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wise : lahaina, 1850 
Lt. Henry Wise  : Surf-riding at Lahaina, 1850.

Extract from
Wise, Henry Augustus, U.S.N.:
Los Gringos: or An inside view of Mexico and California with wanderings in
Peru, Chile and Polynesia.
Baker & Scribner ,New York, 1849.
Richard Bentley., London, 1849.
Chapter XLI, pages 352 to 354.
The text is available at googlebooks.com

Forwarded by Joe Tabler, August 2007.
Joe T. noted:
"my one find was in Los Gringos by Wise
The book is 453pp long........has about 40 pages on hawaii.
Lt. Wise's ship went to Mexico and California before this.
seemed to stop in Hilo then Lahaina....before heading for Tahiti.
left Boston Harbor in 1846......returned to New York in 1849 (?)."

Noted and quoted, although heavily edited, in:
Dela Vega: Surf Literature (2004), page 30.
Entry suggested by Joe Tabler.

This marvellous report has many important details or features:
1. It paints a realistic, not an idealized, view of the Hawaiian natives, for example the card playing introduction.
2. The boards are described: "slabs of light cotton wood, aabut a foot longer than the person, and two and a half wide" , although the width is likely to be exaggerated.
The timber may not be Cottonwood (any of the several American species of poplar, for example Populus deltoides), but similar.
3. The surf break at Lahaina is described.
4. The basic elements of surfriding are detailed, the ride "at the speed of a race-horse".
5. The skill of the chiefs is indicated: the performance of a "daughter of a chief"  (continuing the horse riding analogy) said to rival (Andrew) "Ducrow" , a British circus performer often called  "the Colossus of equestrians".
6. Standing surfing is confirmed and, probably for the first time in text, indicates stance: "maintain a pose on one leg, either kneeling or standing".
Stance is indicated in the earliest surfriding illustrations.
The kneeling position is likely "drop-knee".
7. Although juvenile surfriders have been previously identified by earlier commentators, Wise perhaps reports the first Westernized view of "surf bums": "every little idle imp and lounger about the town devote the time sporting in the surf"
8. Transverse riding on the green wave is confirmed: "borne on the unbroken ridge of a green roller".
9. The riders appear to employ some methods of stalling and/or turning: "crossing and recrossing each other's tracks".
This is also possibly the first reference to the board's wake as "tracks".
10. Henry Wise attempts surfriding himself, his difficulties no doubt further enhancing his appreciation of skilled riders.

Lahaina, Maui, August-September 184?
Page 351

One evening, during our visit at Lahaina, I was entertained by a hospitable countryman, at his cool, airy residence, which stood on a little raised embankment of the sea beach.
A group of native maidens also favored us with their fascinating society, and without further invitation seated themselves at table, and seizing ...

Page 352

... a pack of cards, soon became deeply engaged in the game.
It was like most other games: those who hold certain cards, certainly won; but although it was to me incomprehensible, I observed that they cheated in the most expert manner, at the same time slapping the bits of pasteboard on the table with the energy of inveterate whisters; occasionally muttering, when losing or winning, such exclamations as ka! ka! - maitai! - meaning "Oh! I'm ruined!" "Disgusting!" or "I'm in luck!" and the like.

Becoming ennuied with these proceedingss, after much entreaty and a glass of wine, they consented to give me an idea of surf-swimming.

The moon was high and full, throwing a white, bright light athwart the rippling water, like a quivering sea of silver coins.
A Kanaka attendant speedily produced slabs of light cotton wood, aabut a foot longer than the person, and two and a half wide.
Each provided with one of these boards, they swam, or paddled out to the farthest roller.
It may be as well to remark here, that there is no reef, as at Hilo, within whose coral walls shipping can anchor; only a ledge near the shore, that serves to break the force of the waves upon the beach. Boats, however, land without inconvenience, through the agency of a small canal cut from the ledge to the heart of the town, in shape of a letter L.

The girls are at the outermost roller, when awaiting the moment before it breaks, they come flying in on the very crest of the wave, at the speed of a race-horse, the great art being to preserve as nice a poise on the back-bone, as it were, of the breaker, as not to be left behind, nor yet, as I found at the cost of several abrasions, launched too far ahead, and thus have the whole crash of the roller pitching you over and over in a series of hydropathic revolutions by no means safe or pleasant: but to understand ...

