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The New God Doesn't Surf

Queen Liliuokalani
Hawaiian surfer
Hiram Bingham
Missionary sermon
Hula girl, early 1900s

From reading nineteenth-century surf literature, Hawaii seems nearly partitioned, with the natives “frolicking and gamboling” in the ocean while the foreigners watch on the beach and gasp in admiration. But there was contact, of course. Hawaiians nearly perished for it, along with their favorite sport. In 1895, anthropologist and missionary son Nathaniel Emerson wrote about surfing in something very close to the past tense. “We cannot but mourn its decline, [and] today is hard to find a surfb...

Hawaiians were brought down by syphilis and cholera, new laws and prohibitions, endless work hours, overthrow and annexation—the 19th century was truly the surfing's own Dark Ages.