Mes: julio 2016

Surfing pioneers in Europe: The first ‘known attempts’ (for now) on surfing in Europe

For now, the following references are the first known attempts on surfing in Europe. History is alive, and probably very soon we will find out more hidden moments of surfing genesis in the past. The first historical reference related to surfing in Europe belongs to Ignacio de Arana (1880-1918), Spanish consul in Hawaii (1911-1914), who brought the first two surfboards to Europe (to Vitoria, Spain), although for now there is no evidence that he was able to use them in Europe.  He also brought to Spain in 1914 the first edited surfing book in history, The Surf Riders of Hawaii, which survived generation by generation in the family library of Vitoria up until the present day. Later on (in the 40s), the first discovered visual surfing reference in Spain from a surfer is from José Luis Elejoste.

Spain sending consul 29.9.1911 Hawaiian Gazette pag 1

Hawaiian press, 1911.

In the 1920s, in England, it was quite usual to see people in the summer using small planks in order to play (prone) with the white water (bellyboarding) at the beach, but this was not surfing. The first image of actual surfing (stand-up) in Britain is connected with a private film by Lewis Rosenberg from 1929. This movie was “discovered” for the surfing community in 2011. Rosenberg shaped a surfboard on his own from balsa wood, inspired by a documentary about Australia, where surfing images appeared. He travelled from London to Newquay to practice.

Rosenberg surf

Lewis Rosenberg at Holywell Bay in Newquay Cornwall 1929

There is additional evidence of surfing in 1941 with a photo of Pip Staffieri standing-up on a surfboard. Staffieri also shaped a surfboard inspired from the 1929 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (about Hawaii). These two activities were sporadic and without continuity. The first surfing clubs were established in two different places in the U.K. in the mid 1950s: in Newquay and on Jersey island.

On the continent, the starting point (admitted by almost everyone) is the summer of 1956 in Biarritz, (France), when Peter Viertel (scriptwriter) introduced illegally from Spain one surfboard (brought from California to Pamplona by Dick Zanuck to the filming of the movie Sun also Rises). In Biarritz, Peter Viertel inspired a bunch of French beach boys, such as George Hennebutte, Joel de Rosnay, Michel Barland and Jack Rott. The first surfing club was founded three years later in 1959, and that very year was also founded the first surfboard mark in Europe, the prestigious Barland-Rott.

Pedro Martins de Lima

Pedro Martins de Lima prepared to surf nowadays

In Portugal we have found an isolated attempt at surfing in the 1940s by Nuno Fernandes in Figueira da Foz, where he built a surfboard based on a model from an American magazine. He used it, but he did not go on surfing. Pedro Martins de Lima is considered the pioneer of surfing in Portugal, having introduced surfing in 1959, in Estoril, when he brought a surfboard from Biarritz. He actually discovered surfing in the 1940s, on the Azores Islands, in an American magazine found on a U.S. Naval base. He practised bellyboarding for more than a decade, with a small wooden plank and fins, until 1959 when he bought that surfboard in France and become surfer until today.

Oriñon 2 (maruri, meco y giribet) copia

One of the first attempts of the genesis of surfing in northern Spain, Cantabria, circa 1965-66. Photo: Archivo Mecolay

In Spain, surfing began at almost the same time in several pioneer centres along the long Spanish coast, and without a knowledge of one other during the first months, even years, of the genesis of surfing in Spain. The first pioneer centres began in northern Spain (San Sebastian, Sopelana, Santander and Salinas) circa 1964, and in Southern Spain (Cadiz) circa 1964. Other centres begun some years later, as Zarautz (1967), Coruña (1967), Canary Islands (circa 1968); and the last relevant pioneer centre, Malaga, the first Mediterranean surfing centre of Spain, that began in 1970.

Daniel Esparza, Palacky University in Olomouc

To cite the source: Esparza, Daniel (2016) Towards a Theory of Surfing Expansion: The Beginnings of Surfing in Spain as a Case Study . RICYDE. Revista internacional de ciencias del deporte [International Journal of Sport Science]. 44(12), 199-215.

