home catalogue history references appendix 
sandwich island notes : number 8, 1822 

Notes on the Sandwich Islands, Number 8  : Surf Riding in Hawaii, 1822.

Notes on the Sandwich Islands Number VII

Connecticut Courier

L.N. Skinner (Publisher):
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Wednesday, 18 September 1822,
Volume 9 Number 434, page

The account of surf riding  was identified by Joe Tabler in April 2016.
One of the most detailed of the early 19th century accounts of surf-riding, at present
the location and the author are unknown, however, they are most likely a visiting seaman or whaler or someone associated with
Note that the attempted translation of the Hawaiian term is close: ha-a-nah-roo = he'e nalu.
They attempt to describe a foiled template of the surfboards (from two thirds of the way forward, back a little slanted) and to distinguish between the edge of the board (rounded) and the oval rails (sides).
It is clear that the surfers are riding prone, in what are probably significant swells and in front of a rock lined shore, which is the only indication of the location; which is obviously not Waikiki.
It is most probable that the author did not witness any serious accidents, the reports of the cleaving of limbs and bodies is likely to be based on reports by the participants, but these could have been either poorly translated and /or misunderstood.
Alternatively, the dangers could have been exaggerated to enhance the participant's status, or greatly exaggerated as a test of the visitor's gullibility.
It is also possible that the author may not have observed the full range of surfboards of  6-20 ft x 10-24'',
like a number of similar reports of this period, or they may not have seen them in action.
The report of the island pull-out is exact:
the rider making a hard short tern/turn (?, to the left or the right), dive under the surf (dives through the wave) still keeping hold of the board with one hand (on the outside rail), then arise at the top of the water, or pop out the back.

Both sexes are surprisingly dexterous in swimming, and so exceedingly fond of water as very frequently to continue in it from morning till night.
One method they have to amuse themselves is called ha-a-nah-roo, swimming with the surf on surf-boards.
These surf-boards are from 6 to 18 or 20 feet in length and from 10 to 20 or 24 inches in width and from two thirds of the way forward, back a little slanted, the fore end rounded, the hind one square ; the sides somewhat oval, and the edges rounded.
They are made of very light wood and neatly polished.
With these boards the natives run an the
highest and most terrific surf for many rods with the most astonishing swiftness, steering the board in what direction they please with their hands and feet.
Great numbers may be seen when the surf is augmented to its greatest height is passing and re passing each other with the swiftness of a blrd flying in the air and being as very expert in managing their boards, it is very seldom any one is injured ; though there has been instances where the body has been cut in two in the middle, and where arms have been cut off by the sharp edge of the surf-board, the persons being unable to get out of its way, or
those on the board were not able to keep it in its proper direction.
Setting out from the shore, they dive under several of the first wares letting them roll over them, rising successively beyond each wave till they have arrived sufficiently far out into the sea.
Having arrived at the smooth water they recline themselves upon their board, watching a favorable opportunity, they place themselves on the top of the largest surge, and giving their board a small inclination and at the same time using both hands as paddles, they are carried or driven along before the wave with rapidity towards the shore.
And having arrived near the shore, they make a short tern/turn (?), dive under the surf still keeping hold of the board with one hand, then arise at the top of the water and return again to sea.
Should they be separated from their board it would chance to be thrown against the rocks and dashed to pieces, or should they, through miscalculation, approach too near the rocks with which the shore is lined, if they did not in an instant leave the board and dive under the water they would be driven against them and destroyed.
The unparalleled courage and address with which they perform these manoeuvres are
truly astonishing.
They will often dive to the bottom where the water is ten or fifteen fathoms deep and bring up things of several pounds weight.
In this manner they dive and obtain several kinds of shell, and other fish, and even the shark does not always elude the grasp of these expert divers, but are sometimes taken by a rope with a slip-knot put over the tail!

Notes on the Sandwich Islands Number VII
Connecticut Courier
L.N. Skinner (Publisher):
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Wednesday, 18 September 1822, Volume 9 Number 434.

Return to Surfer Bio menu
home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2016) : Unknown : Sandwich Island Notes No.8, 1822.