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

*(One correction before starting: There have been founded «new and older» references, even from the 19th century).

The following references are (were) 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 (as it has happened). The first historical reference related to surfing in Europe belongs to Ignacio de Arana (1880-1918), Spanish consul in Hawaii (1911-1914), who brought the first two surfboards to Europe (to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