Hawaiian Ancient Surfing, the Sport of Gods and Royalty
Water created worlds, bore deities, eliminated pain and purified souls. The sea in particular is an untamable, dangerous, often violent place and considered in many cultures as representing the mysteries of the underworld. As such great power naturally attracts attempts to conquer it, surfing and the riding of waves have existed since humans began swimming in the ocean.
Priests traveling across Kealakekua bay in the book Hawai`i Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands. Artist John Webber aboard Cook’s ship (Pubic Domain)
Evidence of the practice of various forms of ancient surfing sports among the islands within the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island ranges from children’s games to catching waves with any piece of wood or brush. Surfing is ingrained into the very fabric of Hawaiian religion and culture. It was used as part of warriors’ training in Tahiti and Samoa where warriors often spent hours paddling head on into large surf before riding the waves. Surfing was also practiced in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, popularized by the late king Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (1918 – 2006) who was himself a keen sportsman.
Ancient Gods of Water
The significance of the life-giving role of water is evident by its central role in creation myths. In Assyro-Babylonian mythology, the gods and all of nature’s creations derived from the mixing of the fresh waters (Abzu) with those of the seas (Tiamat), while the abyss was considered a symbol of wisdom. For the ancient Egyptians, the world rose out of the lifeless waters of chaos called Nu. A mound emerged from its waters, giving life to the first habitant, Atum. All living creatures were born from Atum’s tears. In Ancient Greece, philosopher Heraclitus (circa 535 – 475 BC) considered water to be: “first beginning, the creator of all”. For the ancient Chinese, the waters from the Pon Lai spring gave a thousand lives to those who drink it.
Polynesian outrigger canoe at sea (Public Domain)
In Ancient Egypt, the river was the passage between life and death as the souls of the dead were transferred with a boat on the Nile to the kingdom of the dead. The river also transferred the dead to the underworld in Ancient Greece through the river Styx. Before they could be reborn, the dead had had to drink water from the river Lethe (oblivion) to erase every memory from their previous life.
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Top Image: Colorful Ocean Wave. Sea water in crest shape. Sunset light and beautiful clouds on background (Adobe Stock)