Aborigines first Aussie surfers

AUSTRALIANS have been keen surfers since the legendary Hawaiian board rider Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated his skills at Sydney's northern beaches.

But now an author and film-maker is claiming that Aborigines in that area were surfing long before the sport caught on with Europeans.

John Ogden's claim is somewhat contentious, since he bases it on contemporary reports of indigenous Australians diving into the surf, bodysurfing and fishing from canoes he says were similar to modern surf skis - but not standing up on boards.

In a book about the surf culture of the northern beaches, Saltwater People of the Broken Bays, Ogden quotes Europeans such as William Govett, a surveyor, who lost his line while fishing for snapper at Newport Reef in the 1830s.

To Govett's astonishment, an Aborigine from whom he had borrowed the line "stood upon the verge of a rock ... plunged through a rising wave and disappeared", then after a whole minute under water emerged with the hook and line and rode a "heaving surge" back to the rock.

Ogden told the Sydney Morning Herald that the canoes which Aborigines carved from gum trees were sturdy enough to withstand big seas.

"These were very good water people with excellent surf skills.

"Theirs was a canoe culture and they were known to take these craft out in large surf. They fished with spears or lines and hooks, and would dive off rock ledges into the surf."

And he says while Europeans did not take to the beach until the 1880s, indigenous Australians had already mastered the art of surfing.

"They could body surf, and many people regard that as the purest form of surfing," he said.



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