Page 253

... the thing properly, it is excessively exciting sport.
One of the girls, daughter of a chief, possessed the knack in great perfectin, and while dashing in with astonishing velocity - at least the rate of twenty miles the hour - she would spring buoyantly upon the board, and then maintain a pose on one leg, either kneeling or standing, with an a plomb - like security of balance, that would have raised the reputation of Ducrow!

During the day every little idle imp and lounger about the town devote the time sporting in the surf; I have watched them for hours, a dozen of them perhaps in a group: their black heads set in a liquid frame of sparkling foam, half lost to view, as the wave subsides, then taken up by another, and borne on the unbroken ridge of a green roller, crossing and recrossing each other's tracks, shouting and laughing, until the moment before striking the coral strand, the boards are turned aside, and off they paddle again for another ride.

I was not sucessful at the first lesson, although carefully instructed by my amiable companion in boards; and after an hour's practice, finding I had swallowed as much salt water as I could conveniently, we returned to the house.

Never having witnessed a legitimate native dance, all our persuasive eloquence was exerted to induce the young ladies to delight us with a hevar, but they proved obdurate; and one assured me, with great indignity, that she was mikonaree all ovar; at the same time making a graceful manipulation with her hands, from hand to foot, to add strength to her assertion.
Thus finding myself associated with so pious and virtuous a coterie, who, however, did not deem it incompatible with their morality to sit down, with renewed zest, to cards, I desisted from further efforts, and betook myself to a cigar.

Page 254

In this, as with all my later experience and intercourse with island beauties, I became convinced that I should never fall in love with them out of the water.
There is their native element for grace and witchery, whilst cleaving the yielding fluid with rounded limbs and streaming tresses, when one's nice sense of perfume is not offended by rank odors of cocoanut oils, and other villanous cosmetics,  which in themselves are enough to transform a Hebe into a Hecate.

Waterfalls and Diving.
Chapter XL
Page 343

All classes at Hilo evince an enthusiastic admiration for flowers, and the maidens particularly are never without natural wreaths, or neeklaces of woodbine and jessamine, prettily woven for the
There is a yellow bud of the candle-nut, which is not so pleasant to eye or nose, though more generally worn.
But in all the tastes and diversions of the natives, there was not one that charmed us so much, and in which the natives indulged with such wild delight, as bathing in the river Wailuku.
Along the whole eastern face of the island of Hawaii there are numberless rills and streams that come bounding from the lofty sides of the giant mountains, in cataracts and cascades, until at last they jump from the green-clad shores into the salt foam of the ocean.
One of the largest of them is the Wailuku.
No farther than a league from the harbor inland is a miniature Niagara, of more than a hundred feet, which dashes a mass of broken water into a bowl-like basin, flashing upon either side brilliant rainbows, from which the fall takes its name.
Retracing our steps towards the village, the banks of the little river become less abrupt, and within a few hundred yards of the bay the water is diverted into a multitude of channels - here, a torrent boiling ...

Page 344

... over scattered rocks, with a clear, sleeping pool beyond- there, the white cataract plunging swiftly through narrow straits, and leaping gaily down below, liko a liquid portcullis to some massive gateway—again, whirling eddies playing around rocky islets, until at last by one sparkling effort the waters re-unite, and go roaring and struggling down a steep chasm into the noisy surf of the bay.
It is here the young of both sexes pass most of their time.

Troops of boys and girls, and even little ones scarcely able to walk, are seen in all directions, perched on broad shelving crags and grassy mounds, or, still higher up, clinging from the steep
sides and peeping out from amid the foliage.
On every side they come leaping joyously into the rushing waters !
There on a bluff - thirty, forty - ay! seventy feet high- a score of native maidens are following each other in quick succession into the limpid pools beneath.
The moment before their flight through the air they are poised upon the rocky pedestals, like the Medicean Venus.
One buoyant bound - the right arm is thrown aloft, knees brought up, and at the instant of striking the water the head falls back, feet dashed straight out - when they enter the pools with the velocity
and clearness of a javelin, shooting far away, just beneath the surface, like a salmon.