More information in: Esparza, 2013, 2014; Gardinier, 2004; Mansfield, 2009; Molina-Torn, 2013; Nunes, Mendes and Jorge, 2015.

Portada y contraportada Surf Espana solo 1. Portada copia

The Origins of Surfing and the First Historical References

WAIKIKI_-_SURFING_CANOE2The origins of surfing is rooted in ancient Polynesia after a longue-durée process amongst the natives and a long-term relationship to the sea and the waves. It is believed that surfing, at least in its prone style, existed (at least) from the first millennium. The first reference to “stand-up” surfing dates back five hundred years, in a Hawaiian legend, which was recorded in the 19th century, since the ancient Hawaiian language had no writing (before the 19th century). At present, the oldest preserved surfboard dates back to the 18th century, and is now in the Bishop museum of Honolulu.

Although the Spaniards were the first navigators to cross the Pacific Ocean, and thus the heart of Polynesia during the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, there are no accounts about surfing in any of the surviving diaries[1]. The first surviving reference to surfing belongs to the first of James Cook’s voyage. Joseph Banks (2006, 92-3), in 1769, was the first to write in his diary about that “estrange diversion” of the natives of Tahiti. Although he mentioned canoes, it is apparent that they were in fact surfboards. The second recorded reference (up to the present) comes from James King (1789, 145-7), in 1779, during the third expedition of Cook, when they discovered the Sandwich Islands (the Hawaiian Islands).


The first graphic representation in history of a surfer on a surfboard, by John Webber, the official artist for James Cook’s third voyage of discovery around the Pacific (1776-80).

At a later point, in the last quarter of the 18th century (Morrison, 1935), and the first half of the 19th century (Ellis, 1823 and 1832), additional travelers wrote about surfing in their voyages to the Pacific. Thanks to their accounts, it is possible to reconstruct the geographical area in which surfing (prone, drop knee or stand up) was practiced when Europeans first arrived in Polynesia (Society Islands, Marquesas, Rapa Nui, Cook Islands, Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand). It was in Hawaii, however, where the surfing technique and the surfboard technology reached the highest level.

In other parts of the Pacific (outside Polynesia), such as northern Peru, there is evidence of playful activity on the waves, although they surfed sitting in one-person boats for fishing, which in Peru is called: caballitos de totora. This activity dates back to the Mochica culture during the first millennium. The first written reference in history to this activity is from José Acosta (1792, 150), when he witnessed one of these fishermen scenes in Callao, in the 16th century.

paseo-caballito1-662x441Additional references to this ancient activity are recorded in certain huacos (a human pottery artifact characteristic of the Mochica culture) dating from the first millennium, where fishermen sitting in their caballitos de totora, presumably pushed by a wave, are represented. The surfing of today in Peru is not a result of the evolution of this old activity, but the influence of surfing in Hawaii.

There are also prone surfing accounts from European travellers in Western Africa in the Nineteenth century (Alexander, 1837, 192). The first graphic representation in history of a surfer on a surfboard is by John Webber, the official artist for James Cook’s third voyage of discovery around the Pacific (1776-80), when he painted a general view of Kealakekua Bay, in 1779, on Hawaii Island. Numerous canoes, swimmers and one native paddling on his surfboard surround the Discovery and Resolution, the two vessels of the voyage.

Daniel Esparza (Olo Surf History), Palacky University in Olomouc

To cite the source: Esparza, Daniel (2016) Towards a Theory of Surfing Expansion: The Beginnings of Surfing in Spain as a Case Study . RICYDE. Revista internacional de ciencias del deporte [International Journal of Sport Science]. 44(12), 199-215.

[1] Further information about Spanish explorations in the Pacific in: La Historia del Surf en España: De Magallanes a los años 80 (Esparza, 2016).

The first discovered visual surfing reference in Spain: Elejoste, a surfing precursor in Spain

Elejoste y Pradera 1965 copia 2

Elejoste on the left, with Pradera, circa 1960s.

