Today, from the reefs of Australia to the frigid waters of Alaska -- even in Lake Michigan --
Although surfing may seem a perfect fit in the modern, media-drenched world of extreme sports, it has a surprisingly long documented history. In his 1866 book Roughing It, Twain writes, "I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it." Jack London fared better -- in his 1916 short story The Kanaka Surf, he captures the joy of surfing:
... to ride the backs of the waves, rise out of the foam to stand full length in the air above, and with heels winged with the swiftness of horses to fly shoreward, was what made sport for them and brought them out from Honolulu to Waikiki.Surfing as we know it today originated in Hawaii, most likely around the 1500s; however, 18th-century contact with Europeans almost eradicated the sport. Ben Marcus, in The History of Surfing from Captain Cook to the Present, notes that Calvinist missionaries tried to prevent native Hawaiians from continuing this "immoral" practice and that the sport came close to extinction in the early 1900s, but was revived in part and spread worldwide by Olympic gold-medalist swimmer and so-called Father of Surfing Duke Kahanamoku in the 1920s. Marcus, like many surf historians, also notes that the 1959 movie Gidget sparked the '60s surf-based beach culture. Up through the 1990s, surfing grew slowly -- but today, surfing, and surfwear in particular, is a multimillion-dollar industry and a presence in the stock market, through companies such as California-based Quiksilver ( ZQK) and Australian-owned Billabong ( BLLAF).
Pipeline to SuccessModern surfing has both a men's and women's worldwide pro circuit, and these athletes make their living from cash prizes and, more significantly, corporate sponsorships. Look at any photo of professional surfers on their boards, and you're bound to spot Quiksilver's red and white logo -- these sponsored surfers are paid by surfwear companies when their logos show up in photographs. Most of the major surfwear corporations also sponsor teams of surfers who have the tedious job of traveling the world to surf premier breaks. Yet while surfboards and surfwear are most often manufactured on a mass scale, the small, independent surf shop maintains its deep-seated hold on the industry.