cabinet of marvels : surf riding at hilo, 1890
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081094/00001
Original from Oxford University
Digitized 20 Sep 2006
One of many reports
from Hilo in the late 19th century, it describes the bay under extreme
conditions; the "ships in the harbour could hardly hoId their anchorage,"
and the offshore wind,"tossing spray from their crests," was "blowing a
The arrival of the large swell attracted the local surf riders and an appreciative audience, the writer acknowledging that the "priviledge of coming in upon a wave" requires the rider to initially paddle through the break, which they appear to do "no effort whatever."
The critical element of wave selection and the take-off is emphasised, the surfer "is like a cat, catching its prey."
The writer is at pains, by the use of italics ("in front of ... always in front"), to note that the board is positioned on the wave face, "pointed well downward", apparently to inform the reader who might be mislead by some of the early published illustrations.
The downward angle of the board is maintained until the wave is about to close-out ("topple over"), when the board is stalled (put into "into a horizontal position") and the rider quits the wave ("drop behind it").
Many 19th century accounts report an alternate method of dismount, whereby the rider pushes the board down into the base of the wave, known as an Island pull-out.
James Sangster and Company, London, 1878.
James Sangster and Company., London, 1890.
Frederick Warne and Co, London, [1891?]
John G. Murdoch, 1880.
The Hawaiian 's
wonderful feat of surf-riding has become world-renowned.
Taught to swim, sometimes before he can walk, he is a perfectly amphibious creatture.
The children play for hours at a time in the surf; indeed, it is difficult to say how long a Hawaiian could remain in the water.
On the papa-hee-nalu, or surf-board, the native wiII surmount billow after billow with wonderful dexterity; standing, sitting, or lying at full length on a plank (about six feet long and two feet wide, with rounded corners) he rides old Ocean's huge billows as easily as the jockey rides his horse.
The harbour of
Hilo is well adapted for the sport.
Its beach is a mile and a half long, and lies in a semi-clrcle; upon it the breakers' roar is deafening, and in a storm, the waves pound upon it with appalling fury.
shape far from land, they sweep across the bay, leaping as they fly, and
tossing spray from their crests.
No craft nor human being could live a moment in such a sea, one would say; and yet it was with just such a sea running that all Hilo turned out to see the surf-riders, for the rougher the sea the finer the sport.
Depositing their clothing upon the sand-bank, the bathers plunged into the surf.
For the priviledge of coming in upon a wave they must swim far out beyond the line of breakers, and this a native does with the utmost ease by simply diving under each wave.
A wave never retards his outward progress nor gives him an unexpected slap in the face.
We watched the
heads appear and disapear with every approaching roller and the rapidity
with which the natives swam out against the incoming sea was wonderful.
It seemed no effort whatever; and yet the wind was blowing a gale, and ships in the harbour could hardly hoId their anchorage.
At from half a
mile to two miles away the surf-riders turned their faces shoreward and
One after another enormous billows came plunging aIong, under which the swimmer disappeared only to reappear and wait for a larger; for only the largest and most turbutent wave gives one a fair start and carries its passenger to the shore.
And now comes
a "comber," tearing through the water like an infuriated animal.
At a short distance the native sees it, and instantly he is transfigured; every fibre of is being is alive with the intensity of the moment.
He is like a cat, catching its prey, for he must make as instantaneous a spring, to be caught and borne along by that ingoing swell: one second too late and it will drop him behind.
Just as it begins to curl above his head and he feels its lifting force, there is a motion, quick as lightning, and our surf-rider is lying full length
on his board,
head downward, in front of the wave, and travelling at the rate
of forty miles an hour.
With inconceivable dexterity he keeps his papa-hee-nalu in position; always in front of the wave, and pointed well downward, he is propelled by the pressure upon the underside of the board.
The wave in its
progress picks up passenger after passenger, and as it approaches the shore,
fairly hurling its daring riders forward, the wild enthusiasm of the spectators
breaks forth in ringing huzzahs; the shouts almost drown the roar of the
surf; and how the wild scene makes one's blood tingle!
The uninitiated grow breathless with suspense, for they expect to see the natives dashed upon the beach by the breaking wave, more dead than alive.
Not at all!
The latter seem to know by instinct when the billow will topple over, and that rnoment they bring their papa-hee-nalu into a horizontal position and drop behind it, and when the mountain of "cruel, crawling foam" has spent itself at your feet, the surf-riders are several yards out to sea again.
If in need of rest, they take it in the water, coming to land when the day's sport is over.
They land high and dry with an incoming wave- always without accident, though completely submerged by the breaker.
The Pictorial Cabinet of Marvels
Frederick Warne and Co, London and New York, 1890.