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Logical leaping too.

Yesterday afternoon, a sun-dappled one in Southern California, fireworks exploded in the ether when eminent Italian surf historian and coach Nicolla “Nik” Zanella slipped a well-manicured hand from a goat kid glove and used it to slap controversial author Chas Smith across the face.

The troubles began days ago when Smith reported on Zanella’s work digging into the root of Chinese surfing and titled the think-piece Italian surf historian declares people surfing in China thousands of years before Polynesia: “There’s some who tread on drifting wood performing hundreds of water tricks, having fun, each displaying great mastery!”

Zanella, in a furious missive to the editor, responded:

Who did it first was not the scope of my research, but this time frame is almost simultaneous with what was happening in Polynesia. Affirming that I declared that surfing happened in China ‘Thousands of years before Polynesia’ is blatantly false and casts a bad light on my professionalism.

I hope you have the decency of erasing that article and learn to investigate what you publish in the future, what you stated was not in the SCMP article, nor in my book, nor in any interview that I ever gave to the many media, all more professional than BeachGrit, that covered my book and research. A simple google search would have clarified it.

Smith, very much insulted, quickly turned to the aforementioned google search, employed his iconic-adjacent combination of rudimentary math and logical leaping, to discover that Tahiti was first settled in the 5th century B.C. and assumed it would take the proto-Polynesians a couple hundred-ish years to learn the art of surfboard shaping, sorting out the person nearest the breaking part of the wave has priority, etc. which would put the first Tahitian surfer at, or around, the 3rd century B.C.

China, on the other hand, has been inhabited by Homo erectuses for over a million years. Hangzhou, where surfing may have begun, had a fine neolithic population at least 12,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Now, Zanella quotes a Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) poet in his interview with the august South China Morning Post. To wit:

“Hundreds of brave watermen … with unfastened hair and tattoos, holding coloured flags, race to the water … they paddle towards the oncoming waves … then they leap up and perform a hundred manoeuvres without getting the tail of their flags even slightly wet. This is how they show off their skill. Hence the nobles reward them with silver prizes.”

If that is not describing a World Qualifying Series event, than I am not a surf journalist.

It must be inferred that QSes take at least ten-ish centuries to get fully up and running what with point systems, defining the excellent range, sorting the flags (read: singlets), having proto-Turpel get his descriptions of the action down, etc.

Considering all angles on their merits, one can only conclude that people were surfing in China thousands of years before Polynesia, or at the very least that was what Zanella is suggesting.

As the South China Morning Post puts it after an equally thorough analysis of Zanella’s findings, “Surfing may have started in China, long before anyone elsewhere picked up a board to ride a wave.”

En garde!

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