"moving billow of water," 1520s, alteration (by influence of wave (v.)) of Middle English waw, which is from Old English wagian "to move to and fro," from Proto-Germanic *wag- (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German wag, Old Frisian weg, Old Norse vagr "water in motion, wave, billow," Gothic wegs "tempest"), probably from PIE root *wegh- "to go, move." The usual Old English word for "moving billow of water" was yð.
The "hand motion" meaning is recorded from 1680s; meaning "undulating line" is recorded from 1660s. Of people in masses, first recorded 1852; in physics, from 1832. Sense in heat wave is from 1843. The crowd stunt in stadiums is attested under this name from 1984, the thing itself said to have been done first Oct. 15, 1981, at the Yankees-A's AL championship series game in the Oakland Coliseum; soon picked up and popularized at University of Washington. To make waves "cause trouble" is attested from 1962.