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Surf Shooting Down Under

Manly Surf Club, 1911
Manly surf boat, 1908
Coogee Beach, 1900
Freddie Williams
Alick Wickham, center

It must have dawned on Kahanamoku, at some point during his three-month stay in Australia in 1914 and 1915, that by dodging his own troubles he’d placed himself in the middle of a troubled nation. Halfway into a three-year drought, the country’s entire wheat crop had just failed. Gallipoli’s slaughtering toll on Australian infantrymen was still a few months in the future, but the Great War was underway, and the country had already begun to mark its dead and wounded. Genocide and institutional...

While still a junior member among English-speaking nations, Australia proudly took the worldwide lead in beach safety—with hundreds of lifesaving rescues made each year—and the bronzed clubbie, with his rubber swim cap and tiny pectoral-hugging swimsuit, become the country’s first iconic figure.