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Shaka!: The African & Polynesian Origins Of Surfing & Its Environmental Impact through 60's Counterculture



The Origin of surfing can be traced to centuries-old African practices of wave-riding. Although many Black Americans were separated from that tradition because of slavery and racism, many

learned Polynesian (Melanated Austronesians) surfing in the mid-1900s on segregated beaches.


The first surfing references seen by Europeans were found in Polynesia. Cave painting from the 12th Century show people riding on waves. But the independent culture of African surfing on 12 foot long boards began over1000 years ago. The first known European account of surfing was written during the 1640s in what is now Ghana. The first European account of Polynesians surfing was written in Hawai‘i in 1778 but the history of surfing for Polynesians can be traced to c. AD 400 in Polynesia, where Polynesians began to make their way to the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. They brought many of their customs with them including playing in the surf on Paipo (belly/body) boards.


Surfing in Africa was independently developed about 600 hundred years before from Senegal to Angola. Africa possesses thousands of miles of warm, surf-filled waters and populations of strong swimmers and sea-going fishermen and merchants who knew surf patterns and crewed surf-canoes capable of catching and riding waves upwards of ten feet high. Ga youth of Labadi Village, near Accra, Ghana, ride traditional short wooden surfboards used to surf or fish in tandem with small one-person canoes.

They would either lay, sit, kneel, or stand on three-to-five-foot boards and enjoy the ride., which can still be found at some beaches. The ability of Ga men, to easily stand on the Americans’ longboards illustrates the prowess of their centuries old surfing tradition.


In the course of seafaring, Polynesians brought surfing to Hawaii and the sport went viral. Surfing in Hawaii wasn't only a sport but also an important part of the religion. The tree choice was vital and religious rituals were practiced during the surf board shaping. The ceremonies served as protection and to secure the gods' goodwill. Everybody surfed - men, women, children, kings - but there was a strict rule system that regulated who could surf on which spot. Hawaiian boards were usually made of wood from local trees, such as Koa. They were often over 460 cm (15 ft) in length and extremely heavy.


In South Africa, fishermen also rode longboards, most about 12 feet long, and used them to paddle several miles. English anthropologist Robert Rattray provided photographs of traditional boards on Lake Bosumtwi located about 100 miles inland of Cape Coast, Ghana. The Asante believe the “anthropomorphic lake god,” Twi, prohibited canoes on the lake. Keeping with divine sanctions, people fished from the boards, called padua, or mpadua (plural) and used them to traverse this 5-mile-wide crater lake. Coastal West Africa had a long tradition of surfing and canoe-surfing. Hawaii has perhaps the greatest number of oral and written accounts, but people in many parts of the world surfed long before anyone wrote about it.


Most surfers see themselves as environmentally conscious. Oppositely, the data also show that they also buy a lot of surf-related apparel and equipment and travel a lot, and thereby contribute with a lot of CO2-emissions, clearly these two components are important in understanding the environmental attitude–action gap. On one hand, surfing is deeply connected to emission-heavy travel and exploration; on the other hand, it holds the environmental attitudes from the 1960s' counterculture.


The 1960s was a period of growth for the environmental movement. The movement began with a newfound interest in preservationist issues. In that decade, membership in former conservationist organizations like the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club skyrocketed from 123,000 in 1960 to 819,000 in 1970. Also trending in the 1960s, surfing was spread further by devoted surfers, mostly from California and Australia, searching for new wave breaks in far-flung places.


exploring how environmentalism has come to be part of the value system of surfing would require systematic research on this subject. Nonetheless, the connection between surfing and environmentalism is probably linked to surfing's relation to the countercultures of the late 1960s. If this is correct, it might also to contribute to understanding of why climate protection is less on the agenda than pollution and nature conservation for ecological inclined surfers since climate change was not part of the environmental concern for the countercultures in the 1960s.


When present-day surfers are socialized in the surf culture, they learn, among other things, that as surfers, they should be concerned about the environment, and they should travel. Both have value and offer credibility and recognition. The action–attitude gap seems to be an inherent part of the value systems of surf cultures. In addition to regarding this gap as just a cognitive problem, we consider it as a form of cultural dissonance. Cultural dissonance is a concept that is used to some extent within sociology. Usually, it used to highlight disagreement between different cultures and philosophical traditions (Ade-Ojo and Duckworth, 2016).



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