Several reports of surfriding activity in Tahiti from 1769 to 1788 are included in the Source Document Menu.
A brief overview of James Cook's voyages is attached below, largely collated from Robson (2000).
I would also like
to thank Alan Twigg, British Columbia, for permission to quote from his
extensive notes detailing the history of the publication of Cook's
1870 Rev. John Wood : Tonga, Tahiti, and Hawai'i.
The Uncivilized Races, Volume 2, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut, 1870, pages 405 and 406.
One of the most manly and graceful of these amusements closely resembles the surf-swimming of the Sandwich Islanders, and is thus described by Cook : -
they strangers to the soothing effects produced by particular sorts of
motion, which in some cases seem to allay any perturbation of mind with
as much success as music.
Of this I met with a remarkable instance.
For on walking one day about Matavai Point, where our tents were erected, I saw a man paddling in a small canoe so swiftly, and looking about with such eagerness on each side, as to command all my attention.
At first I imagined that he had stolen something from one of the ships, and was persued; but on waiting patiently saw him repeat his amusement.
He went out from the shore unti he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise; and watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it with great quickness till he found that it overtook him, and had acquired sufficient force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath.
He then sat motionless, and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him upon the beach, when he started out, emptied his canoe, and went in search of another swell.
I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he is driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea, especially as, though the tents and ships were so near, he did not seem in the least to envy, or even to take any notice of the crowds of his countrymen collected to view them as objects which were rare and curious.
During my stay, two or three of the natives came up, who seemed to share his felicity, and always called out when there was an appearance of a favourable swell, as he sometimes missed it by his back being turned and looking about for it.
By them ...
... I understood
that this exercise, which is called ehorooe, was frequent amongst
them and they have probably more amusements of this sort, which afforded
them at least as much pleasure as skating, which is the only one of ours
with whose effects I could
He sat motionless (5), and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave (6), till it landed him on the beach. (7)
Then he started out ... and went in search of another swell. (8)
I could not
help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while his
was driven so fast and smoothly by the sea. (9)"
its first motion very attentively"
The rider's need to calculate the required wave face angle to achieve successful take-off.
before it with great quickness"
Generally riders paddle the craft towards the beach to locate the board in the take-off zone and to reduce the apparent acceleration from paddle to wave speed.
force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath."
The canoe successfuly rode on the wave face at wave speed.
5. "He sat
That is, the rider did not use his paddle for propulsion but was dependent of the wave motion.
"the same swift rate as the wave"
The caoe travelled at wave speed.
Apparently it did not transverse the wave face and travel faster than wave speed.
7. "it landed
him on the beach."
The ride was completed to the maximum length of ride.
8. "went in
search of another swell."
The activity was repeated, indicating that the focus was on the wave riding and not simply a technique to return to the beach.
9. "the most
supreme pleasure while his was driven so fast and smoothly by the sea."
Anderson notes the activity is essentially pleasurable.
In May 1778
the 'Resolution' , sailing Master 22 year old William Bligh, of Bounty
Fame, had reached the Bering Sea, Anderson's self diagnosis of consumption
(tuberculosis) six months earlier, had now confined him to his cabin, "a
pathetic huddled figure, who could no linger even write".
Cook visited him at least once a day, and Samwell did what little he could to ease his suffering.
On 2nd August, Anderson was seen to be near death, he lasted through the night and expired on Monday the 3rd august 1778.
"His poor shrunken frame" was wrapped in sacking , and he was consigned to the deep.
An Island sighted on that bay, was named Anderson Island by Cook "after his friend and companion".
an online post of Samwell's report, I was
subsequently contacted by email by Patrick
Moser, July 2006.
Amoungst many other details, Patrick noted "the famous description of Tahitian canoe riding by William Anderson (not James Cook) on Cook's third voyage"and I have subsequently adjusted this entry.
Sincere thanks to Patrick Moser for his substantial contribution to this subject.
The first voyage
(1768-1771), in the Endeavour, recorded the transit of Venus from
Tahiti, circumnavigated New Zealand and established the extent of the east
coast of Australia.
