Author: bradbarrett

1971: EXCERPT FROM “A NATIVE SON OF THE GOLDEN WEST,” BY JAMES HOUSTON

A Native Son of the Golden West, California writer James Houston’s first novel, was published in 1971; he went on to write several other well-received fiction and nonfiction books, and his essays appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times. Native Son is set in the mid-1950s, and opens with California surfer Hooper...

“JOCK’S NIGHT TRIP,” BY ALLAN WEISBECKER. 1969, BIG WAVES, SHORT BOARDS, ORANGE SUNSHINE

New York-born writer Allan Weisbecker was a screenwriter for NBC’s Miami Vice, and later wrote articles for Men’s Journal, Smithsonian, and Popular Photography. “In Search of Captain Zero” (2001), Weisbecker’s second book, details his life as a 1970s hardcore surfer and oceangoing pot smuggler. “Jock’s Night Trip” was originally published in a 1992 issue of...

1957: EXCERPT FROM “GIDGET,” BY FREDERICK KOHNER

Frederick Kohner (1905–86) studied at the Sorbonne, received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Vienna, worked as a screenwriter in Berlin, then fled Europe just ahead of the Nazis. He arrived in Southern California and began working in Hollywood, and his screenplay for 1938’s Mad About Music was nominated for an Academy Award....

1849: “RARE SPORT AT OHONOO,” BY HERMAN MELVILLE

American novelist Herman Melville (1819–1891) went to sea at age 18 as a merchant marine, worked on a whaler, served with the U.S. Navy, lived with a native tribe in the Marquesas, and was jailed in Tahiti as a mutineer. He began writing after his return to New York. “Mardi: and a Voyage Thither” was...

1867: “A GREAT SEA CAUGHT ME,” BY JAMES CHALMERS

Scottish-born missionary and adventurer James Chalmers was posted to the South Pacific in 1866. The following year, while on the island Niue James, Chalmers tried his hand at surfing. He continued throughout his life to explore, colonize, and proselytize, and gained fame in Europe as “The Livingston of New Guinea. In 1901, however, Chalmers and...

1953: “SURF BOARDING FROM MOLOKAI TO WAIKIKI,” BY TOMMY ZAHN

Tommy Zahn, along with Bob Simmons, Matt Kivlin, and Joe Quigg, invented the “Malibu chip” board in the 1940s—the first step on the long road leading to performance surfing as we know it today. Zahn was also the best paddleboarder of his generation. The article below, describing his nine-hour paddle from Molokai to Oahu, was originally...

1917: “THEY HAILED ME AS THE REVIVER OF THE LOST ART,” BY GEORGE FREETH

This untitled piece by George Freeth was found in typescript form in Honolulu’s Bishop Museum. “Evening Herald” was included in the header, which almost certainly means the Los Angeles Evening Herald. In 2008, surf historian Patrick Moser wrote that “evidence suggests it appeared [in print] between 1917 and 1919.”  A two-paragraph introduction reads as follows:...

1917: “O, THE WILD JOY OF IT!” BY M. LEOLA CRAWFORD

“Seven Weeks in Hawaii,” a short illustrated book by Washington state writer and stenographer M. Leola Crawford, was published in 1913. Visitors to Waikiki by this time were encouraged to take surfing lessons from hotel-employed beachboys; Crawford was fortunate enough to go riding with Duke Kahanamoku.  *  *  *  At three o’clock they dropped me...

“WORK WAS OFTEN NEGLECTED FOR THE PROSECUTION OF THIS SPORT”: AN EXCERPT FROM THRUM’S ANNUAL, 1896

Australian-born Thomas G. Thrum moved with his family to Hawaii at age 11. He worked as a whaler and a store clerk, and in 1875 began publishing The Hawaiian Almanac and Annual, which he described as “a handbook of valuable and statistical information relating to the Hawaiian Islands.” Thrum died in 1932, but the Annual...

1890: “I WAS INITIATED IN THE MYSTERIES OF SURF-RIDING,” HENRY CARRINGTON BOLTON, FAMOUS CHEMIST, REPORTS FROM NIIHAU

New York-born chemist and bibliographer Henry Carrington Bolton visited Hawaii’s Niihau, the privately-owned “Forbidden Isle,” in 1890. The text below is from Bolton’s academic article “Some Hawaiian Pastimes,” published in the January 1891 issue of The Journal of American Folk-Lore. Surfing at this stage was at or near its low point; the revival would begin...

1873: “THE MORE DARING RIDERS STOOD ON THEIR SURF-BOARDS, WAVING THEIR ARMS AND UTTERING EXULTANT CRIES,” BY ISABELLA BIRD

British explorer and writer Isabella Bird, the first woman elected to the Royal Geographical Society, visited Hawaii in 1873. Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, Bird’s 1875-published book, was immensely popular in its day, and for decades to follow. In his book Pacific Passages, however, surf historian Patrick Moser notes that Bird’s account of surfing...

1868: TSUNAMI DESTROYS BIG ISLAND TOWNS, CREATES BIG-WAVE LEGEND

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Hawaii on April 2, 1868, centered near the southern tip of the Big Island, was the largest to ever strike the island chain. The resulting landslide and tsunami killed 77 people. The account below is from History of the Hawaiian Islands (1872), by James Jackson Jarves. It has been...

1865: “SUCH RIDING OF MAN AND WOMAN ON THE SAME WAVE RESULTS IN SEXUAL INDULGENCE,” J. WAIAMAU

“Ancient Sports of Hawaii Such as Surfing, Jumping, Sledding, Betting and Boxing,”  by J. Waiamau, was published in the missionary-funded Hawaiian language weekly newspaper Ka Nupepa Kuokoa on December 23, 1865. Little is known of Waiamau, but the purpose of the Kuokoa itself, according to founder and publisher Henry Whitney, was “the publication of all...

