Surfers catching waves at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
© Darren Tierney/Getty Image
What waterborne wizardry is this?. International Surfing Day
Of all the tricks humans have taught themselves, few delight and impress more than surfing. A sport, a pastime, an art, a philosophy of life, surfing is as close to magic as a person can perform on the untamed ocean. Today, the sport of wave riding gets its well-earned due with International Surfing Day, a time each year to honor the sport, the lifestyle of surfing, and the ocean itself, whose good health is vital to the sport and so much else. Surfers have a special connection to the ocean and the waves it produces. A surfable wave is shaped by countless variables: The winds hundreds or thousands of miles away that produced the energy to set the swells in motion, and then the reef or point of land or underwater boulder upon which a swell will break into a perfectly shaped wave. Wind and timing are everything, and devoted surfers know the weather and the shore intimately.
Surfing can be done anywhere waves break, from Iceland to Ireland, Brazil to Senegal. But there are a handful of spots renowned for their waves, such as Hawaii, Tahiti, California, and the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, pictured here. As the sport has evolved, surfers have taken on ever bigger waves, giants that exceed 50 feet in height at now-famous surf breaks like Jaws, Mavericks, and the latest in Nazare, Portugal.
Surfing is believed to have originated in Polynesia more than 1,500 years ago and was observed by Westerners in Hawaii as early as the 1700s. Native Hawaiians are credited for creating the sport as we know it today. Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimmer, great waterman, and one of Hawaii's earliest celebrities, helped spread surfing's popularity to California and Australia in the early 1900s. Today, surfing is an Olympic sport, has a professional tour for both men and women, and is an integral part of popular culture. But for the lucky souls who know how to ride a wave, it's simply the best way to spend a day at the beach.