This largely disproved a prevalent theory, Terra Australis incognita, of a massive southern continent - ostensibly to balance those of the northern hemisphere.
The voyage was expertly recorded (note Cook's superb mapping techniques) and returned a huge collection of cultural and botanical specimens, largely due to Joseph Banks and Dr Solander.
These elements were also features of the subsequent voyages.
The second voyage
(1772 - 1775), in the Resolution accompanied by the Adventure,
firmly located the known islands of the Pacific ocean and discovered several
It was probably the first voyage below the Antarctic Circle and was terminal for the theory of Terra Australis incognita.
The voyage emphatically proved the worth of John Harrison's maritime chronometer to calculate longitude and set new standards of naval health care - of four deaths, only one crew member died of sickness.
Cook recognized Polynesia as a distinct cultural entity and largely defined its massive spread across the Pacific.
The third voyage
(1776 - 1780), also in the
Resolution but now accompanied
by the Discovery,
failed to locate the North West Passage but in
the process an extensive area of the North Pacific coasts was explored
Further Pacific islands were discovered, notably the Hawaiian islands, where Cook would be killed at Kealakekua Bay, Hawai'i on the 14th February 1779.
Command of the expedition
and the Resolution fell to Charles Clerke, the captain of the Discovery
who had sailed with Cook on his previous two Pacific voyages.
Lt. James King of the Resolution was promoted to first lieutenant.
John Gore, Cook's first lieutenant who had sailed on the Endeavour, took command of the Discovery.
Other crew members of the Resolution included artist John Webber and Master William Bligh.
that he should continue to fulfil Cook's orders and leaving Hawaii in March
1779, the expedition returned to the North Pacific.
Charles Clerke died at sea on the 21st August 1779 and Gore took command of the Resolution with King taking command of the Discovery.
Following the return to England on the 4th October 1780, King was selected to edit the logs and journals to prepare them for publication.
The above details of Cook's voyages were largely collated from Robson(2000).
This is a unique work with a wealth of information in the form of maps, providing a wonderful geographical context to Cook's voyages that is simply not possible from written accounts.
Information specifically relevant to Hawaii was selected from pages 154 to 155, pages 159 to 160 and the maps 3.12, 3.23, 3.24 and 3.25.
Admiralty published an edited account of Cook’s voyages in three quarto
volumes and a large atlas in 1784-1785, now generally known as 'A Voyage
to the Pacific Ocean'.
The journals were heavily edited by Dr. John Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury.
As commissioned by the Lords of the Admiralty, Douglas embellished much of Cook’s original journals with material gleaned from Cook’s officers.
In particular, Douglas extrapolated from Cook’s reports of ritualistic dismemberment among the Nootka, beginning the belief that the Indians engaged in cannibalism when Cook had, in fact, described them as “docile, courteous, good-natured people.”
Some of the more sensational revelations added to the text were designed to encourage the spreading of “the blessings of civilization” among the heathens and to help sell books.
200 years Douglas’ version of Cook’s writings was erroneously accepted
as Cook’s own. Cook’s journal, with its bloody ending supplied by James
King, proved popular.
Within three days of its publication in 1784, the first printing was sold out.
There were five additional printings that year, plus 14 more by the turn of the century.
Translations were made throughout Europe.
The original version of Cook’s journal was edited by J.C. Beaglehole and finally published for scholars in the 1960s.
It reveals that Cook was a somewhat dull reporter, more interested in geography than anthropology.
from the publication of Cook’s journals went to the estates of Cook, James
King and Charles Clerke (Commander of the Discovery), with a one-eighth
share for William Bligh, master of the Resolution, because his surveying
work was so essential.
The irascible Bligh wrote in ink on the title page of his own copy, 'None of the Maps and Charts in this publication are from the original drawings of Lieut. Henry Roberts, he did no more than copy the original ones from Captain Cook who besides myself was the only person that surveyed and laid the Coast down, in the Resolution. Every Plan & Chart from C. Cook’s death are exact copies of my works.'”
