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john r, musick  : surf riding in hawaii, 1896 

 John R. Musick : Surf Riding at Kailua, Hawaii, 1896.

Extracts from
Musick, John R..:
Hawaii - Our New Possessions.
Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1898.

 Musick's book was one of a multitude of American books promoting Hawai'i as a tourist destination and/or chronicling the annexation of a number of U.S. territories published at the end of the19th century.

The body of the text is in two sections; the first is an account of his visit to the Hawai'ian Islands in 1895-1896, Chapters 1 to 25.
A  record of Musick's personal observations, it includes the surf riding content, and is concluded in the final chapter with his departure from Honolulu in February 1896.
Throughout this section Musick is consistantly awed by the skill  and knowledge of native Hawaii'ians in and on the ocean:
"It has promoted a knowledge of navigation, and led to a minute and accurate observation of winds, currents, and channels, lent scope and fervor to the imagination, and set aflame the poetic spirit of the race."
This is dramatically illustrated in the role of Hikia, "a noted diver and surf-rider," when Musick attempts to embark from Molaki, pages 111 to 115.

Surfboard riding is briefly described on pages 72 and 73 in a chapter devoted to traditional native customs, however he is highly impressed when he encounters the surf riding school children of Kailua, Hawaii, pages 226-227.
"The older boys were exercising on surf-boards, and one standing upright was whirled to the shore with fearful velocity, - then my thoughts went back to the old pictures in the geography, and I said: 'It was true.'"
"The old pictures in the geography" possibly refers to William Swinton's Grammar School Geography, published in 1880, that has an etching of a Polynesian beach scene.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, a similar reference is made by Alexander Hume Ford in his first extensive article on surfriding, "Riding Breakers", published in The Evening Bulletin in July 1908.

While delightful, the account of the younger surf riders presents one difficulty:
"The surf was rolling considerably, and some had logs of light wood, and one or two surf-boards.
One of the most interesting sights I witnessed was a little girl, eight or ten years of age, riding the waves on a log.
The waves gave the log the undulating motion of a rocking-horse, and she screamed with delight, and brushing her long, dark, and damp tresses from her face, shouted to her companions to catch her if they could."

Clearly, the schoolchildren were using two different designs of craft.
The "surf-board" of the older boys was likely an alia, a wide thin board known to be still in use throughout the islands and familiar to Musick, if only from his reading or from illustrations.
The "logs of light wood," were possibly simple raw pieces of timber.
There is a remoter possibility, given the "primitive state" of Kailua as noted by Musick, that these were some of the last of the olo boards still in use.
This ancient design was ridden prone and denoted by its narrowness, thickness and, built of willi willi, its light weight.

Kailua Beach, Hawaii, is reported to be the favorite beach of U.S. President, Barack Obama.

The second section, Chapters 26 and 37, recounts the ancient Hawai'i tradtions and the history of the islands up to their annexation in June 1897.
As acknowledged in the preface, this is largely based on various local sources, including W. D. Alexander, Thomas Thrum, and several newspapers.
There is also an appendix with documents pertaining to the annexation, fold out map, Hawai'ian glossary, and an index.

The richly coloured and gold embossed cover illustration is reproduced, with a photograph of a native fisherman, in half-tone on a plate facing page 72.
The photograph, Fisherman posed in front of a large sheet of kapa, is by James J. Williams

- James J. Williams, “Fisherman posed in front of a large sheet of kapa,”
Hawaiian Historical Society Historical Photograph Collection (accessed January 29, 2013)

The  plates are "half-tone reproductions from photographs with border decorations by Phillip E. Flintoff," presumably Flintoff is reponsible for the surf riding illustration.
In addition there are pen sketches, by Freeland A. Carter, scatted thoughout the margins of the text.
Girl on Boat, page 447, is based on a photograph taken at Hilo in the 1890s, where the two waves breaking on a reef in the background are more clearly defined.\

John Roy Musick (1849–1901)
While still a teenager, John Musick had several poems and short stories published, some under humorous pseudonyms such as Benjamine Broadaxe and Ebenezer Slypole. After devoting his full attention and livelihood to writing he became quite a prolific author with some 139 works in 277 publications.[3] His best known work is the 14-volume Columbian Historical Novels published in 1892 by Funk & Wagnalls


[Shores of Hilo Bay]


