I learned something new today!

This morning (never mind that it was an hour ago and it’s 7:05 now…) I was watching a documentary on the Chachapoya culture. An Andean people who were conquered by the Inca shortly before the Spanish conquered the Incas themselves. They had a very advanced culture and the fishermen invented the oldest known surfing technique in the world. The Mochica Chimu peoples perfected this surfing technique 4,000 years ago, a thousand years older than the generally accepted date of Polynesian invention of what is now largely considered to be the precursor/ancestor of “modern surfing”

Traditional totoa surfing boat


Their “boards” looked like they were part canoe in the front and more of a modern surfboard in the back. The Chachapoya would sit as they fished then ride the boards to shore using a large reed that worked like today’s paddles. These boat/boards are called totora and are made out of totora reeds that are grown for a year, then cut and dried in the sun for three weeks. Many totoa surfers make THEIR OWN BOARDS. How cool is that? They are dried in the sun and then bound together. The result is a half vessel that is strong and maneuverable even though it is much harder to control than a…I guess you would call it plank surfing? This is why the fishermen who use this ancient form of surfing use large poles to steer their way across the waters to cast their fishing nets and later, at the end of the day, surf themselves (and hopefully a fruitful catch) home to their families.

(Video of modern surfers trying out totoa surf boats. About four minutes long)

This is very interesting to me because I spent almost half a decade in Hawaii. I had never considered that other cultures besides Polynesians had invented surfing, because I was never taught that in school. It was part of HAWAIIAN history so telling the global history of surfing had very little to do with teaching Hawaiian history in school, though it would have been cool if there was at least a paragraph comparing it to other surfing techniques.

(Comparison of a modern surfboard and totoa surfing vessel)


Originally surfing was very sacred in Hawaii was considered to be very sacred, where as the Mochica Chimu people used it for more practical/mundane reasons. If you wanna watch a short video on totora surfing check this out!


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