Please pass this along as a response to Geoff Cater on early historical accounts of surfing.
In the course
I teach on surf history and culture (at Drury University), and in an anthology
that I've been putting together based on this course, I've come across
a number of these early accounts by Cook's mariners.
Several (including the one you cite from David Samwell) can be found in the multi-volume _The
Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery_ edited by J.C. Beaglehole (Cambridge UP, 1955-67).
Samwell's entry dates from January 22, 1779, and so possibly precedes King's, whose description takes place between their arrival on January 18 and their departure in March.
Besides the entries by Joseph Banks on Cook's first voyage (which Joe passed along not too long ago) and the famous description of Tahitian canoe riding by William Anderson (not James Cook) on Cook's third voyage, here are several more that may be of interest.
The earliest reference to surfridng appears to be from Charles Clerke, who took command of the Resolution after Cook's death. When Cook first touched in the Islands in 1778, Clerke registered the following comments at either Waimea, Kauai or Kamalino, Ni'ihau between January 19 and February 2, 1778:
"These People handle their Boats with great dexterity, and both Men and Women are so perfectly masters of themselves in the Water, that it appears their natural Element; they have another convenience for conveying themselves upon the Water, which we never met with before; this is by means of a thin piece of Board about 2 feet broad & 6 or 8 long, exactly in the Shape of one of our bone paper cutters; upon this they get astride with their legs, then laying their breasts along upon it, they paddle with their Hands and steer with their Feet, and gain such Way thro' the Water, that they would fairly go round the best going Boats we had in the two Ships, in spight of every Exertion of the Crew, in the space of a very few minutes. There were frequently 2 and sometimes upon one of these peices of board, which must be devilishly overballasted; still by their Management, they apparently made very good Weather of it."
Also in January
of 1778, William Ellis (Surgeon's Mate) recorded the following entry at
Waimea, Kauai (from An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain
Cook and Captain Clerke in His Majesty's Ships Resolution and Discovery
or boats are the neatest we ever saw, and composed of two different coloured
woods, the bottom being dark, the upper part light, and furnished with
an out-rigger. Besides these, they have another mode of conveying
themselves in the water, upon very light flat pieces of boards, which we
called sharkboards, from the similitude the anterior part bore to the head
of that fish. Upon these they will venture into the heaviest surfs,
and paddling with their hands and feet, get on at a great rate. Indeed,
saw people so active in the water, which almost seems their natural element."
In February of
1779 (I'm assuming at Kealakekua Bay), Midshipman George
Gilbert recorded this observation (from Captain Cook's Final Voyage: The Journal of Midshipman George Gilbert (1982)):
"Several of those
Indians who have not got Canoes have a method of swimming upon a piece
of wood nearly in the form of a blade of an oar, which is about six feet
in length, sixteen inches in breadth at one end and about 9 at the other,
and is four or five inches thick, in the middle, tapering down to an inch
at the sides.
They lay themselves upon it length ways, with their breast about the centre; and it being sufficient to buoy them up they paddle along with their hands and feet at a moderate rate, having the broad end foremost; and that it may not meet with any resistance from the water, they keep it just above the surface by weighing down upon the other, which they have underneath them, betweeen their legs. These pieces of wood are so nicely balanced that the most expert of our people at swimming could not keep upon them half a minuit without
This last observation at leasts suggests that some of Cook's men may have tried paddling (or surfing?) on these boards themselves.
At any rate, the presence of these journal entries (more than have been noted in histories of Surfing) emphasizes (at least to my mind) the great fascination these mariners had with surfboards and surfing. Their detailed accounts of surfboard sizes, shapes, and purpose is an important (and mostly undiscovered) link in why and how surfing manages to survive when so many other native pasttimes did not.
All the best,
I replied, mostly detailing historical details that have been added to the above paper.
In response to Patrick's final paragraph, I wrote ...
At any rate, the presence of these journal entries (more than have been noted in histories of Surfing) emphasizes (at least to my mind) the great fascination these mariners had with surfboards and surfing. Their detailed accounts of surfboard sizes, shapes, and purpose is an important (and mostly undiscovered) link in why and how surfing manages to survive ...