I made a journey to each of the islands, visited every point of interest on them, and have endeavored to give a truthful and unbiased representation of the country, its industries. resources, and history.
Like all countries the islands have a story, and like all stories this one has two sides; I heard both, and I selected what to me seems most reliable.
I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness for information used in this volume to Prof: W. D. Alexander, Professor Lyons, Mr. H. M. Whitney, Mr, Thomas G. Thrum, Dr. C. T. Rodgers, Mr. L. D. Timmons


of The Star, also to The Pacific Commercial Advertiser and Evening Bulletin of Honolulu, and to Mr. Sereno Bishop, one of the oldest missionaries on the island.
Trusting this new candidate for public favor may meet with the success of preceding volumes from the same pen, it is now given to the world.

KIRKSVILLE. Mo., September I, 1897.

Facing page 5


Page 15

The most popular resort of the people of Oahu is the famous Waikiki-(Wy-kee-kee) , the accent being on the last syllable.
Waikiki is the seaside and pleasure-resort of the island.
It is the Long Branch of Honolulu, its Brighton or Trouville.
There are a number of private residences, picturesque-looking bungalows and cottages, but all airy, comfortable, and close to the murmuring sea.
A beautiful grove of towering coconut-trees adds to the tropical charm of the place.
The southern portion of this grove used to be a favorite abode of the kings of Oahu before the conquest of the island, and after that event it belonged to the family of Kameha-

Page 16

meha the conqueror.
Bath-houses that equal those in Long Branch are found here and sea-bathing in January is as pleasant as in July.
There is no clearer water, no finer beach, no smoother bottom in any of the many famous watering-places than are found at Waikiki.
The sharks, sometime's dangerous in the South, are seldom or never seen wiihin the reef at this place.

Everybody who goes to Honolulu must see Waikiki.
I had not been in the city a week before I was induced to pay a visit to the famous Sans Souci- the house at Waikiki which had sheltered Robert Louis Stevenson.
Boarding one of the plain, airy cars drawn by a span of lazy mules, one afternoon, I made the journey at an easy gait.
Such a trip is full of interest.
From the open car one gazes out upon the quaint houses, some European, some Oriental, and others on the American plan.
A cosmopolitan people are to be seen upon the streets.
I observed that mine was the only white face in the car.
The Chinese and Hawaiians predominated, but there was a sprinkling of Japs among the people.
At one of the cross-streets we stopped to pick up a white gentleman, who seemed a plain, unassuming business man.
On out into the suburbs we were whirled, with the sea on one side, the great banana plantations on the otber.
The half-mile bridge, an old plantation, two very beautiful and picturesque spots, lay on our

Page 17

left, and a romantic forest beyond.
Innumerable native huts, with half-naked children running about them, were on either side.
Far out to sea was a native canoe with three fishermen in it.
The day was  fine; the blue sea, clear sky, and balmy breeze made existence delightful.
I soon became engaged in conversation with the white passenger, whose name was Thomas E. Evans, and who gave me consideral information, pointing out the historic points as passed them.
He lived at the famous house Sans Souci, and invited me to go there with him, which I gladly consented to do.
Mr. Evans had been a great favorite with the kings and queens of Hawaii, and is a rank royalist.
His wife at one time was one of the queen's maids of honor.
The manager place showed me the room, which had been occupied by Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author, whose "Dr. Jeykl and Mr. Hyde" has been read by all the English-speaking world.
He described Mr. Stevenson as a small, nervous man, a cigarette and opium fiend.
He said he could be quite sociable when he was in the mood, but at times was irritable.
After a bath in the famous bathing-place, Mr. Evans and I returned to the lanai to rest and talk.

Page 19

I remained at Sans Souci until a late hour, then walked down the broad beautiful beach road to the end of the stret car line, waited until a car came, and returned to the city.


Page 66

The Hawaiian is indispensable to the inter-island traffic, where absolute fearlessness of the sea is essential.
The manning of boats at all hours, day or night, to carry passengers or freight to and from the steamers at the various landings is done altogether by the Hawaiians.
This is a hazardous employment, requiring skill, courage, and hardihood.
I have seen these brave men battle for hours, in wind, rain, and angry seas, to effect a landing at some dangerous points; I have seen their boats capsized and crushed on the rocks along the shore, but so skilful are the boatmen that seldom is one of them drowned.
I have often

Page 67

braved the dangers of the sea with a Hawaiian crew, at landings and in surfs where nothing would have tempted me to try it with a crew of white sailors.
They swim like fish, and the capsizing of a canoe or boat is a matter of indifference to them.
They are the only deep-sea fishermen, and often go in their frail canoes out of sight of land, but rarely fail to return.