Others, a''ain, arc diving in foaming torrents—splashing and
TO O O i (???)
skirling - laughing, always laughing - plunging - swimming, half- revealing their pretty forms before sinking again beneath the stream.
Others, still more daring and expert, go whirling through narrow passages, thrown from side to side in the white waters - now completely hidden in the cataracts - anon rising up in a recumbent attitude, when away they are hurled over a cataract of twenty feet, emerging far below, with long tresses streaming ...

Page 345

...behind, and with graceful limbs cleaving the river, like naught else in nature more charming than themselves.

It is a sight to make a lover forget his mistress, or a parson his prayers.
I know it would have been my case, had I been so fortunate as to be either!
Here I passed all my leisure hours, never tired of beholding the beautiful panorama of life and water
moving before me; and there were others, on these occasions, who were wont to mingle bravely in the sport - portly post-captains - husbandly lieutenants - mad-cap reefers, of course - staid chaplains, too ! - but all declared it was pleasant, exceeding pleasant! although mingled with a few indifferent remarks as to what the good missionaries might think of it.

Many of the wyheenees have pretty faces, expressive black eyes, and long, jet-black hair; then there are others, who make good imitations of Blenheim spaniels in the visage; but nearly all have rounded, voluptuous forms, perfeetly natural and beautiful when young, with small hands and feet: but such larks they are for fun and laughter! with a certain air of sly demureness that renders them quite bewitching.
In the cool of the afternoons, a number of us in company with half a dozen of these attractive naiads, would amuse ourselves sliding over a gentle water-fall that poured into a secluded basin stretching calmly away below : hand in hand - and very soft, pretty hands they were ! - or, forming a long link, one after another, in a sitting posture, we threw ourselves upon the mercy of the lively foam above, and like lightning dashed over the brink of the falls, and were drawn with magical celerity for a great
depth beneath the surface; until our ears tingled and senses reeled with the rushing noise, when we would again be swept swiftly by a counter-current up to the air of heaven, and carefully stranded  ...

Page 346

...on a sand bank near by, wondering very much how we got there,and always greeted by the gay laughter of the water nymphs around us.
Nor is it the safest sport imaginable, for in some of these submarine excursions an inexperienced person is sometimes given to beat his head or body against rocks, or be carried to the wrong eddies and floated among dangerous straits, to the great detriment of his breath and digestion.
However, no one need entertain the slightest fears when attended by the natives.
They may, when saving you in the last gasp of drowning, hold you up in the combing breakers, and ask, " how much ? tree monoe ?" with a prospective glance at a reward.
But when diverting yourself with these nut-brown naiads, they guide you in safety through perilous labyrinths, and shield you from all harm.
On one occasion, a laughing, good-humored damsel, whom we christened the Three-decker, in compliment to a double row of ports tatooed around her waist, was seated beside me on a flat lodge, and opened the conversation by asking, " Watee namee you ?"
" Bill," said I.
"Lice namee Harree," she archly replied, and shoved me into the torrent for laughing at her curiosity. But on gaining my lost position, she broached another theme, which was so appallingly ludicrous, that, losing all command of soul and body, I rolled off the rocks, and had it not been for the stout arms of a nimble wyhffn.ff (???), who gallantly came to the rescue, I should in all probability, as the Three-decker jocosely remarked, have been muckee moi - defunct; for the water had so nearly filled me up, that there was not the faintest vestige of a laugh left in my body.
I rewarded her with a plug of tobacco, which is occasionally used as a currency.

