a.h. ford :
riding the surf
in hawaii, 1909
Hume Ford : Riding the Surf in Hawaii, 1909. Alexander Hume Ford : Riding the Surf in Hawaii.
Collier's Outdoor America. P. F. Collier, New York, August 14, 1909. Volume 43 Number 21, page
Sport of the Pacific Islands, in Which Both Natives
and Whites Become Adept at Triumphing Over the
Beach-Combers, Kept Aﬂoat by Skill and Speed
ALEXANDER HUME FORD
practising in the small surf, a few hundred yards from the beach,
where one may stand waist-deep in the
water, and start his board with a strong shove,
while throwing himself ﬂat upon it.
long rolling billows on both of our coasts where surfboard
riding may be indulged in.
It has been done at Atlantic City, and is being taught by a
Hawaiian youth in southern California, but it is in Hawaii
that the waves
run best and longest and where the enthusiast may indulge
both summer and winter.
At Waikiki the great waves begin to form a mile out at sea
beyond the outer reef.
It is just before they break for their long foaming run that
the expert seeks to catch the billow.
If successful he gently slides down the foaming hill of
water until near its base, and here he keeps the bit of
board, to be carried at express speed toward the beach.
The wave dies, but always another forms, and the trick is to
carry the board over from one to another: this requires much
practise, but there are those who, when there is a half
storm brewing, catch the ﬁrst wave far out, pass over to the
next, and sometimes guide the board safely before the third
or inner line of breakers to land high and dry upon the
The surfboard of the old Hawaiian was usually of native
mahogany, twelve feet long perhaps, for often two stood upon
the one board.
The surfboard of to-day seldom exceeds eight feet in length
and is more often nearer six.
On the smallest of these boards - i.e., one six feet long
and eighteen inches wide - the heaviest man may stand, if he
knows how, while the force of the wave is behind him; but in
quiet waters a child may sink it.
Before the big waves can be caught - the water where they
form is twelve feet deep - it is necessary to develop
muscles in the arms and shoulders that will propel the board
at a speed, for a second at least, equal to that of the
forward motion at the base of the advancing billow: if this
is accomplished, the board is lifted up and carried forward
at a. blinding speed, and it then becomes a matter of
strength in holding on and skill in balancing the frail
plank, for even the most expert may slip.
If the rider is conﬁdent enough, he may start his own board
by standing beside it and giving it a forward shove, at the
right moment, just as the wave is upon him.
Many, many times probably he will roll over, but at last the
knack of balancing comes to him, and he is ready to try to
stand upon his board while it is in full forward motion, not
such a difficult feat after all, in the small surf where the
waves are not more than two or three feet high at most.
His real trials commence when he deserts the shallows and
strikes out for the deep.
usually made of native mahogany and pointed at one end, will
hold up the heaviest man with the force of a wave
behind him, but in quiet waters they will sink with
the weight of a child.
IT TAKES muscle and endurance, lying upon a bit of planking
with only an inch or two of the bow above water, to paddle a
mile out to where the waves form.
There is half a minute of violent, then several seconds of
supreme, effort, the board begins to rise upon the wall of
water, and then comes the fight to keep it from ﬂoating
above the crest and sinking back in the rear of a lost wave.
Even on the summit of the billow all is not lost; a few
powerful strokes you give with your face flat on the board,
then as you feel your feet slightly tilt upward, down come
the arms in a twinkling until the hands grasp the board
amidship in a grip of iron, the feet are drawn up to the
center of the board with a quick convulsive motion and you
leap to your feet, erect and balanced- if you fail, the
board flies from under you and is tossed in air.
But if the wave is yours, there is a thrill like none other
in all the world as you stand upon its crest, and look down
into the hollow
green valley before you.
As the wave curls and is about to break, the strongest foot
is put forward toheat the bow down in a
slanting direction and a quick
turn given to the whole body, so that the board swerves and
descends the hill of green on the bias.
To-day Judges of the Supreme Court in Hawaii, with their
wives and daughters. ex-Governors and their families, and
the greater portion of the prominent business men are
surfboard enthusiasts, while the schoolboys and girls of
Honolulu, now that they have spacious grounds near the beach
for their separate bath-houses. canoe-sheds, and surfboard
racks, spend much time in the water, and at the recent
surﬁng carnivals in honor of the visits of the American
battleship and later of the cruiser ﬂeets, practically every
prize offered for those most expert in Hawaiian water sports
were won by white boys and girls, who have only recently
mastered the art that was for so long believed to be
possible of acquirement only by the native-born,
At the Christmas contest, for the third time a white boy now
fourteen years of age won the medal given to the most expert
surfboarder; he came in a hundred yards before a monster
roller standing on his head.
The white man and boy are doing much in Hawaii to develop
the art of surf-riding.
Games and feats never dreamed of by the native are being
Nowadays the small white boy anchors an inﬂated bladder
where the waves roll by at their best, invites his
companions to take out sharpened reed spears and contest
with him in puncturing the target, the rule of the game
being that the spear must be thrown while the spearsman is
actually standing on his board.
At night acetyline lamps are strapped to the bow of the
boards, and the small boys and even men go out to ride the
their white-suited bodies being seen as they stand on the
waves in a circle of light.
This was one of the features of a recent night-water
carnival at Waikiki.
And again a white American boy came in standing on his hands
in the glow of a red signal light attached to his board.
He had carried matches out in his skull-cap, and lighted his
torch just before he caught the wave he wanted.
critical instant of all comes when catching the
wave on its crest and working the board down the
slope- the feet must tilt the plank obliquely so
that it will skim on the surface and not drop
with a thud into the bottom of the hollow, which
would send the swimmer and his vehicle ﬂying
PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE
AUTHOR, COPYRIGHT 1909 BY P.F. COLLIER & SON
America P. F.
14, 1909. Volume 43