The sea has done more for the native, in developing skill and ingenuity, than the land.

Page 71

As a fisherman the Kanaka exceeds all others.
The moment he decides to "go a-fishing" he is a new being.
He is awakened from his lethargic state, and alertness, judgment, and enthusiasm mark his every movement.
He makes his preparations with great patience and minuteness.
He overlooks nothing that will contribute to his success.
His canoe is put in trim, his lines are all inspected, and his whole house-hold enlisted in the capture of crabs on the rocks and in their hiding-holes.
He seems guided by instinct as well as skill in securing his bait.
There is no more fascinating sight than the Kanaka launching his canoe, and guiding it with his paddle, as he rides supreme on the threatening swell that breaks with revengeful roar behind him, just as he slips gracefully from its crest.
He is in his element.
He laughs at the raging beach-combers as he deftly turns between them, and races his canoe through a strip of unbroken

Page 72

water, out of range of danger, into the deep sea.
It takes him a moment only, but you stand spellbound at his prowess.
No more is he the indolent native lying so lazily and comfortably on the velvety manie-nie grass yonder by the grass house.
He is a hero, with a manual skill little less than marvelous.

His contest with the sea, necessitated by the craving for what the sea could supply, has, from early days, been the chief stimulus in the development of Hawaiian character.
It has called out skill, courage, sagacity, ingenuity, and abilty to endure and conquer.
It has promoted a knowledge of navigation, and led to a minute and accurate observation of winds, currents, and channels, lent scope and fervor to the imagination, and set aflame the poetic spirit of the race.
The old songs and most cherished traditions are replete with references to the sea.
The sea is the Hawaiian's classic, from which have come the seven wonders of his legendary world, and on its foam-crested billows, never to return, have departed the adventurous spirits of his race, aglow with the ardor of discovery and conquest.
Not only does the sea furnish the Hawaiian with food and employment, it also affords him his chief amusement.
Surf-riding is an old and heroic sport for which Hawaiians have always been noted.
In ancient times it was practised in honor of the kings and chiefs, but since has become a royal sport on its

Facing Page 72

Page 73

own account.
The surf-board is a long, thick plank, carefully shaped, with ends rounded, on which the native rides on the crest of the great billows rolling shoreward.
The skill consists in mounting the wave at an opportune moment, and in keeping the surf-board in such relation to the movement of the billow so that the latter will propel the rider at a tremendous speed toward the shore.
Expert surf-riders will rise as they rush along until they stand erect with folded arms, complete masters of the waves, which they seem to drive before them like chariot-steeds.
Tho not witnessed so frequently as formerly, surf-riding is still a popular sport on some of the islands.

Many of the ancient Hawaiian games such as coasting, rolling quartz, and bowling are lost arts to the present generation, who have substituted baseball, football, and more modern sports.
Tho one can not but feel sad when any sport truly heroic passes from the knowledge of man, yet the sports of the present generation indicate that the Hawaiians have begun to adopt modern thought and methods.

Visitors to Honolulu note the ease and self-possession of Hawaiian boys in the water near the wharves at the departure of ocean steamers.
Tossing nickels in the water to see the boys dive for them is common sport.
They seldom fail to catch a piece of money before it sinks, tho it is tossed in the water several feet from them.
I have seen boys with their mouths

Page 74

full of nickles and dimes caught while sinking.
The natives never fail to know when a shark is in the harbor, and are rarely caught.

Page 111

(Musick accompanies a large party of officials on visit to the leper colony on Molaki)
As we descended the hill and came in sight of Kalaupapa, we noticed that the surf was rolling high.
A boat was just pulling out from the shore to the Ke Au Hou, at anchor a fourth of a mile away.

"The wind is rising,"Dr. Capron said  while a shade of anxiety passed over his face.
"If we go aboard that ship to-day we must do it very soon."

Putting our horses to a gallop we thundered down toward the beach.
One of the ship's boats containing Captain Thompson, Purser Kelley, and a native crew, pulled out from the "rock pen" and started toward the ship.
A mighty wave, seeming mountain high, rolled toward it, struck the prow of the boat with such force as to capsize it, and the officers and crew were struggling in the rolling surf, which for a moment buried them.
The boat was lifted on the top of a foam-crested wave, and rolled over and over on the rocks until it was crushed as if it had been an egg- shell.
Fortunately, the skipper and crew were swept on the rocks with only a few bruises, and all miraculously escaped.