Chapter XLIII.
Page 365

Returning, we can take a glance at scores of poor squalid wretches, with closely-shaven heads, living in filthy kennels that a decent dog would despise; but they have been guilty of breaking one of the commandments, and to reform their morals are herded together, and made to labor upon the public roads !
Saturday is the Saturnalia of the Kanakas!
They revel on horseback; the streets, roads and plains are filled with them.
It is surprising where they all spring from ; for although they are an ambulating population, without local attachments, and go in schooner-loads from island to island of the group, particularly upon the advent of a large ship of war, and no doubt are packed very closely in their hovels in and around Honolulu, yet it still is a matter for wonderment where all come from.
Hundreds of both sexes throng the pathways; and those more fortunate, who can hire horses, are riding, and racing, leaping, and kicking up all the noise and dust possible.
The women bestride their steeds like men, with petticoats tucked snugly around them, and
sometimes wearing for head gear as many as three bonnets of different colors, one within the other, like nests of pill boxes.
The young princes of the blood, too, attended by the copper-colored nobility of the kingdom, ride with headlong speed, and are not remarkable for taking less than three-fourths of the highway, to the great peril and inconvenience of more soberly-mounted passengers.
On one pleasant evening an aristocratic sprig rode rudely against an Anglo-Saxon demoiselle, in whose train I had the pleasure of being, and without pausing to apologise for his brutality, continued on, causing me to indulge in certain pious aspirations for my Mexican whip that I might inflict a few mild exhortations, in spite of his long line of Kanaka ancestry.
Neither men nor women sit the horse gracefully or firmly, ...

Page 366

... and it is a matter of hourly occurrence to see them take an aerial toss from the saddle.
A certain kind of equestrian intoxication -  possibly caused by brandy- appears to possess them, and they gallop and prance about as long as the beasts have a leg to stand on.

Nekheva, Bay of Anna Maria, October 184?

Page 380

On the morning of the fith we discovered the easternmost Islands of the Marquesas- paswd Hood's Island, and the following day anchored in Nukuhuvu - the Anna Maria bay of Mr. Gouch - Surveyor of the Daedalus, and of Vancouver's squadron - who, in ignorance of the previous discovery by the Spaniards under Alvaro do Mendana, had named the group after his commander, Hergest.

Page 385

After bathing, we reclined on the thwarts of an immense war-canoe that was hauled upon the beach, capable of holding, at least, fifty paddles, and amused ourselves watching a score of young girls swimming in the bay : they swam like fishes, but, as there were no surf or rocks, I had no means of determining what novel or extraordinary feats they were able to perform : they were quite skilful little fisherwomen, and procured for us a cocoanut-shell full of delicious oysters - no bigger than shilling pieees - which served to pass the time until we adjourned to the king's house.

Page 388

We were cordially greeted by the host, who was seated on his hams and heels, with no other apparel than a maro wound around the loins, and a necklaces of straggling, snow-white hairs hanging
on his meagre breast ; it was the honored beard of his ancestors, which was, I suppose, retained morely to swear by, as it did not appear eithar valuable or ornamental.
He was a remarkable and venerable Goblin, and he informed us that his existence comprised nine hundred moons.
This would have made him somewhere verging on eighty years ; but he appeared as aged as Saturn.
He was tatooed all over the body and limbs, faca alone exempted.
It must have occupied as much time to delineate him as it did Rafael to fresco the galleries of the Vatican !
But his hide was so ancient and worm-eaten, that many fine touches were almost illegible.
Around his knees were pitying two little dusky imps, scarcely a year old !
God knows where they came from - may have been a present, as it is all the fashion among the
Nevertheless, he regarded them with the most affectionate interest, and watched their every movement, even to ... (???)
Bucking his mouldering toes and pulling his grizzly top-knot, with the tendercst solicitude. "Ctesev&Vs they crawled in front of the ...

Page 389

... dwelling, and actually toddled into the pool.
I instantly started up to fish them out, but the old Goblin only chuckled, and the little elfs kept bobbing about the surface of the water with the buoyaney of corks - like junk bottles in a lea-way - crowing and
smiling bravely.
I never was more amazed, and taking a dip myself afterwards, found the basin up to my neck.

Wise, Henry Augustus, U.S.N.:
Los Gringos: or An inside view of Mexico and California with wanderings in
Peru, Chile and Polynesia.
Baker & Scribner,1850, Chapter XLI, pages 352 to 354.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2007) : Lt. Henry Wise : Surf-riding at Lahaina, 1850.

Andrew Ducrow (1793 - 1842) was a British circus performer often called the "Father of British circus equestrianism" and ""the Colossus of equestrians". Ducrow was trained by his father who had immigrated to England from Belgium in 1793. His most famous act was the Courier of St. Petersburg which was the forerunner to modern horse acts. Ducrow is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
In Greek mythology, Hebe (Greek: ???) is the goddess of youth
Hecate, Hekate (Hekát?), or Hekat was originally a goddess of the wilderness and childbirth.