Notes on the Sandwich Islands, Number 8 : Surf
Riding in Hawaii, 1822. Unknown:
Notes on the Sandwich Islands Number VII
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
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
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 thesurf (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
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
The unparalleled courage and address with which they perform
these manoeuvres aretruly astonishing.
They will often dive to the bottom where the water is ten or
fifteen fathoms deep and bring up things of several pounds
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!
Unknown: Notes on the Sandwich Islands Number VII Connecticut Courier
L.N. Skinner (Publisher):
Wednesday, 18 September 1822, Volume
9 Number 434.