By the time we drew up our panting steeds along the stormy beach, the captain and his crew had crawled out of the water.
They gave us the encouraging intelligence that the provisions brought from the ship had been lost in the sea, by the capsizing of

Page 112

a former boat, and the prospects tor a continued fast on the lsland were excellent.

The question that most concerned us was how we were to get on board the ship.
The surf was dashing with increased violence every moment, and while the capsizing of the captain's boat might be regarded in
the light of an accident, there was no doubt that an attempt to reach the ship would be attended with great danger.
We returned to the guest-house, whither the others had gone, and held a consultation.
Chief-Engineer McLean, Purser Kelly, and Captain Thompson determined to manage in some way to get the commander of the craft aboard.
The captain, purser, and crew took their place in the second boat, and a native named Hikiau stood holding the bow-line while he watched the great waves roll in shoreward.
It was a thrilling moment.
The captain whispered some words in the ear of the chief engineer, who was to remain behind, and placed his watch and purse in
his possession.
His face was very pale, but he was calm, and on his brow was stamped that determination that makes heroes.
Hikiau kept his eye on the rolling waves, that broke in crested splendor with the roar of thunder upon the rocks, occasionally giving a word of command to the crew in the boat bobbing up and down in the rock pen.

Three great waves had just exhausted their force on the shore when Hikia gave a shout, released the

Page 113

cable, and the boat shot out of the rock pen to dash into the roaring surf.
The natives on the dock , cheered the native sailors, who fearlessly bent to their oars, sending the boat bounding over the waves. One monster, angry billow came rolling forward with such fury that it seemed as if it would inevitably bury the boat beneath it.
The prow of the boat mounted it, and at one time the craft seemed to be almost perpendicular, in fact so much so that those in the boat had hard work to hold their places.
It swept over the wave, and the prow dipped down into the trough of the sea, and the stern kicked up its heels with such force as to threaten to throw the passengers out over the bow.
The boat swept safely on, however, and was soon in smoother water.
Everyone who had held his breath during the danger now gave vent to wild cheers, answered from those of the crew on the ship. The captain and his boatmen were soon safely on board the ship, but the gale was increasing and the surf growing more and more dangerous.

The Board of Health decided that it would be impossible for us to go aboard the ship from the Kalaupapa side.
Some thought that on the other side of the peninsula, at either Kalawao or Waikolu Point, the sea would be smooth enough for the ship to approach the shore.
Ambrose Hutchins sent a horseman flying over to the other side to ascertain the condition of the sea there.
I could not endure the thought of

Page 114
spending a night on this horrible island, and was almost tempted to plunge into the rolling surf and swim to the ship, or perish in the effort.

In an incredibly short time the messenger came flying back with the glad news that the sea was calmer on the other side. 
Now came the serious question of how we were to get instructions to the captain to take the ship around to Kalawao. 
Hikiau settled the matter by offering to swim off to the ship with a message.

"Write it out, put it in a bottle, seal it, and give it to me," he said.
Hikiau was a large bewhiskered native, brave as a lion, and a noted diver and surf-rider.
Clothed only in a malo, he took the bottle in which was the order from the Board of Health to the captain of the ship. 
I never saw a more perfect picture of physical manhood than when Hikiau took his place on the rocks to make his great swim.
Like the trained diver that he was he watched his chance. 
On came rolling a huge breaker, capable of crushing a block of brick buildings. 
Just as it was about to burst in fury on the rocks he plunged head first into it. 
With a hollow roar the wave dashed on the cold gray stones and

Page 115

a cloud of spray hid everything from view.
So long was he hidden by the waves that even the most experienced feared he was lost.
At last he rose triumphant on the other side, and struck out for the ship.
Another and another billow came rolling toward him, and he mounted them with the ease and grace of a swan, while wild cheers rose above the thunder of the sea.
He finally reached deep water, and with a few powerful strokes darted through it like a seal and reacfied the ship's side.
A rope was thrown to him, and with agility as a climber exceeded only by his skill as a swimmer, he reached the deck.

