Cave surfing, also known as rock barrel surfing, is basically when a surfer catches a wave near the entrance of a cave, and rides it through the cave, and then out the other side. You obviously don’t want to surf into a cave that just goes in deeper and gets darker and narrower. That’s a bad move, if ever there was one. In other words, not all caves are good for this risky type of surfing. You need to find the right cave – and there are lots of caves you do NOT want to surf into.
By the time a wave reaches the entrance of a cave, it won’t be as big and powerful because it has already broken further out at sea, and then has lost even more momentum when it hits the cave entrance.
Actually, it is when this happens that cave surfing becomes possible, because the waves aren’t too powerful anymore, and if you’ve staked out the cave beforehand, you can just catch the wave and surf right on though.
Cave surfing is considered extra dangerous to some (especially non-surfers), and that’s because…well…maybe it is.
Most surfers start at the entrance of the cave, rather than far outside of it, where they could be launched into the rocks, if they’re not careful.
The oceans surrounding the California coastline have dozens of ocean caves large enough, and with enough water flow, to attract a few die-hard, daring surfers who use their surfboards to shoot through the rocky openings.
Don’t even think of attempting this unless you are a well-experienced surfer, and have an extremely hard head, because you might take a few lumps.
Usually only attempted during high-tide, the waters in the caves often hide a multitude of jagged, sharp rocks and coral reefs making this new twist on an old sport one of the most dangerous pursuits around.
Cave surfing, like typical wave surfing, requires the use of the Six Pillars of Surfing: Power, Rhythm, Style, Aggression, Speed, and Creativity.
However, this type of surfing also requires extreme courage and concentration. The walls of the cave, and the hidden rocks below the surface, are unforgiving and can tear a board and rider apart in no time.
Cave surfing is not limited to the coast of California. This marvel of skill and daring courage has spread around the world as surf masters look for new ways to bring on a thrill, and continue to master their technique.
One location which has become a surfing “hot-spot” is in Southern Izu, Japan, where pro-surfer, Naoki Kikuchi became the first surfer to attempt the narrow and shallow rock-barrel.
How Did Cave Surfing Come About?
Historically, surfing has been around since the third voyage of Captain James Cook in 1769. It has been an integral part of the Hawaiian lifestyle, and actually predates Cook’s writings, but just how far back it goes is unknown.
The Polynesians were the masters of surfing, and the best boards and beaches were open to only the upper-class and royalty of Hawaii. The working class citizens had to surf using boards made with unskilled hands, poor wood, and beaches with little wave activity.
Fast-forward to the beginning of the 20th century, when Hawaiians living near Waikiki beach started to revive the ancient sport and brought it to North America.
The art of surfing is always evolving, but some things have always stayed the same.
For instance, there are basically two possible endpoints to a surfer’s journey as they ride a wave towards land.
There is the sandy shoreline, and then there’s rocks. Lots of rocks.
When it comes to surfing, rocks are definitely not your friends. They are to be avoided at all costs.
Sometimes, the way the beach is laid out, rocks can be jagged and piled in the shallows like broken glass – uh oh. Other times it’s just one big rock – a wall of rock, and there you are heading right for it.
It is one thing to wipe out in the water, and it’s a whole other thing to be tossed onto rocks – you could easily die!
Take this surfer, for example. He doesn’t want to go into that cave, and yet the waves just kind of toss him in there. When it comes to rocks mixed with waves, it’s usually a very dangerous combo.
Any way you slice it, rocks definitely add some danger to surfing, which can be dangerous, even when rocks are not added to the equation.
Taking Too Many Risks?
But listen, you don’t become a surfer by not taking chances.
Some of these rock faces we’re talking about have big wide-open caves that seem to invite you inside. To some surfers, these caves are all too tempting.
If you’ve ever been inside a cave, it can be very beautiful – like another world.
Of course, it was only natural, as surfing continued to grow in popularity as a sport, that a surfer would eventually try surfing into a cave’s mouth. To some surfers, it makes perfect sense – plus, it’s a different type of thrill.
As humans, we tend to do things we love again and again, like riding a roller coaster or jumping out of an aeroplane. Cave surfing isn’t much different from these other thrill rides. To some it seems very foolish, but to others – hey, why not?
Like surfing itself, when cave surfing began is hard to know, but it probably happened in the 60’s when surfing became a national craze in the United States, and everybody was taking up surfing.
With more and more people trying it out, surfboard manufacturers started to modify the board; making it safer, sturdier, and capable of better performance, so that anyone with a little bit of balance and core strength could get out there and catch a wave.
The Beach Boys made surfing sound pretty easy, but they weren’t even surfers (maybe one of them was), so how would they know the sheer exhilaration of it?
Still, many people tried it, based on their tuneful recommendation, and many people got really good. So good that competitions for the best, and most daredevil surfers, started popping up all over the USA and other countries, that are blessed with strong waves.
Around this time, fins were introduced to the boards, making them sturdier, and allowing the amateur surfers to give it a go, without too much risk. Before the use of fins on the board, only highly skilled surfers could manage to stay afloat.
Now you might say, “Look dude, that’s fine, but what do surfboard fins have to do with cave surfing?” Well, this little innovation in surfing is part of the reason that cave surfing is even possible.
If surfboards didn’t evolve in this way to be easier to control, surfing into a cave’s mouth would be a much worse idea. It’s already dangerous – there’s no need to make it suicidal!
By the end of the 1960’s, the board had made another radical change. Going from its usual 10 foot length to just a mere 6 feet, this “short board” revolution was inspired by Australian board designers, and it revolutionized the industry.
Fast forward to 2016, and surf boards are easier to use than ever. The control you can get on certain boards is really quite amazing. Take a look at this control on display, courtesy of relatively new slide fin technology. With this kind of control, anything is really possible!
The thrill the surfer gets from a successful run through a cave is unparalleled to any killer wave. It reaches a moment when performance becomes relative to yourself, and nothing else matters.