Like Isabella Bird,
her report is located at Hilo, on the east coast of the large island
Hilo was a famed surfing location on the large island, Hawaii, and said to rival Waikiki for the quality of it's surf Finney and Houston (1996), page 28, identify seven different ancient surf breaks at Hilo.
Other writers who recorded surfriding there include Charles Nordoff (1873), John Caton (1878) and Thomas W. Knox (1888).
Cumming notes that
the reef at Hilo is the result of a lava flow and not the more common Polynesian
The reference to the popularity of Tahitian surfriding is probably based on the work of Rev. William Ellis (1823).
The estimated damge
to the board after a extreme wipe-out is possibly exaggerated and the comparison
with a cricket bat indictes some knowledge of English sport:
"His surf-board is probably reduced to splinters in a few seconds- a loss which is to him as serious as that of a favourite bat to a cricketer."
of the surfboards at Hilo is the only known report of, apparently, a concave
"A good surf-board is about an inch and a half in thickness, about eighteen inches wide, and eight feet long, and should be slightly hollowed down the centre, and rounded at one end" (emphasis added).
The report initially
suggests that the surfriders prefer strong onshore winds:
"So whenever the wind blows freshly shoreward, the people betake them to the shore, and the sound of their mirth and laughter mingles pleasantly with the roar of the waves."
However this maybe
an attempt to ride the swell at its maximum size and the wind certainly
is a limitation on performance.
Also, perhaps the activity was organised as a demonstration for European visitors," this morning we were invited to go to the shore to see a party of men indulging in this sport", and the surfriders did not consider the conditions suitable:
"The wind, however, proved more than even they could face, so at last they gave in and came ashore, apparently not much exhausted."
On the following
day, with a smaller swell but light winds, surfriding performance is greatly
"To-day they were able to indulge in gymnastics, treating their surf-boards as circus-riders treat their horses, kneeling or standing and attitudinising, while the swift steed rushes onward."
Cumming gives a detailed
description of the design and use of the land sled, "horua", apparently
based on personal observation.
Note the similarity of "horua" and one of the Tahitian terms for surfriding as identified by Ellis (1823), ''horue''.
et al. (2004), page 16, notes the surfriding text from Fire
Fountains was reprinted as:
"Hawaiian Sports: Surf Riding at Hilo, Hawaii"
Paradise of the Pacific Magazine, Volume 4, Number 5, May 1891, page I.
pastime of men,
women, and children.
There, however, it has fallen so entirely into disuse, that during the six months I remained in the Society Isles I never once saw it.
So I was much
delighted when, this morning we were invited to go to the shore to see
a party of men indulging in this sport.
Owing to the entire absence of coral-reef, the surf at all times breaks on these shores with prodigious violence.
But in stormy weather this is, of course, increased tenfold, and the great green billows come rushing in with overwhelming force.
These are the delight of the surf-riders.
Each carries a surf-board, which is simply a wooden plank, and raiment is of course almost nil.
the first wave, they rise beyond it, and swim out to sea till they meet
another, and then another, in each case diving just at the right moment,
to allow the billow to pass over them.
If they miscalculate by one second, the surf catches them and dashes them shoreward, when they need to be good swimmers to escape being battered on the rocks.
But long practice
makes perfect, and many of the surf-riders dive safely beneath each successive
wave, till they reach the comparatively smooth water beyond the swell.
Then laying themselves flat on their board, they prepare for their exciting ...
Their first care is to select a winning sea- horse.
They calculate that every third wave is larger than the rest, and rushes higher on the
beach; so their aim is to mount the biggest billow, which carries them shoreward at almost lightning
The ride has all
the excitement of a race; for, should the rider fail to keep his plank
the right angle on the crest of the green billow, he will be overtaken by the breaking surf of the wave which follows, and to avoid this, must again dive beneath it, and swim out to sea to make a fresh start.
Should he fail to select the right wave as his courser, and find himself on one of the lesser waves, the result is the same, as it will break ere he reaches the shore, and he must again do battle with the pitiless surf and swim for his life.