A few minutes after he reached the deck the steamer hoisted anchor and steered for the opposite side of the peninsula.
Again we mounted the horses and thundered over the hill to Kalawao, accompanied by three or four hundred lepers, far more sociable than was agreeable.
The very streets of the village were filled with the stench of leprosy, and I determined to get off to the ship that night if it was possible.
The sun was already low in the west, and the sky, which at noon had been clear, was overcast with lowering clouds, while the eternal roar of the surf fell on our ears.

Musick and his party are unable to board the Ke Au Hou at Kalawao, or at Waikolu Point where eight passengers where able to board before the conditions deteriorated even further.
Forced to spend an uncomfortable night at Kalawao, the party was forced to cross the island via the pali, and meet the steamer at Kaunakai.

Page 168

Another attraction at Hilo is Coconut Island, where tall, graceful coconuts grow in abundance.
Surrounded by the dashing sea, it forms a picture that is artistic and beautiful, and makes

Page 169

it a favorite object fot the amateur photographer.

Page 225   AT KAILUA (Hawaii)

Perhaps in no place can the native Hawaiian be found more nearly in his primitive state than in Kailua.
Men and women fishers clothed only with the malo were seen about the beach with their nets and spears.
I saw one man, at a single cast of his net, sweep in seventy-five mullet.
A woman, perfectly

Page 226

naked save the malo, was creeping around in the shallow water gathering a sort of mollusk, called the sea-urchin, from the rocks. The sea-urchin is a burr-like mollusk, with stubby tentacles or legs, which move slowly when out of the water.
She had a basket nearly filled with them and was taking them home to supper.
A man with a spear next attracted my attention.
He was wading in the shallow water, thrusting his spear into the holes in the rocks, and bringing out many quaint and curious specimens of the finny tribe.
While I watched the fishermen, school was dismissed for the day, and the children of both sexes from five to fifteen years of age came running to the dock, where they disrobed themselves, and, nude as our original parents before the first sin, plunged into the water.
Their screams and shouts of merriment soon drew some gentlemen to the dock, and the little rascals began to cry for nickels. Several coins were tossed one at a time into the water, and they invariably caught them before they reached the bottom.
The surf was rolling considerably, and some had logs of light wood, and one or two surf-boards.
One of the most interesting sights I witnessed was a little girl, eight or ten years of age, riding the waves on a log.
The waves gave the log the undulating motion of a rocking-horse, and she screamed with delight, and brushing her long, dark, and damp tresses from

Page 227

her face, shouted to her companions to catch her if they could.
The older boys were exercising on surf-boards, and one standing upright was whirled to the shore with fearful velocity, - then my thoughts went back to the old pictures in the geography, and I said: "It was true."

Page 361


Page 447

Page 477  ALOHA

FEBRUARY I, 1896, the day of my departure from this delightful country, dawned bright and clear.


The water about the AustraIia was alive with boys swimming like fish, or sitting upright, calling to the passengers to toss their nickels in the water and see them dive for the coin.

When a gentleman made a motion to throw a small coin this way and that, the water was all commotion.
The heads glided here and there, the flying hands and feet beat the sea to a foam.
The gentleman at last tossed the coin far away from any of them.
There was a loud splashing and naked legs and feet disappeared under the water.
There was a great swirling and commotion as if submarine monsters were battling, then the waters grew more calm, and only a ripple here and there told where the divers had disappeared.
A few moments elapsed, and then a head appeared, and then another and another, until

Page 479

all were once more above the surface.
One boy bobbed up half-way out of the water, and holding the coin aloft in his hand cried' "Here's yer neekel!"

A cheer for the successful diver went up from the deck, and other nickels were tossed into the water for the divers to catch, and not one was lost. 

1."my thoughts went back to the old pictures in the geography, and I said: 'It was true,'" page 227.
Scene in Polynesia.
Swinton, William: 
Grammar School Geography 
Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, and Company
New York and Chicago,
1881, page 105.
2. Girl on Boat, page 447.
Canoe at Hilo Bay, Hawai'i circa 1890.
Photograph Charles Furneaux, Bishop Museum.
Cropped Holmes: Hawaiian Canoe (1993), page 77.
Surfrider's attention will focus on the
two waves on the right hand 
reef in the background.

Musick, John R..:
Hawaii - Our New Possessions.
Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1898.

Above: Cover and title page.

Left: Cover detail.

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Geoff Cater (2012) : John R. Musick : Surf Riding at Kailua, Hawaii, 1898.