Introduction Following a short account of surfboard riding, Naphtha
gives several accounts of swimming remarkable distances by
Hawaiians. Page 25
HAWAIIAN SKETCHES, SECOND PAPER.
The Hawaiians were so fond of swimming that they took this
means of throwing off the responsibility of rearing their
children. The practice of infanticide in former times
accounts for the rapid decrease in the native population.
But those children who were allowed to live became almost
amphibious, learning to swim before they could walk and
expert beyond description.
“In former years, when the waves ran high, after a storm, a
whole native population would sometimes put their surfboards
under their arms and go out for an afternoon’s frolic.
The surf-board is a heavy plank about six feet long and a
foot or two in width.
It is used in the water very much as a coasting sled is used
With this board under him, the swimmer dives under the
crests of the large breakers, and emerges beyond them where
he waits, board in hand, for a large, incoming wave.
Quickly the swimmer jumps upon his board, and rides on the
crest of the wave, borne toward the shore with increasing
speed. Sometimes the more expert stand delicately balanced
on their boards, as they fly shoreward with the speed of a
It would be fatal to the ordinary swimmer to attempt such a
feat; either the undertow would suck him under, or, if he
escaped this peril, he would be in great danger of slipping
on the board and injuring himself severely.
The Kanakas are not only skillful, but very powerful
Leander swam the Hellespont and people have been talking
about it ever since; I know two or three Kanakas, now in
this garden, who would undertake an equal task and consider
it only a pleasant plunge before dinner.
Captain Webb's great swim from Dover to Calais has often
been surpassed by natives.
That brings to mind an incident of the early government of
The king, as advised by his council, resolved to make use of
a certain small island some twenty miles from the mainland
by converting it into a prison.
A score or more of prisoners were placed on the island with
provisions and all means of escape removed.
When an opportune time arrived, the prisoners girded up
their loins and swam ashore.
When the officials returned to find the island deserted,
they gave up the project in disgust.
Another incident shows how perfectly at home the Hawaiians
are in the water.
Some time ago, a schooner with a few natives on board and a
drunken captain was wrecked three miles or so from any
possible landing place.
In stead of the usual frenzied conduct incident to a ship-
wreck, the whole company calmly jumped over-board as the
vessel was sinking, watched her disappear, and then,
gathering together, they held a short prayer-meeting in the
waves, commending themselves to God's protection and praying
for their safe delivery.
The meeting then adjourned to the nearest shore, three or
four miles off, where they all arrived in safety.
Another, a more heroic example of what Hawaiians can
accomplish in the water, is the story of Nowed's great swim.
In a beautiful valley of Molokai, shut in by precipitous
volcanic cliffs, draped with the most delicate ferns, I once
found an old native woman, Nowed, who had been renowned for
Her son Newene we Maolina, gave me the story, as we sat
cross-legged on a mat in the shade of banana trees,
surrounded by a noisy brood of grand-children, who had been
attracted by the savory odor of roast-dog, and the large
calabash of poi.
I contented myself with bananas.
While crossing the rough channel between Maui and Molokai in
a canoe, with her aged father and a few others, a squall
struck them, and threw the whole party on the mercy of the
They were about twenty miles from land and their only hope
was in swimming.
It was a rough sea even for native swimmers.
The aged father was the first to weaken, and he urged his
daughter to leave him and to save herself; but she clasped
the old man's hands about her neck and bore him on.
Even then, his strength was fast failing.
One by one, the party thinned.
He grew weaker and weaker until he had not strength to
unclasp his firmly
With her dying father on her back she swam many hours.
There were only two other survivors; the rest had
surrendered to the waves.
She spoke to him.
She felt his grasp grow rigid.
The prolonged exertion began to tell upon her also.
With her father's body on her back, with death’s embrace
about her, she struggled on.
As she approached the reef, the fear of sharks added to her
She could not leave her father's remains to those ravenous
water hyenas; the dreadful thought put new life into her
weak limbs. Only one mile more, but it seemed like twenty to
her exhausted frame.
Would she ever reach the coral-reef ?
For her father's sake she must.
What was that shriek far ahead?
Had the others been attacked by a shark?
There was only one swimmer now.
Was she to meet this horrible death after hours of swimming?
The monster was not to be seen.
By main force of will, after her nervous activity was nearly
gone, she dragged her charge upon the reef, which was
partially uncovered by the tide, and lay there, beaten by
the breakers, until the only other survivor had sent a
Page 28 ...
: University of California, Berkeley. Volume 17
Number 3, 18 October 1889.