1861: “THEY CAN SPRING UPRIGHT ON THE SURFBOARD AND COME IN ERECT!” AN EXCERPT FROM “THE VICTORIAN VISITORS,” BY SOPHIA CRACROFT

Sophia Cracroft, an adventurous and well-connected upper-class Londoner, visited Hawaii for two months in 1861 and wrote about her experiences in a book of letters titled The Victorian Visitors. While there, Cracroft and her traveling partner, Lady Jane Franklin, were guests of King Kamehameha IV. The scene below takes place in Kailua, on the Big...

1849: “TRUELY A FAMOUS AND ANIMATING DIVERSION,” EXCERPT FROM “TRAVELS IN THE SANDWICH AND SOCIETY ISLANDS,” BY SAMUEL S. HILL

British travel writer Samuel Hill spent six months in Hawaii, starting in December 1848, and visited areas well off the beaten track, including the Keauhua village on the Big Island, where Hill was introduced to surfing. As noted by surf historian Patrick Moser, Hill’s observation as to the level of engagement here with the ancient...

1846: “THO’ THE MOTION IS SWIFT, IT IS VERY PLEASANT,” BOOK EXCERPT FROM CHESTER LYMAN

Connecticut-born Chester Lyman, an astronomer and physics professor at Yale who designed and patented a machine demonstrating how waves move through water, spent a year in Hawaii in 1846 and ’47. This excerpt is from Lyman’s posthumous 1924 book Around the Horn to the Sandwich Islands and California. It has been lightly edited.   *  * ...

1843, HENRY T. CHEEVER: “THE SPORT IS SO ATTRACTIVE AND FULL OF WILD EXCITEMENT”

Henry Cheever of Maine is best known as the author of The Whale and His Captors (1850), written a few years after Cheever voyaged the Pacific on a whaler; Captors was an important source for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Cheever’s Life in the Sandwich Islands, his follow-up book, was published in 1851 later and includes this...

1841: NAVY MAN CHARLES WILKES: SURFING TOO CLOSE TO “LASCIVIOUS THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS”

High-ranking New York-born naval officer Charles Wilkes—an ill-tempered explorer, writer, and commander who was court-martialed twice and said to be the model for Moby-Dick’s Captain Ahab—spent seven months in Hawaii, in 1840 and 1841. In his multi-volume Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, Wilkes briefly discussed surfing. It is clear that the sport, by...

1836: “PEOPLE, TO ENJOY LIFE, WANT AMUSEUMENT.” A MISSIONARY CRITIQUE BY WILLIAM RUSCHENBERGER

William Ruschenberger was an American doctor, botanist, writer, and naval officer. From 1835 to 1837 he was fleet surgeon for the East India Squadron, which for a period was stationed in Hawaii. This 1836 entry, written in Honolulu, was published in Ruschenberger’s book A Voyage Round the World, and was likely among the first pieces...

1817–22: POLYNESIAN RESEARCHES, BY WILLIAM ELLIS

Reverend William Ellis’ Polynesian Researches was published in 1829. His account of surfing here is taken from observations he made in Tahiti and Hawaii, and includes a graphic description of a shark attack.   *  *  *  Like the inhabitants of most of the islands of the Pacific, the Tahitians are fond of the water, and...

1823: MISSIONARY WILLIAM ELLIS, WAIMANU, HAWAII: “THE ONLY CIRCUMSTANCE THAT EVER MARS THEIR PLEASURE IS THE APPROACH OF A SHARK”

Reverend William Ellis, from London, traveled and wrote extensively, and is best remembered for his book Polynesian Researches. Less ideologically severe than fellow missionaries such as Hiram Bingham, and more inclined to observation and science, Ellis’ description of surfing, as surf historian Patrick Moser noted, was “the most influential account of surfriding throughout the 19th...

MISSIONARY IN PARADISE: EXCERPTS FROM HIRAM BINGHAM’S PUBLISHED WORKS

The first group of Hawaii-bound missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham, sailed from Boston Harbor in the Fall of 1819 and arrived at Kawaihae, Hawaii, a little over five months later. Below, in an excerpt from A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands, Bingham, describes the missionaries’ first encounter with native Hawaiians.  MARCH 31,...

1794: EXPLORER PETER PUGET, KEALAKEKUA BAY, HAWAII: “I WAS IN MOMENTARY EXPECTATION OF SEEING SOME DASHED TO PIECES”

Peter Puget was a lieutenant aboard the Discovery during its 1791-1795 global expedition. This journal entry was made during the Discovery’s return to England.    *  *  *  From [Keeaumoku’s] village we walked through some pleasant cultivated Grounds to a Small Stony Beach where the natives were amusing themselves in the Surf on Swimming Boards. Nammahana,...

1788: EXPLORER JAMES MORRISON, MATAVAI BAY, TAHITI: “AT THIS DIVERSION BOTH SEXES ARE EXCELLENT”

James Morrison was boatswain’s mate on the HMS Bounty. He was later court-martialed as a mutineer and sentenced to be hanged, but was pardoned and later returned to naval duty. His Bounty journal was not published until 1935. This version has been lightly edited *  *  * When the Westerly Winds prevail they have a...

1788: CAPTAIN WILLIAM BLIGH, MATAVAI BAY, TAHITI: “THE DELIGHT THEY TAKE IN THIS AMUSEMENT IS BEYOND ANYTHING”

British sea captain William Bligh served as sailing master beneath Captain Cook during Cook’s third and final voyage to the Pacific, which began in 1776. In 1787, Bligh captained the HMS Bounty during its famously and notoriously fraught voyage to the South Pacific. This entry was written five months before Bligh’s subordinates, sailing home from...