Very interesting ... I can only make some disjointed observations that may relect on this ...
More than a maritime
culture - an aquatic culture.
As mariners, the journalists had a fascination with all things nautical - there are extensive accounts that relate to canoes, seamanship and navigation.
Specifically, Cook was amazed that the Hawaiians were there before he was and was the first to suggest that Polynesian settlement was the result of extensive voyages from the west - a feat that preceded his own voyages.
Given that some (unknown
proportion) of the crew could not swim at all (Cook and, I think, King
and note 7. above), Hawaiian familiarity with the ocean, where swimming
was a basic community skill, must have been impressive.
Obscure thought - Could Cook have saved himself, if he was able to swim?
The origins of modern
swimming are difficult to ascertain - a restricted amount of research has
indicated to me that the development of the common crawl stroke (the Olympic
freesyle) has at least some import from Polynesian, especially Hawaiian,
I would propose that there is a technical relationship between 'native' swimming and board paddling - the combined overarm stroke and flutter kick.
If this conjecture has any validity, then (as Hawaiian surf-riding has now expanded across all the world's oceans) Polynesian swimming has now expanded across the world's oceans, lakes and swimming pools.
Confident of their skills, the Hawaiians chose the most extreme conditions ( 'great swell' -Samwell) for their 'diversion'.
Even in Hawaii, good surf-riding conditions are not consistant, sublime conditions are rare, large and sublime conditions even rarer.
If Cook had not had extended stays, or if social relations had been mostly confrontational, then we may not have these accounts.
However, note that
these accounts of prone riding seem mostly derive from Kealakekua Bay,
Although this was probably the most populous area, at this time (winter) the bay was protected from the prominant swell direction from the north.
A significant number of Hawaiian legends (see Finney (1996), Chapter 3) indicate that (the now extinct) Hilo Bay, on the opposite coast of Hawaii, was a centre of surf-riding excellence and exposed to the winter north swells, but none of the 1779 reports indicate knowledge of this.
The other legendary
centre was Waikiki, Oahu - exposed to the summer south swells and protected
from the north.
Photographic evidence (Edison, circa 1905) confirms that the surf-riding conditions of Wakiki for solid wood finless boards can be sublime.
If Cook was searching for surf, then probably "he really missed it - he should have been there six months ago!" (paraphasing Brown, 1966).
The wave as icon
For each riding location ('surf break') there are specific features of paddle-out, take-off and the general wave characteristics.
For each individual wave another specific set of variables is operational.
Each wave (an animated expression of climatic forces?) is structually, aesthetically and temporaly unique in nature.
An early representation
of the wave as icon is Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) : Under the wave
off Kanagawa c.1825?1831?
The wave as icon retains its attaction in contemporary times - evidenced by the number of photographs of riderless wavescapes that are regulary printed.
surf-shooting, wave-sliding, he'e nalu
Finney's list of traditional Hawaiian riding and wave terminology (1996, Appendix A) and the early written reports appear to confirm that traditional riders transversed the wave face in the same manner as all subsequent riders.
The mechanics of this are both highly complex (that is, I don't understand them) and highly variable.*
For Cook's crew,
surf-riding was like no other previous experienced human activity - it
In my opinion it is still the case that surf-riding is an unique human activity.
*I have made one
(poor) attempt to deal with this problem ...
The Hawaiians further advanced their activity by the development of specific craft to maximize their wave-riding performance.
was a combination of highly developed craftsmanship and an access to a
rich source of building materials - specifically the massive koa forests
of the Hawaiian islands.
This is easily seen in the accounts of the number, the size and the quality of workmanship of Hawaiian canoes.
The earliest surboards were hand-shaped objects (a sculpture) and despite the application of modern technologies, the basic surfboard retained hand-shaping at least until the end of the twentith century.
many other native pasttimes did not.
Most native pastimes had some European equivalent - board games, wrestling, running, sailing, dance.
Hawaiian surf-riding was a highly developed unique activity - and the waves are still there.