But the man whose skill and luck are alike good, has a wildly exhilarating race.
He lies poised on the rushirig wave, apparently in perfect security, with the tumultuous waters and the dashing surf raging on every side.
If he can direct his course towards the sandy beach, the wave will carry him right on to it; but there is always danger of being swept on to the cruel black rocks, where the ablest steerer finds it hard to discern the narrow passages through which the seething waters rush so madly; and often he is ...
to abandon his trusty surf-board, and again turning seaward, plunge beneath
and make his way to some point where he can swim ashore in safety.
His surf-board is probably reduced to splinters in a few seconds- a loss which is to him as serious as that of a favourite bat to a cricketer.
The boards most in favour are made from the wood of the Viri-viri, (Footnote: EI"Ytl~rina corallodendrum) which is very light.
It grows in the mountains, and is much used for making fences, as it is a kindly shrub.
You have but to stick one of its branches in the earth, and it takes root, and soon is covered with a blaze of scarlet blossom.
A good surf-board is about an inch and a half in thickness, about eighteen inches wide, and eight feet long, and should be slightly hollowed down the centre, and rounded at one end.
It is stained black, frequently rubbed with cocoa-nut oil, and preserved with the greatest care, being wrapped up in cloth and hung up in some safe corner of the house.
It is called papa he nalu, - which means wave-sliding-board- and is so named from the lJapa or sledge formerly used in a game called, horua, which exactly answered to the toboggin of the Canadians.
A rude sledge of sticks and matting as laid ...
upon two long
narrow runners, perhaps eighteen feet in length and smoothly polished.
These were set at such an angle that they were only a couple of inches apart in front, but diverged about five inches at the back.
This sledge having been dragged to the top of a gently sloping hill, the player threw himself flat upon it, and guiding his course with wonderful skill , contrived to keep his balance as his frail sledge glided rapidly down the incline.
It was a game accompanied by much fun and frolic, but one which could not compare in excitement with surf-riding.
So whenever the
wind blows freshly shoreward, the people betake them to the shore, and
the sound of their mirth and laughter mingles pleasantly with the roar
of the waves.
I do not suppose, however, that even this delightful sport is kept up with half the spirit of olden days, as early travellers speak of seeing perhaps a hundred persons all riding on one immense billow, some lying flat on their board, and some standing upright, balancing themselves with marvellous skill.
To-day one or two men attempted to come in standing upright on their board, but the wind was so violent that they had ignominiously to subside, and be satisfied with lying flat, while the great green waves hurled them forward at lightning speed.
Some were lucky, and were carried right up on ...
to the sands,
but others were overtaken by the white crest of foam, which swamped them
them behind as it rushed on, when they turned and swam out again, facing the waves, to try their luck, once more.
The wind, however, proved more than even they could face, so at last they gave in and came ashore,
apparently not much exhausted.
On our homeward way we met a heavily laden timber-cart, drawn by six yoke of oxen, and driven by picturesque Hawaiians in bright-coloured shirts and gay bandana handkerchiefs.
... a most a]arming
way, an occasional glimpse of a black head or a floating surf-board being
all we saw, till, by skilfully diving right through the great billows,
the experienced swimmers finally reappeared far outside the line of breakers,
ready to remount their stecds and once more start shoreward in the wildly
These people certainly do seem to be wonderfully happy and at home in the water.
They occasionally turn their skill to very good practical account- as, for instance, during the
awful tidal wave of which I told you (pages ), when one man, who was swept out to sea in his wooden hut, had the presence of mind to wrench off a plank, and came back to shore riding triumphantly on the crest of a gigantic return-wave, which threw him high and dry on the land.
The Kingdom Of Hawaii; Its Volcanoes
And The History Of Its Missions
William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London,
1883, 1886, 1888.
DelaVega also notes a subsequent reprint of the surfriding account:
Sports: Surf Riding at Hilo, Hawaii"
Paradise of the Pacific Magazine, vol. 4, no. 5, May 1891, p. I.
Text reprinted from Fire Fountains."