Introduction Alfred St. Johnston. (1858-1891).
A detailed description of surf-riding in a a work of romantic
fiction. Page 116
Christian had not seen Soma since their morning meal; he
was much occupied just then in paying his court to a very
beautiful and well-born girl of Olasangu, whither he and
his dead friend Maraki used to go, but at mid-day he came
rushing into the shady
canoe-shed where North was at work with his men.
It always astonished him to find Christian steadily going
on with his boat-building, for a Polynesian, although he
can work hard by fits and starts, cannot understand a
'Ilo has sent me for you,' he said. 'Leave your work. All
of us are going to the shore with our gualv, lo-papa
(surf-boards). The wind is on shore, and the breakers pass
over the reef.'
Several times since Christian had been in Omeo he had
witnessed, and endeavoured to take part in, that noblest
of all sports - surf-riding, and he was glad enough to
join in it to-day.
He left his work, and, like two boys let out of school, he
and Soma ran back to the house to get the great polished
When they got back to the part of the beach where the
greatest of the great rollers came swiftly but solemnly
rushing on the shore, it was already trampled by the
little crowd that had collected there.
The place chosen was opposite the opening in the reef, for
there the huge waves, unbroken by the coral barrier, came
rolling into the land almost mountain high.
Surf-riding, besides being the most madly exhilarating of
all manly and athletic sports, is one of the most
beautiful and exciting to witness; for the players in it,
who trust themselves in the midst of such gigantic force,
seem so feeble and puny when compared with the strength of
the elements they combat with and conquer.
Already there were many men and women
in the water; some far out at sea, and others close in
shore in the midst of foam and spray, being borne lightly
and swiftly along by the racing water beneath them.
The swimmers, carrying their light surf-boards with them,
enter the foaming water just as a huge roller is about to
break, and, diving through the dark green mass of the
moving water, they come to the surface for a moment, and
swim to meet the next great wave, through which they
plunge in the same manner.
They have to dive and swim through the roller, for if they
were caught on its moving crest they would be carried back
resistlessly and dashed upon the beach.
They swim in this manner steadily out to sea, sometimes as
far as a mile from land, pushing their light boards before
them; then, having reached the comparatively smooth water
beyond the reef, they wait a moment to choose some great
splendid roller on which to launch themselves.
Getting on to the very crest of this they throw themselves
upon their board, and taking the utmost care to keep the
plank at the right angle with the ridge of the wave, they
are carried along madly to the shore. It is a sort of wild
bird's flight between sea and heaven; the strong wind
hurrying them along, and blowing out their wet and tangled
'I must go,' said Soma, his dark eyes flashing with
excitement; 'I cannot stay.
The wind says to me, "Come out to sea and fly back like a
Will you come? I should love to be out there with my
'I would come, I long to come; but you know, Soma-gita,
that the Papalangi cannot work the board.'
'Mine is large enough for two. If we can get out I can
bring you back.
We must keep together.'
Without more ado the two men put on mahis of sea-weed—as
is always done—and, only waiting for the oncoming of a
gigantic billow, they plunged into the dark-rushing water.
Soma felt Christian close to him in the water, and when
they came to the surface they were shoulder to shoulder.
Although Christian had many doubts as to his powers as a
surf-rider, in which art he was absolutely a novice, it
gave him a keen thrill of pleasure to be once more risking
dangers with his companion in former perils, and it
reminded him very vividly of that night, now long ago,
when side by side they two escaped from the ship.
There is always a strange sharp feeling of pleasure in
knowing that the life one holds so dear is in jeopardy -
it accentuates the sensation of living to feel that
perhaps one may not enjoy it long; and although the danger
that Christian ran was perhaps not very great, as he was
with so tried and expert a swimmer as Soma, still it was
present enough to his thoughts to add that wild thrill to
his heart which he who bears aloft his life in his own
So they swam out to sea, passing, as they went, many
friends who were being borne back racing to the land; some
of these were kneeling on their boards, some lying down,
and others standing upright with feet apart, and with
their sea-weed girdles and long
hair blowing in the wind, which drowned their voices as
they gaily shouted some short message to the outward
At last they passed through the great gates of the reef,
and were out on the open breast of the heaving ocean, with
its waves careering in unbroken force and the strength of
the wind unchecked.
They swam on until they passed the farthest man, and then
they turned and waited for one of the
greatest waves which they could trust would roll on with
increasing swiftness to the land without a fall or break.
It was strange to be so near the land and yet have no
glimpse of it; but so it was, for the water ran so high
between them and the shore that they could only have seen
it from the crest of the waves, and these they had had to
'Gua mo teu?' (are you ready ?) asked Soma.
'That is the wave. You must lie down. I must stand up.'
Almost as he spoke they rose on the wave, and Christian
flung himself chest down on the broad smooth plank, whilst
Soma, who had not let go of the board, flung himself on
the top of him, and gradually and steadily pulled himself
up till he had a foot on each side of North, and stood up
to his full height.
They were safely launched, and the roller carried them
swiftly along with a perfectly steady motion that
increased in speed as they neared the land.
It was a glorious time, worth all the labour and effort
necessary to gain it, and the delight of the repose and
the swift airy flight was rendered doubly intense by the
strength of the full fresh gale of wind and the awfulness
of the sea's great roaring as it broke
on the reef and again on the shore.
North turned and looked up at Soma as he stood above him
in all the magnificence of his manly beauty, like Neptune
controlling whilst delighting in his subject elements, and
his face glowed with a sort of inspiration.
All sense of danger was lost to Christian, and there was
nothing left but the delight in the wild beauty of the
moment and the strange rapture of abandoning himself to
the great forces around, which bore him along like a
feather in the wind. It seemed to him for the time that he
and his friend were alone in the universe
amidst all God's elements let loose about them, of which
they seemed - so impersonal was the moment - an undivided
He forgot Utame, he forgot his great love for her, and
Soma was as oblivious of all that he held dear.
It was one of those times when Christian's sight was as a
veil through which facts passed to the vision within and
strangely mingled truth with fantasy.
As the sea grew shallow the great waves rose higher yet as
they rolled upon the land, and it is then that the real
danger of surf-swimming begins, for if the swimmers fail
to guide their frail barks to a safe, sandy part of the
beach, they have to turn and strike out again to sea to
avoid being dashed upon the rocks.
This decisive moment had now come for Soma and Christian;
from the crest of their great roller, which was beginning
to curve for its breaking, Soma could see the crowded
beach, and he saw, too, that they were being carried upon
a low and jagged reef of limestone that in one place
jutted up through the sand.
'Hugu koi ma kakau!' (dive and swim back), he shouted to
Christian; but he either failed to understand him, or the
crashing of the breakers drowned his voice, for Christian
did not dive until a moment too late, and he and Soma were
torn from the board and swept along like straws in a
Blinded in the whirl of waters Christian seemed to lose
consciousness, though he turned and tried vainly to swim
back; then he felt himself seized by two strong arms, and
he was pulled down under the great dim wall of water.
The next moment Soma was flung upon the sand, and, with
Christian in his arms, staggered out of the back rush of
He had managed to dive as they were being cast upon the
rocks, and the
swimmers making a few superhuman strokes the following
wave threw them on the beach.
Breast to breast, and with his great heart beating against
Christian's, he dragged him back from the very jaws of
breath had chilled their souls.
Johnston, Alfred: A South Sea Lover : A Romance. London ; Macmillan,