thomas j. hutchinson : canoe surfing in africa, 1861
At Batanga (Cameroon) Thomas J. Hutchinson observed the local fisherman surfriding in their canoes, at point along the beach where the waves broke on an extensive reef.
Apparently, the conditions on this day were unfavorable for serious fishing, or particularly suited to canoe surfriding, or a combination of both.
Hutchinson gives the impression that this is a group of the four or six riders in small light-weight one-man canoes.
He describes the paddle-out, take-off, steering with a trailing paddle at speed, and the inconvienience of the wipe-out, somewhat mitigated by their being "capital swimmers – indeed, like the majority of the coastal negroes, they may be reckoned amphibious.".
Sharks are an ocasional hazard; Hutchinson was told that, shortly before he arrived, a fishman died after losing a leg to "a prowling shark."
Dawson notes that
"Hutchinson’s account is unique for several reasons.
It is the only one that describes adults surfing.
Surfing apparently had not taken any deep cultural meaning, yet these Cameroonian fishermen seem to have been quite passionate about it.
Like many ancient Hawaiian and modern surfers, they were ardent enough to risk life and limb surfing in waters known to contain sharks. "
This is not the first
report of (adult) West Africans riding waves in canoes, although in those
instances the canoe riders are invariably in pursuit of their "industrial
occupation," either in transporting freight or passengers, or in returning
to shore with their haul of fish.
At Batanga, the canoe riders are clearly riding the waves for pleasure.
Many commentators over-emphasze the danger to surfriders from sharks, a viewed enthusiastically embraced by the popular media.
Dawson also adds inthe footnote:
For the photograph Mary H. Kingsley: Batanga Canoes, West Africa, c1899, see below.
Dawson, Kevin : Swimming, Surfing and Underwater Diving in Early Modern Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora (20??).
Carina Ray and Jeremy Rich, eds., Navigating African Maritime History (Published by the Research in Maritime History book series, Memorial University of Newfoundland Press, 2009), pp. 81-116.
http://history.unlv.edu/faculty/dawson/Swimming & Surfing in Africa copy.pdf, viewed 10 April 2013.
From West Africa
1600 von Lubelfing : Swimming and Canoes, West Africa.
1602 de Marees : Swimming, Canoes and Fishing, Guinea.
1604 Ulsheimer : Canoes and Whaling, West Africa.
1620 Samuel Brun : Canoes, Rafts, and Fishing, West Africa.
1645 Hemmersam : Float Boards and Canoes, West Africa.
1669 Muller : Swimming, Canoes and Fishing, West Africa.
1712 Jean Barbot : Canoes
and Fishing, Guinea.
1735 John Atkins : Canoes and Fishing, Guinea and Brazil.
1812 Henry Meredith
: Canoe Surfing on Gold
1823 John Adams : Surfboard Riding on the West Coast, Africa.
1835 James Edward Alexander : West Africa.
1861 Thomas J. Hutchinson : Canoe Surfing in Gabon, Africa.
1863 Paul Du Chaillui : Surf Canoeing, Africa.
1876 Hugh Dyer : Surf Boats in West Africa.
1877 John Whitford : Surf Canoes and Boats, West Africa.
1891 The Graphic : Surf Boats, Ghana.
1895 C. S. Smith : Batanga Canoes, West Africa.
1887 Archer Crouch : Body Surfing, West Africa.
1887 Alfred Burton Ellis : Surf Dieties of West Africa.
1899 Mary H. Kingsley : Canoes and Fishing, West Africa.
1923 Robert Rattray
: Padua at Lake
1949 Jean Rouch : Surf Riding at Dakar, Senegal.
During my few
days stay at Batanga, I observed that from the more serious and industrial
occupation of fishing they would turn to racing on the tops of the surging
billows which broke on the sea shore; at one spot more particularly, which,
owing to the presence of an extensive reef, seemed to be the very place
for a continuous swell of several hundred yards in length.
Four or six of them go out steadily, dodging the rollers as they come on, and mounting atop of them with the nimbleness and security of ducks.
Reaching the outermost roller, they turn the canoes stems shoreward with a single stroke of the paddle, and mounted on the top of the wave, they are borne towards the shore, steering with the paddle alone.
By a peculiar action of this, which tends to elevate the stern of the canoe so that it will receive the full impulsive force of the advancing billow, on they come, carried along with all its impetuous rapidity.
Sometimes the steerer loses the balance of his guiding power; the canoe is turned over; its occupant is washed out, and the light little piece of wood gives a few lofty jumps from wave to wave, reminding one of a horse at a steeple-chase, that, having thrown his rider, takes it into his head (or rather his heels) to gallop about the country, and jump over ditches on his own account.
Yet despite...these immersions, no one is ever drowned, as they are capital swimmers – indeed, like the majority of the coastal
negroes, they may be reckoned amphibious.
In their piscatorial excursions, it sometimes happens that a prowling shark, tempted to pursue the fish which the fisherman is hauling on the line, comes within sight of the larger bait of the negro leg and chops it off without remorse.
A case of this kind has happened a very short time before the period of my visit, and the poor victim had died; but this did not diminish the number of canoes riding waves, nor render one of the canoe occupants less energetic or daring than before.
Batanga Canoes, West Africa, c1899.
Ten Years' Wanderings among the Ethiopians
with sketches of the manners and customs of the civilized and uncivilized tribes,
from Senegal to Gaboon.
Hurst and Blackett, London, 1861