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Surfing is a recreational water sport in which a person attempts to remain balanced on a surfboard while riding a moving wave toward the beach. The board itself is a shaped piece of wood or some man-made material, which can include polyurethane or fiberglass. In Hawaii, where modern sport surfing is thought to have begun, the traditional material for creating a surfboard was a local wood called “koa.” Whatever the material, board have to be both lightweight and strong enough to resist the constant impact of waves.

Surfing was far more than a pastime in the Hawaiian Islands. It was an integral part of Polynesian culture, woven into their daily lives. A person’s stature in Hawaiian society could actually be raised or lowered by how well they handled themselves on a board. Common people surfed, as did their kings and queens and everyone in between. There was even a three-month celebration called Makahiki in which surfing played a major role.

The Oregon Coast is far-removed and extremely different from the sandy, sun-soaked beaches of Hawaii. So why is our coast so popular with surfers? Well, for surfers, it’s all about what’s breaking offshore. Not only does the coast have some very challenging surf, but Oregon’s numerous waysides and long tradition of complete public access to the coastline makes it particularly easy for surfers to find that perfect wave. You’ll see plenty of surfers, clad head to toe in wetsuits to protect them from the cold water, riding the waves along the Oregon Coast. Stop to ask them, and they tell you how Oregon’s rough surf is ideal if you’re looking for a challenging ride.

Types of Surfing

Over the years, surfing has developed into three major activities, which include:

Long-boarding: The surfer uses a longer (often more than 8 feet or 2.4 meters) and wider board to provide greater stability.

Short-boarding: The surfer uses a shorter board (no more than 7 feet or 2.1 meters) to provide greater maneuverability.

Stand-up paddle boarding: The surfer stands upright on the board and uses a paddle to help propel and direct the board. Paddle boarding was developed by surfers who needed to travel longer distances along a coast, but has subsequently become a sport in its own right.

Tow-in surfing, better known as “water skiing,” may also be included as an unofficial fourth category. This form a surfing involves the participant being towed behind a boat and using the artificial waves created by the boat’s wake to surf. 

A Board, A Body and A Wave

The Hawaiian people may not have invented surfing (it was found throughout Polynesian society in the South Pacific), but they most certainly perfected it. One of the first western accounts of surfing came from Capt. James Cook, a British explorer who charted much of the Pacific Ocean including Hawaii. In December 1777, Capt. Cook watched a Tahitian native riding the waves and noted in his journal that “this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so smoothly by the sea…” The Tahitians and most other Polynesians generally rode the waves laying facedown on paipo, or “belly boards.” It appears it was the Hawaiians, isolated from other Polynesians by the remoteness of their islands, who altered the sport by making the boards longer and riding them upright.

Related Information: The Hawaiian Sport of Kings Comes To The West Coast

Finding A Surf Club in Oregon

If you’re interested in getting involved in surfing, OregonSurf.com is probably your best resource for getting started. The website not only offers information about online forums and surf classes, but you can get surf forecasts, check live surf cams and even ask advice from experts. 

The Best Surfing in Oregon

Every surfer has their favorite spot to hit the waves, but these are some of the more popular along the coast. Click on each link to learn more about that area.
Cannon Beach | Short Sands | Otter Rock | Newport | Florence | Indian Beach | Coos Bay | Gold Beach | Brookings | Winchester Bay


Catch A Cold Wave!

Two young Oregon surfers discuss their love for the sport and how others can get involved.