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dimanche 13 juillet 2014

Surfing, a Polynesian invention

Horue ra'a
the favorite leisure of young Polynesians

If the modern practice of the surfing developed from the Hawaiian Islands, it’s in fact a Polynesian invention. A game practiced, lying on a board.

At the beginning of the twentieth century an American had the crazy idea to stand up on a board. Strangely, there’s no trace, no study about the invention and the story of surfing in Polynesia. However, the Tahitian language contains two words to speak about it: ‘iri faahee indicates the board itself, and horue ra’a means to slide on the water with a board.

Surfing in Polynesia and the History
The former known reference of the surfing is found in James Cook’s logbooks.

The origins of surfing in Polynesia
Here’s how the famous navigator told what he had seen in Tahiti:
“We saw ten or twelve Indians who swam for their pleasure; when the waves broke around them, they dived underneath and reappeared on the other side with an ease and inconceivable address. This show was funnier when the rowers seized the back  of an old dugout and pushed it in front of them by swimming until a rather big distance in sea; so two or three of these Indians put themselves above, and pushing the squared end against the wave, they were driven away towards the rib with an incredible speed, and sometimes even until the strike; the wave broke usually on them before they were halfway, then they dived and got up on the other side always by holding the rest of the dugout.”

The practice of the horue ra’a seems to have been an activity governed by strict codes enacted by the aristocracy on reserved beaches. Over time, the people could devote themselves to this sport, provided they satisfied rules.

At the time of Cook, we think that the Polynesians had used already three types of boards and their manufacturing answered a whole ceremonial in which each step must be respected.

Oddly, none Polynesian legend dealing with the surfing has reached us. Two only references of this practice which we discovered, are in the Marquesan legend of Kena and in the Tahitian legend of Huriitemonoï. But the legend of Kena tells the birth of some Marquesan tattoo designs. As for Huriitemonoï it recounts how Mangarevan princess became Queen of Tahiti.

Surfing, much more than a simple game…
However, in these both legends, surfing seems like a fun and usual activity, with nothing exceptional.

The surfing in Polynesia today
Nowadays, the surfing is one of the most popular and most appreciated sport of the Polynesians. This is particularly true for The Society Islands where the spots are the most numerous and famous. The kids are surfing more or less regularly in our islands. So, throughout the year, many competitions allow the surfers to measure themselves.

Surfer’s dream…
The surfing is a real social phenomenon. To the point that a whole economy developed around this activity: from the manufacturing of boards to clothing lines and any sorts of accessories.

It’s everywhere in the contemporary Polynesian society. Exposures of photos or paintings, projections of movies and even concerts come to remind us its place. Without omitting a very supplied timetable.

The main surfing spots in Polynesia
If we can go surfing almost everywhere in Polynesia, we found the most famous spots in the Society Islands.

The wave of Teahupoo as seen by the surfers before launching…
The most famous of all is in Tahiti, near the pass of Havae: “the most beautiful left of the world”, mythical Teahupoo, suits for the very experienced surfers. It became an essential stage of Billabong Pro which gathers, every year, for the world championship, the top 40 surfers in the world. All year round, the greatest surfers come to confront there.

In Tahiti, we can also surf in the following places: Taapuna (West coast) is the busiest site. It’s a reef wave for surfers of excellent level. The pass of You Ava Ino, with those of You Ava Iti and Vairao waves suiting better to the surfers of average level. The Venus  Headland (East Coast) and on the South side beaches, Papara have places accessible to beginners.

An excellent report on “The Wave” of Teahupoo to see absolutely
We can also surf at Moorea on the site of Haapiti, with powerful waves.

In Huahine, Fitii and Parea offer reef waves all year long. As for Ava Mo’a’s pass, in front of the village of Fare, it’s a considered surfing spot in the whole Pacific.

It’s, of course, also possible to surf on Bora Bora, Raiatea and on many other Polynesian Islands, however sites above are the most renowned.

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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