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campbell  : waikiki and surf riding at hilo, 1876 

Lord George Campbell : Waikiki and Surf Riding at Hilo, 1876?.

Extracts from:
Campbell, Lord George:
Log Letters from the Challenger.
 Macmillan and Co., London, 1876.

New Edition
Macmillan and Co., London, 1881.

Internet Archive

The Challenger Expedition ran from 1872 to 1876, when Campbell visited Hawai'i.

wikipedia.org:1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii
- viewed 24th November 2012.

Page 45

On Sept. the 1st we arrived at Fernando Noronha, a
pretty green little island from whose wooded hills shoot
here and there grey pinnacles of rock. One of these
in particular is of curious shape and a thousand feet
high. This island belongs to Brazil, and is used as a
convict settlement, there being now thirteen hundred
convicts, who live in little wooden huts, which, with
barracks for two hundred soldiers, prisons, and an ancient
fort, make up the cheery settlement.
The pinnace dredged along the shore, from which rose

Page 46

steep high banks covered with foliage of a most vivid
green, broken occasionally by the face of a cliff, against
which fluttered numbers of "tropic-birds," several of
which we caught in a small adjoining islet as they came
out of holes where they breed. The landing is not easy,
and one of our boats was capsized in the surf sextants,
theodolites, watches, officers, and men, all tumbling into the

Boats are not allowed on the island for fear of convicts
escaping, but the convicts are allowed to paddle about in
" catamarans " and catch fish. The catamarans are made of
three small logs lashed together, turned up at the ends. In
the middle is a four-legged stool for the man to sit on, and a
basket for the fish he catches. They look extremely odd
coming out to fish, a number of these convicts all standing
up and paddling with a thing like a long-handled spade,
and as at a little distance the catamarans are invisible, the
men look as if they are gliding over the sea with motionless
legs, while their arms and paddles are in violent motion.
They say that the convicts do sometimes try to escape to
the mainland of South America in these cockle-shell rafts,
and have been known in one or two cases to arrive safely.


6th. The pinnace went outside the reef to the furthest
reef-island A, taking soundings while I, in the whaler,
went inside the reef, and met them at the island. The surf
on the reef was glorious, mountainous lines, now black,
now white, subsiding with a thundering crash. When close
to the island we were caught in a squall of wind and rain,
and just in the middle of it, when no rifle was ready, of
course a large turtle must float close by us. It always
does happen thus.

Page 305

In the afternoon the Captain went i;i the pinnace to
look for a bay, marked as a large one on the chart, about
eight miles to the eastward, which we, however, think does
not exist. The surf all along the shore is very heavy,
breaking on the land or on some fringing reef. When
abreast of the bay we saw a line of heavy breakers
apparently stretching right across the mouth. But watch-
ing a while we saw a " smoothe," and in there we steamed.
These "blind rollers" are very dangerous. For several
minutes nothing is seen to indicate shallow water, when
suddenly a great heap of water rears up just alongside of
the boat perhaps and then, without breaking there, goes
rolling on in a way that makes you very glad you are not
on the top of it, and eventually smashes on to a reef or
on the shore. Two canoes met us inside, the men eager
for us to land and shoot birds, coo-oo-ing and pointing
to the woods. The bay is small and full of reefs and

Page 312

These reef-islands are quite small, and are lovely coral
isles with delicious woods set in fringes of dazzling white
sand. On the sea-side, a few hundred yards from the shore,
the surf in great walls, now blue, now white, is ever
thundering along the outer edge of the reef, while inside
it is quite still, and the water so shallow and clear that
every coral, weed, shell, and starfish is plainly seen. On
this reef the canoes are poled along instead of paddled.

Page 386

I have not much to write about Honolulu, though I
enjoyed immensely the fortnight we stayed there.

Page 389

A few miles to the right of Honolulu lies Oahu's Brighton
Waikiki. A very thin grove of gaunt, rheumatic -looking
coco-palms, their lean stems much bent and their crowns
much dilapidated by the prevailing wind ; under the cocos,
on a plain of burnt-up grass diversified by marsh, wherein
grows a tall reed-grass, is a scattering of cottages and low
trees, a native church, a soft sandy beach, blue sea and
surf, where bathe the heated Honolulans, and all overblown
by a constant trade-wind from over the hills in rear. I
cannot say I thought it a cheerful spot.

Page 393

We arrived early on a lovely hot morning at Hilo, a
large crescent-shaped bay, brilliantly green from the shore
and cliffs against which a heavy white surf breaking
over a gently rising slope of grass and woodland, to near
the rugged and purple summit of Mauna Kea, an extinct
volcano, some 13,000 feet in height,

Page 413

We sailed the afternoon of the next day, and in the
morning some of us went on shore to try and see a
Hawaiian sport " surf riding." Three bouncing night-
gowned damsels whom we met and asked to show us their
skill, somewhat misunderstood us, and took us down to a
regular bathing place a high leap from a projecting

Page 414

platform into a deep narrow creek on the right of the
village. However, they looked very nice as divesting
themselves of their outer night-gown raiment and appearing
very properly arrayed in pink under ones their flying
figures leaped feet foremost down ; and their pink indis-
tinctness far down in the blue water was very pretty and
Hawaiian, but not what we wanted. So, accompanied by
these now wet and limply-attired nymphs, we went to a
populous cottage near by, wherefrom visions of half-
dollars made two scantily-clad men take their surf-boards
down from the tree against which they were leaning, and
sally out into the breakers, which, unfortunately, were
not of great size to-day. These surf-boards are some ten
feet long, rather broader than a man's body, and pointed
at the " bow." Holding these, they half wade, or float,
or dive beyond the surf ; watch a large wave coming, and
just as they feel it, throw themselves on the top of their
boards full length on their faces, and come in just in
advance of the curling top of the breaker at railway
speed, landing on the beach, on which they are thrown
high up, having flown lightly over ugly rocks fringing
the shore. On these surf-boards they can either kneel,
lie, or stand the last only when the surf is heavy, so we
did not see it. This is, 'par excellence, the sport of the
Hawaiians, beautiful and exciting to watch, as it must be
deliriously exciting to act in.

There is a true story of a native, whose hut, while he was within, was swept out to sea by an earthquake-wave ; he wrenched off a plank and came in surf-riding on the top of the return wave, .some fifty feet in height, and was thrown uninjured on the land.
What a glorious thing to do and survive !
A sad fatal accident occurred among the English Transit of Venus party when they were here the other day ; they tried this surf-riding on a day when the surf was very heavy, and one of them was drowned.
I saw more pretty native women in this village of Hilo than I did at Honolulu.

Campbell, Lord George:
Log Letters from the Challenger.
 Macmillan and Co., London, 1876.

New Edition
Macmillan and Co., London, 1881.

Internet Archive

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Geoff Cater (2012) : Lord George Campbell : Waikiki and Surf Riding at Hilo, 1876.