“The first discovered visual surfing reference in Spain from a surfer is from José Luis Elejoste, who at the cinema Actualidades in Bilbao watched in the 1940s a documentary about Polynesia where images of surfing appeared. He consequently read in an issue of Reader’s Digest in 1944 that there were two surfing clubs in California and Hawaii. He wrote them a letter in order to obtain a surfboard (how to buy it, transport it and pay for it), but he did not receive any answer. He practised bellyboarding over a 20 years period and even made dozens of little planks for other people. He finally bought his first surfboard in Biarritz (France), in 1965, and took it to in Vizcaya, where he inspired others to surf, like Juan Carlos Pradera, Estanis Escauriaza, Raúl Dourdil, Chema Elexpuru, Goyo Ituregui or Jon Susaeta, who years later became relevant surfers at the Spanish competition” (Esparza, 2016: 204).

In: Esparza, D. (2016). Towards a Theory of Surfing Expansion: The Beginnings of Surfing in Spain as a Case Study . RICYDE. Revista internacional de ciencias del deporte [International Journal of Sport Science]. 44(12), 199-215.

More information in: “La Historia del Surf en España” [The History of Surfing in Spain], a book reviewed by The International Journal of the History of the Sport.


La primera referencia visual al surfing en España, que se conoce a través de un surfista, se corresponde a José Luis Elejoste, que en el cine Actualidades de Bilbao, en el primer lustro de los años 40, vio un documental sobre la Polinesia donde aparecieron imágenes de surf. Poco después, en la revista Reader’s Digest, hacia 1944, vio que existían dos clubes de surf en California y Hawái, y les escribió para comprarles una tabla una surf, pero no recibió respuesta. Quién sabe si el barco donde iba aquella carta (de ida o de vuelta) no fue bombardeada por un submarino en la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

De olas y tablillas

Tras un intento de fabricarse un artefacto parecido a una de tabla de surf del que no consiguió ponerse de pie, practicó durante 20 años el planking, haciéndose él mismo las tablillas, e incluso fabricando algunas decenas para otros, conviertiéndose por tanto, en un promotor de la actividad en las playas vizcainas del momento. En 1959 viajó hasta Biarritz, donde el surf ya llevaba tres años, y conoció a Carlos Dogny sin saber quién era (pionero del surf en Perú, y fundador del club Waikiki de Biarritz), junto a otros pioneros franceses como Barland, a quienes vio en el agua y donde llegó a probar una tabla, pero finalmente decidió no comprar una, porque “en Vizcaya estaría solo”, pensó. Fue finalmente en el verano de 1965 cuando volvió a viajar hasta allí, compró una y se la llevó hasta Vizcaya, donde se inició la actividad conocida del surf (Willy Uribe lo entrevistó en 1990 para la revista Marejada Surf).

Portada y contraportada Surf Espana copia

Inspiró a una generación campeona (Dourdil, Escauriaza, Susaeta, Iturregui, Elexpuru)

Desde ese momento, inspiró a otros surfistas como Juan Carlos Pradera (que a su vez inspiró a otros como Nito Biescas Vignau en Zarautz en 1966), y entre 1966-69, inspiró a otros vizcainos (directa o indirectamente) como Estanis Escauriaza, Raúl Dourdil, Jon Susaeta, Goyo Iturregui o Chema Elexpuru, que se convertirían en los 70 en grandes surfistas, ganadores de campeonatos locales o clasificatorios para el de España; y en el caso de Dourdil, llegando a convertirse en campeón de España absoluto en 1974. Esta generación a su vez inspiró a una tercera hornada en los 70, donde se encontraría Asís Fernández, campeón de España en 1979 (con 19 años), y conocido más adelante por convertirse en surfista de olas grandes.

Tan solo sirva este breve reportaje como homenaje y reconocimiento a José Luis Elejoste, precursor del arte de montar las olas en España, y pionero del surf en Vizcaya. Y también a todos aquellos que lo conocieron, y saltaron al agua en busca de esa ola del surf que desde entonces no ha parado de crecer. Puede encontrar más información sobre los orígenes del surf en EEUU, Australia, Europa y España, en Historia del Surf en España: De Magallanes a los años 80.

Daniel Esparza, Universidad de Olomouc