A Fine Little Revival

Waikiki surfers, around 1907. Photo: Ray Jerome Baker
Teddy Roosevelt, 1870s
UK bathing machines, around 1905
Waikiki postcard, around 1900
Waikiki tourists, 1914. Photo: Ray Jerome Baker

Surfing’s revival in the early twentieth century made perfect sense. Seascape painters and poets had already done their part by rehabilitating the public’s regard for the ocean—what had been seen as a roiling vastness filled with sea monsters and splintered boats was now viewed as a place of beauty, self-discovery, sensuality, godliness, even comfort. “Where rolled the ocean,” dashing Romantic poet and enthusiastic ocean swimmer Lord Byron wrote in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, “thereon was his...

Teddy Roosevelt, America's burly new President, unknowingly did his part to help revive surfing. A sportsman who hunted and trekked and occasionally swam nude in the Potomac River, Roosevelt was evangelical in his praise of robust outdoor activity.