California. But articles by Jack London and Mark Twain, a two-minute film reel produced by the Thomas Edison Company, and exhibitions by the part-Hawaiian Freeth helped change the perception of surfing.

Kelly Slater

Before becoming the most successful and one of the most famous surfers in history, Kelly Slater had a pretty humble beginning. He started surfing when he was five, and by the time he was ten, he was winning contests on the Atlantic Ocean. Slater knew as a teenager that discipline and goal-oriented drive would make him successful as a surfer. As he got older, his competitive fire did not die, and his fierceness only increased.

Slater's success has spawned a variety of projects. A groundbreaking artificial wave developed by Slater and Taylor Steele changed the industry. He has since started his own clothing line, Outerknown, and has been a part of the surf industry for over a decade. His outward appearances include being featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, on the cover of the Interview magazine, and on the cover of Outside Magazine.

Tom Blake

It is hard to believe that the first surfer was a man who was born in 1902. The lifeguard and sailor, Tom Blake, was a vegetarian who was well into his 60s when he hit the beach. He wore loose, casual clothes, kept his blonde hair tousled, and even became a vegetarian. His humble beginnings and early success were the catalyst for surfing and the movement it has become today.

In 1935, Blake made the biggest impact on surfing history, introducing the first hollow surfboard and becoming the first commercial board maker. He also developed the first surf leash, a vital piece of surfing equipment that was popular four decades later. The resulting board was called the "Blake Hollow Surfboard."

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