Catching a Wave: Fun Facts about Surfing for Travel Lovers
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Catching a Wave: Fun Facts about Surfing for Travel Lovers

Costa Rican surfer Brisa Hennessy was one of the athletes who was set to participate in the debut surfing competition at the 2020 Olympics when Covid changed everything. Her nomadic parents who lived in a Costa Rican jungle for years made some quick decisions. They were in Australia when the family decided to quickly depart for Fiji the day before the borders closed.

In Fiji, Hennessy worked on her own surfing and taught some Fijians who had never surfed.  There she embraced the joy of seeing people stand up on a board for the first time.

“I really want to get more people in the ocean and get them surfing. I feel like it’s so healing, and I really believe it would make the world a better place,” Hennessy said.

Hennessy is not alone in this thought. Surfing is considered one of the fastest growing sports in the world with tens of millions of people now participating in the activity. The popularity propelled it to becoming one of four sports making a debut at the Summer Games in Tokyo this July. There are 40 athletes from 17 nations who will compete.

To prepare for the games, here are some interesting facts about surfing, along with reasons why it may be time to hit the beach.

1.) Fishermen with Odd Looking “Surf Boards”

Historians believe the origins of surfing began in Peru. For about 4,000 years, fishermen used a woven reed watercraft to help them with their work. Their vessels are very different from the modern-day surf board, but the concept is the same. The fisherman would stand, kneel or sit on the vessel to get back to shore after laying fishing nets. Some uncovered Inca artwork from the time period features depictions of wave riding.

Reed watercraft used by fishermen in Peru; Photo by: Melissa Thereliz from Trujillo, Perú

2.) A Passion for Surfing in Hawaii

In the Aloha State, surfing has played a significant role in the local culture. Hundreds of years ago racing competitions on the water were common, and surfing was often associated with native religious practices. Surf boards were crafted during religious rituals, and the indigenous population would partake in sacred rituals designed to call forth large waves and honor their spiritual connections with the ocean. Colonialism threatened these practices as missionaries aimed to stop pagan rituals and encourage modest dressing.

Rustic Pathways, Aloha Service, Summer 2019
2019 © Steve Boyle

Surfing was so ingrained in the culture though that it survived and today is a thriving industry in Hawaii. Several beaches in the state are considered among the most challenging surfing sites in the world. This includes Pipeline and Waimea Bay in Oahu and Peahi or “Jaws” in Maui. Surfers who aren’t pros also have a number of other options including Kailua-Kona on Big Island where Rustic Pathways holds its Hawaii Service program.

3.) Best Surfing Beaches in Other Regions of the World

One of the best things about surfing is that it inspires people to travel. There are numerous destinations that are featured on ‘best” surfing site lists in addition to the ones in Hawaii mentioned above. This includes Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Huntington Beach in the U.S. state of California, Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia and Taghazout in Morocco.

Beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica often are featured on many best lists as well. That is where Rustic’s  Surf and Service program is held.

The beaches used for these programs have warm water and some nice sandy bottom breaks that can provide a great surf experience for beginners to experienced surfers. The programs also occur during shoulder season in the country when the crowds are smaller but the weather is still nice.

In general, surfing gives you a great excuse to travel. There are so many waves to conquer and different scenery to enjoy. Plus, it’s an activity that can be enjoyed for many years. Professional surfers often compete for decades. 49-year-old professional surfer Kelly Slater even won a competition as recently as 2019.

4.) Fun & Fancy Skills to Learn

Many surfers may not be able to do what the pros do, but there are numerous fun skills to learn at all different levels. Beginners often get help from instructors to get their board out and pick an appropriate wave. Then their challenge is to pop up. The first time a surfer successfully does that is definitely a “pat yourself on the back” moment. That is just when the adventure is beginning.

Credit: Rustic Pathways, Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

After learning the basics, surfers can try to perfect a duck dive or turtle roll to get under waves when paddling out. As they get better, they can go from surfing straight toward shore to carving waves. There also are 360s, cutbacks, tube rides and more – enough skills to keep you coming back for more surf time for years and to improve your athleticism along the way.

5.) Minding Your Manners

Newbies may not realize how much etiquette is involved in surfing when they see a lineup of surfers in the water. The gist of the rules is simple – take your turn and don’t cut people off. The person at the highest point of a peak gets the wave and if you try to drop in front of them, you could cause an accident and gain the disapproval of fellow surfers.

Surfers also regularly chastise “snakes,” who are surfers that quickly maneuver around another surfer to try to get to the peak when a wave rolls in. That’s where waiting your turn comes into play. There are many videos on etiquette to give new surfers a primer. If you are polite and try your best, it’s hard to go wrong.

6.) Taking Care of the Ocean

Once you fall in love with surfing, it’s natural to be concerned about the environment. Surfers are generally in tune with nature since their craft depends on ocean waves and other healthy beach conditions. Water and beach pollution can wreak havoc, as can an imbalance of wildlife. If a pipeline installation, for example, causes an explosion of jellyfish, that could cause trouble.

Because of this connection with the water, surfers are known for their environmental stewardship. In some cases, they have successfully won legal battles against companies polluting the water and have halted development projects that would harm beaches. Environmental stewardship is also one of the cornerstones of International Surfing Day that was held on June 20. Among other things, it recognized the surfing community’s commitment to the ocean’s sustainability of resources.

Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways

7.) Being Part of a Community

The surfing community is so strong it has inspired trends ranging from music to popular slang words and fashion. To this day, “board shorts” are popular even among people who do not surf.

The growth of “surf tourism” also has expanded the ability of surfers to meet people from all different backgrounds when they take to the waters.

Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

This is a key aspect of surfing that Australian surfer Stephanie Gilmore enjoys about the sport. As a seven-time world champion she has traveled to some of the best beaches in the world, but it’s the people who always make the biggest impact.

“Experiencing different cultures is one of the best things a human being can do,” Gilmore said. “It puts your whole world into perspective.”


Hear from Nora Shah , 17, who did our surfing program this past summer:

To try your hand at surfing and immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture, snag one of the remaining spots in Rustic’s Surf and Service program. More information about traveling to Costa Rica can be found here. 


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer