jack london : a royal sport, 1907-1911
his wife Charmian, and crew sailed the yacht Snark into
the harbour at Honolulu sometime in late May 1907, a short
time after the arrival of professional journalist, Alexander
Ford was a widely travelled who, like London, had previously visited Hawaii.
On this visit
London was far more enthusiastic about surfing, Ford was
Their stays were brief, but their impact was huge with both promoting surfriding in widely circulated articles.
Central in their writing was George Freeth, lauded as "probably the most expert surf board rider in the world" and who "has probably done more to revive the wonderful art of the ancient Hawaiians here at home than any other one person."
landmark article, "Riding the South Sea Surf",
appeared in the October 1907 edition of the widely
circulated The Woman's Home Companion.
The article was written in the first weeks of June, several months before publication, and London's copy was probably already on its way to the Home Companion editor before Freeth was profiled by Ford in the Honolulu press at the end of the month.
Although a Honolulu paper announced the article's publication, and printed excepts, on 7th October, the Snark had reportedly left from Hilo on that same day and it is possible that London did not see it in print until he returned to San Francisco.
was subsequently reprinted in England by Pall Mall
magazine the following year and excerpts appeared in daily
papers around the world.
In 1911 it was included in a collection of London's writings from the Pacfic, Voyage of the the Snark, under the chapter heading "A Royal Sport", by which the article is now commonly known.
The preface quotes from Mark Twain's account of 1872, London clearly implying that his essay examines the claim that "none but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly."
While Twain's observation may have been largely correct in 1872, since 1890 the number and skills of haole surfers had steadily increased, and by 1907 the relative merits of native and haole surfers was an ongoing discussion on the beach at Waikiki.
"That is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of
Here, "royal" appears to imply "regal" or "stately", and the article does not specically denote the role of the ancient Hawai'ian royalty in surfing's heritage.
On the shores of Waikiki, a scene dominated by the "majestic surf," he observes a native Hawa'iian, a "Kanaka," who rides a breaker for a quarter of a mile to the beach.
In a flamboyant description, this surfboard rider is "a Mercury" who has "mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over creation," more an Olympic god than an earthly king, a role that London himself seeks to emulate.
paragraphs detail a scientific explanation of the motion of
ocean waves and an explanation of the dynamics of surf riding.
The concept that the water in an ocean wave does not move but rather is the result of a circular motion, which when interrrupted results in breaking surf, was probably enlightening to the general reader, but the scientific community had been studying this phenomena for a century
The first wave theory was proposed by Franz Gerstner of Czehoslovakia in 1802, followed by experiments in Germany with the first wave tank by the Weber brothers in 1825.
By 1867 wave motion theory was noted in books about water sports, one such work a likely source for London.
He also describes waves of translation, broken waves where the water does move shoreward, and the difficulties they pose to the surfrider.
of the dynamics of surfing is insightful in attempting to
describe the concept of triming, where the board's position
relative to the wave face appears both stationary and moving -
"you keep on sliding and you'll never reach the bottom."
He suggests that board speed equals wave speed.
While this is a necessary, or minimal, condition for successful wave riding, London does not consider one of surfriding's exciting attractions - that surfboards often travel faster than wave speed.
In his first
attempts at prone surfing with a small board at Waikiki,
London unsuccessfully attempts to emulate a number of juvenile
natives, before taking instruction from Alexander Hume Ford.
A. H. Ford is a recently arrived surfriding enthusiast, by implication "a strong swimmer" who London credits with prodigious atheletic ability.
In a matter of weeks since arriving on Oahu and without the benefits of instruction, Ford has mastered prone surfing and, after purchasing a "man's sized" board, is now riding standing and sharing waves on the outer reefs with George Freeth.
In contrast, a year later Ford would recall that he "learned the from the small boys of Waikiki" and that it took "four hours a day to the sport for nearly three months."
one of the Snark crew, Martin Johnson, also tried his
"luck at surf-board riding" while on Oahu.
Johnson's attempts were rudimentary, and he noted that surf riding "is said to be one of the greatest sports in the world, but ... it takes several months, at the least, really to learn it."
He echoed Mark Twain's view, adding "Let me say here that it is my honest belief that only the native Hawaiians ever really learn the trick in all its intricacies," this, in an apparent contradiction of Ford's assessment, "despite the fact that, at several contests held, white men have come out victorious."
Ford lends his
large board to London for a prone surfing lesson, and in half
an hour he is successfully catching waves and has advanced
to "leg-steering" to change the board's
direction, particularly useful in avoiding other bathers.
The next day Ford takes London to the "blue water " of the outer reefs where he is introduced to George Freeth and rides prone on his "first big wave."
Evidently, London had no difficulty in previously obtaining a small board and Ford is, likewise, able to procure another suitable large board for the second day's surfing.
While Freeth is clearly experienced and willing to offer useful advice, London does not otherwise directly assess his surfing skill.
London's enthusiasm gets the better of him and four hours later he returns to the beach with a severe case of sunburn.
Reports in the Honolulu press suggest that this was in the first week of June.
The article concludes with London dictating from his bed and resolving to ride standing, like Ford and Freeth, before leaving Hawai'i. .
The second printing was in Pall
Mall in 1908, under the title The Joys
of the Surf-Rider, without the quotation from
Here it had neither the quote from Twain, the sub-headings, nor the illustration.
The Cruise of the Snark.
Macmillan and Company,
New York, 1911
takes inexperienced crew, including his wife, Charmain
across the Pacific, with visits to Hawai'i, the Solomon
Islands, Western Samoa, the Marquesas, and Tahiti.
Due to illness (?), London abandoned the voyage and traveled from the Solomons to Australia by steamer in November, 1908.
On his recovery, the London's returned to California.
Establishing the book's aquatic theme, the opening sentence is "It began in the swimming pool at Glen Ellen."
Throughout there are numerous references to sea and swell condtions and several descriptive passages of the beach at Waikiki.
As well as the dramatic account of surfriding in Chapter VI, there is also a similarly enthusiastic report of speed sailing in an outrigger canoe at Raiatea in Chapter XII.
In several places, London's narrative appears to be at odds with the recollections of others; his visit to Molokai, his nautical skills, the role of Charmian, and in the account of surfboard riding.
Whereas London accredits A.H. Ford with mastering surfboard riding in a matter of weeks and without the benefits of instruction, Ford himself later wrote that he "learned from the small boys of Waikiki" and that it took "four hours a day to the sport for nearly three months."
Chapter VII, The
of Molokai, was first published in the Woman's
Home Companion in early 1908; the introduction
noting that London had "risked his neck at surf-board
riding and forced his way into the forbidden district on
In a letter to the Hawaiian Gazette in April, a correspondent complained that "London did not force himself into the settlement, as everyone here well knows, but went under official escort, and as for the risk he took with his neck at Waikiki, it is the same risk that every ten-year-old boy in the Islands takes and enjoys."
the difficulties of navigation in Chapter XIV, The Amateur
Navigator, and problems with the Snark's engines
in Chapter IX, A Pacific Traverse.
Joe Dunn, an experienced boatswain, joined the crew for the voyage from Honolulu to Hilo.
Interviewed in San Francisco in late 1907, he recalled that "during the trip everybody acted as navigator ... but most of the time it was Mrs. London in bloomers."
Furthermore, he considered the yacht's engines completely unsuitable, and noted that there was "a gasoline engine to hoist the anchor, (but) Dunn says that he could lift the little anchor with one hand."
The Esoteric Curiosa: Knowledge
Is Power: The Joys of the Surf-Rider, Pall
Mall Magazine, 1908, pages.
Illustration: P.F.S. Spence: "A young god bronzed with sunburn."
Jack London Web Page
P.F. S. Spence, (1868-1933)
painted by Spence, P. F. S.,
London, Black, 1910.
Assembly, NSW Parliament House, Sydney.
Portrait of Sir George Didds (Premier) by P.F. S. Spence, (1868-1933)
It began in
the swimming pool at Glen Ellen.
Between swims it was our wont to come out and lie in the sand and let our skins breathe the warm air and soak in the sunshine. Roscoe was a yachtsman.
I had followed the sea a bit.
It was inevitable that we should talk about boats.
We talked about small boats, and the seaworthiness of small boats.
We instanced Captain Slocum and his three years' voyage around the world in the Spray.
that we were not afraid to go around the world in a small
boat, say forty feet long.
We asserted furthermore that we would like to do it.
We asserted finally that there was nothing in this world we'd like better than a chance to do it.
And in the
end we sailed away, on Tuesday morning, April 23, 1907.
We started rather lame, I confess.
We had to hoist anchor by hand, because the power transmission was a wreck.
Also, what remained of our seventy-horse-power engine was lashed down for ballast on the bottom of the Snark.
But what of such things?
They could be fixed in Honolulu, and in the meantime think of the magnificent rest of the boat!
It is true, the engine in the launch wouldn't run, and the life-boat leaked like a sieve; but then they weren't the Snark; they were mere appurtenances.
The things that counted were the water-tight bulkheads, the solid planking without butts, the bath- room devices—they were the Snark.
And then there was, greatest of all, that noble, wind-punching bow.
We sailed out through the Golden Gate and set our course south toward that part of the Pacific where we could hope to pick up with the north-east trades.
CHAPTER IV — FINDING ONE'S WAY ABOUT
CHAPTER V — THE FIRST LANDFALL
days out from San Francisco we arrived at the island of
Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.
In the early morning we drifted around Diamond Head into full view of Honolulu; and then the ocean burst suddenly into life.
Flying fish cleaved the air in glittering squadrons.
In five minutes we saw more of them than during the whole voyage.
Other fish, large ones, of various sorts, leaped into the air.
There was life everywhere, on sea and shore.
We could see the masts and funnels of the shipping in the harbour, the hotels and bathers along the beach at Waikiki, the smoke rising from the dwelling-houses high up on the volcanic slopes of the Punch Bowl and Tantalus.
The custom-house tug was racing toward us and a big school of porpoises got under our bow and began cutting the most ridiculous capers.
The port doctor's launch came charging out at us, and a big sea turtle broke the surface with his back and took a look at us.
Never was there such a burgeoning of life.
Strange faces were on our decks, strange voices were speaking, and copies of that very morning's newspaper, with cable reports from all the world, were thrust before our eyes.
Incidentally, we read that the Snark and all hands had been lost at sea, and that she had been a very unseaworthy craft anyway. And while we read this information a wireless message was being received by the congressional party on the summit of Haleakala announcing the safe arrival of the Snark.
It was the Snark's first landfall—and such a landfall!
For twenty- seven days we had been on the deserted deep, and it was pretty hard to realize that there was so much life in the world.
We were made dizzy by it.
We could not take it all in at once.
We were like awakened Rip Van Winkles, and it seemed to us that we were dreaming.
On one side the azure sea lapped across the horizon into the azure sky; on the other side the sea lifted itself into great breakers of emerald that fell in a snowy smother upon a white coral beach.
Beyond the beach, green plantations of sugar-cane undulated gently upward to steeper slopes, which, in turn, became jagged volcanic crests, drenched with tropic showers and capped by stupendous masses of trade-wind clouds.
At any rate, it was a most beautiful dream.
The Snark turned and headed directly in toward the emerald surf, till it lifted and thundered on either hand; and on either hand, scarce a biscuit-toss away, the reef showed its long teeth, pale green and menacing.
the land itself, in a riot of olive-greens of a thousand
hues, reached out its arms and folded the Snark in.
There was no perilous passage through the reef, no emerald surf and azure sea— nothing but a warm soft land, a motionless lagoon, and tiny beaches on which swam dark-skinned tropic children.
The sea had disappeared.
The Snark's anchor rumbled the chain through the hawse-pipe, and we lay without movement on a "lineless, level floor."
It was all so beautiful and strange that we could not accept it as real.
On the chart this place was called Pearl Harbour, but we called it Dream Harbour.
CHAPTER VI — A ROYAL SPORT
Riding the South Sea Surf, 1907.
The Joys of the Surf-Rider - How I Mastered a Splendid Sport, 1908.
This transcription compounds the first three editions of the article:
1. Riding the South Sea Surf, Woman's Home Companion, 1907.
Only this edition had the preface by Mark Twain from Roughing It (1872), reproduced below.
The sub-headings only appear, and vary, in the the magazine editions, here indicated as (1907)
2. The Joys of the Surf-Rider - How I Mastered a Splendid Sport, Pall Mall, 1908.
The illustration by P.F.S. Spence only appeared in this edition, its sub-headings indicated as (1908)
3. A Royal Sport, The Cruise of the Snark, 1911.
The two adjustments in the text of the 1911 edition, noted by Patrick Moser (2008), are enclosed in [brackests].
P.F.S. Spence :
A young god bronzed with sunburn.
surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of
I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself.
—The board struck the shore in three quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time,
with a couple of barrels of water in me.
None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.
That is what it
is, a royal sport for the natural kings of earth.
The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach, and within fifty feet of the everlasting sea.
The trees also grow down to the salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward at a majestic surf thundering in on the beach to one's very feet.
Half a mile out, where is the reef, the white-headed combers thrust suddenly skyward out of the placid turquoise-blue and come rolling in to shore.
One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea.
And one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force expressing itself in fury and foam and sound.
Indeed, one feels microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with this sea raises in one's imagination a thrill of apprehension, almost of fear.
Flying Through Air (1908)
Why, they are a mile long, these bull-mouthed monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to shore faster than a man can run.
No chance at all, is the verdict of the shrinking ego; and one sits, and looks, and listens, and thinks the grass and the shade are a pretty good place in which to be.
A Master of the Bull-Mouthed Breaker (1907)
suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising
like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning
white, on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling,
precarious crest appears the dark head of a man.
Swiftly he rises through the rushing white.
His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his limbs—all is abruptly projected on one's vision.
Where but the moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands.
He is a Mercury— a black [brown] Mercury.
His heels are winged, and in them is the swiftness of the sea.
In truth, from out of the sea he has leaped upon the back of the sea, and he is riding the sea that roars and bellows and cannot shake him from its back.
But no frantic outreaching and balancing is his.
He is impassive, motionless as a statue carved suddenly by some miracle out of the sea's depth from which he rose.
And straight on toward shore he flies on his winged heels and the white crest of the breaker.
There is a wild burst of foam, a long tumultuous rushing sound as the breaker falls futile and spent on the beach at your feet; and there, at your feet steps calmly ashore a Kanaka, burnt [black] golden and brown by the tropic sun.
Several minutes ago he was a speck a quarter of a mile away.
He has "bitted the bull-mouthed breaker" and ridden it in, and the pride in the feat shows in the carriage of his magnificent body as he glances for a moment carelessly at you who sit in the shade of the shore.
He is a Kanaka—and more, he is a man, a member of the kingly species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over creation.
How I Came to Tackle
Surf Riding (1907)
sits and thinks of Tristram's last wrestle with the sea on
that fatal morning; and one thinks further, to the fact that
that Kanaka has done what Tristram never did, and that he
knows a joy of the sea that Tristram never knew.
And still further one thinks.
It is all very well, sitting here in cool shade of the beach, but you are a man, one of the kingly species, and what that Kanaka can do, you can do yourself.
Strip off your clothes that are a nuisance in this mellow clime.
Get in and wrestle with the sea; wing your heels with the skill and power that reside in you; bit the sea's breakers, master them, and ride upon their backs as a king should.
What Is A Wave? (1908)
And that is
how it came about that I tackled surf-riding.
And now that I have tackled it, more than ever do I hold it to be a royal sport. But first let me explain the physics of it. A wave is a communicated agitation.
The water that composes the body of a wave does not move. If it did, when a stone is thrown into a pond and the ripples spread away in an ever widening circle, there would appear at the centre an ever increasing hole.
No, the water that composes the body of a wave is stationary.
Thus, you may watch a particular portion of the ocean's surface and you will see the sane water rise and fall a thousand times to the agitation communicated by a thousand successive waves.
Now imagine this communicated agitation moving shoreward.
As the bottom shoals, the lower portion of the wave strikes land first and is stopped.
But water is fluid, and the upper portion has not struck anything, wherefore it keeps on communicating its agitation, keeps on going. And when the top of the wave keeps on going, while the bottom of it lags behind, something is bound to happen.
The bottom of the wave drops out from under and the top of the wave falls over, forward, and down, curling and cresting and roaring as it does so.
It is the bottom of a wave striking against the top of the land that is the cause of all surfs.
transformation from a smooth undulation to a breaker is not
abrupt except where the bottom shoals abruptly.
Say the bottom shoals gradually for from quarter of a mile to a mile, then an equal distance will be occupied by the transformation.
Such a bottom is that off the beach of Waikiki, and it produces a splendid surf- riding surf.
One leaps upon the back of a breaker just as it begins to break, and stays on it as it continues to break all the way in to shore.
Just what Surf Riding Means (1907)
- A Simple Outfit (1908)
And now to
the particular physics of surf-riding.
Get out on a flat board, six feet long, two feet wide, and roughly oval in shape.
Lie down upon it like a small boy on a coaster and paddle with your hands out to deep water, where the waves begin to crest. Lie out there quietly on the board.
Sea after sea breaks before, behind, and under and over you, and rushes in to shore, leaving you behind.
When a wave crests, it gets steeper. Imagine yourself, on your hoard, on the face of that steep slope.
If it stood still, you would slide down just as a boy slides down a hill on his coaster.
"But," you object, "the wave doesn't stand still."
Very true, but the water composing the wave stands still, and there you have the secret.
If ever you start sliding down the face of that wave, you'll keep on sliding and you'll never reach the bottom.
Please don't laugh.
The face of that wave may be only six feet, yet you can slide down it a quarter of a mile, or half a mile, and not reach the bottom. For, see, since a wave is only a communicated agitation or impetus, and since the water that composes a wave is changing every instant, new water is rising into the wave as fast as the wave travels.
You slide down this new water, and yet remain in your old position on the wave, sliding down the still newer water that is rising and forming the wave.
You slide precisely as fast as the wave travels.
If it travels fifteen miles an hour, you slide fifteen miles an hour.
Between you and shore stretches a quarter of mile of water.
As the wave travels, this water obligingly heaps itself into the wave, gravity does the rest, and down you go, sliding the whole length of it.
If you still cherish the notion, while sliding, that the water is moving with you, thrust your arms into it and attempt to paddle; you will find that you have to be remarkably quick to get a stroke, for that water is dropping astern just as fast as you are rushing ahead.
My Ignominious Failure (1907)
the cool shade, put on a swimming suit, and got hold of a
surf-board. It was too small a board.
But I didn't know, and nobody told me. I joined some little Kanaka boys in shallow water, where the breakers were well spent and small—a regular kindergarten school.
I watched the little Kanaka boys.
When a likely-looking breaker came along, they flopped upon their stomachs on their boards, kicked like mad with their feet, and rode the breaker in to the beach.
I tried to emulate them.
I watched them, tried to do everything that they did, and failed utterly.
The breaker swept past, and I was not on it.
I tried again and again.
I kicked twice as madly as they did, and failed.
Half a dozen would be around.
We would all leap on our boards in front of a good breaker.
Away our feet would churn like the stern-wheels of river steamboats, and away the little rascals would scoot while I remained in disgrace behind.
Lessons From An Expert (1908)
I tried for
a solid hour, and not one wave could I persuade to boost me
And then arrived a friend, Alexander Hume Ford, a globe trotter by profession, bent ever on the pursuit of sensation.
And he had found it at Waikiki.
Heading for Australia, he had stopped off for a week to find out if there were any thrills in surf-riding, and he had become wedded to it.
He had been at it every day for a month and could not yet see any symptoms of the fascination lessening on him.
He spoke with authority.
that board," he said.
"Chuck it away at once.
Look at the way you're trying to ride it.
If ever the nose of that board hits bottom, you'll be disembowelled.
Here, take my board.
It's a man's size."
I am always
humble when confronted by knowledge.
He showed me how properly to mount his board.
Then he waited for a good breaker, gave me a shove at the right moment, and started me in.
Ah, delicious moment when I felt that breaker grip and fling me.
dashed, a hundred and fifty feet, and subsided with the
breaker on the sand.
From that moment I was lost.
I waded back to Ford with his board.
It was a large one, several inches thick, and weighed all of seventy-five pounds.
He gave me advice, much of it.
He had had no one to teach him, and all that he had laboriously learned in several weeks he communicated to me in half an hour.
I really learned by proxy.
And inside of half an hour I was able to start myself and ride in.
I did it time after time, and Ford applauded and advised.
For instance, he told me to get just so far forward on the board and no farther.
But I must have got some farther, for as I came charging in to land, that miserable board poked its nose down to bottom, stopped abruptly, and turned a somersault, at the same time violently severing our relations.
I was tossed through the air like a chip and buried ignominiously under the downfalling breaker.
And I realized that if it hadn't been for Ford, I'd have been disembowelled.
That particular risk is part of the sport, Ford says.
Maybe he'll have it happen to him before he leaves Waikiki, and then, I feel confident, his yearning for sensation will be satisfied for a time.
When all is
said and done, it is my steadfast belief that homicide is
worse than suicide, especially if, in the former case, it is
Ford saved me from being a homicide.
"Imagine your legs are a rudder," he said.
"Hold them close together, and steer with them."
A few minutes later I came charging in on a comber.
As I neared the beach, there, in the water, up to her waist, dead in front of me, appeared a woman.
How was I to stop that comber on whose back I was?
It looked like a dead woman.
The board weighed seventy-five pounds, I weighed a hundred and sixty-five.
The added weight had a velocity of fifteen miles per hour.
The board and I constituted a projectile.
I leave it to the physicists to figure out the force of the impact upon that poor, tender woman.
And then I remembered my guardian angel, Ford.
"Steer with your legs!" rang through my brain.
I steered with my legs, I steered sharply, abruptly, with all my legs and with all my might.
The board sheered around broadside on the crest.
Many things happened simultaneously.
The wave gave me a passing buffet, a light tap as the taps of waves go, but a tap sufficient to knock me off the board and smash me down through the rushing water to bottom, with which I came in violent collision and upon which I was rolled over and over.
I got my head out for a breath of air and then gained my feet.
There stood the woman before me.
I felt like a hero.
I had saved her life.
And she laughed at me.
It was not hysteria.
She had never dreamed of her danger.
Anyway, I solaced myself, it was not I but Ford that saved her, and I didn't have to feel like a hero.
And besides, that leg-steering was great.
In a few minutes more of practice I was able to thread my way in and out past several bathers and to remain on top my breaker instead of going under it.
"To-morrow," Ford said, "I am going to take you out into the blue water."
seaward where he pointed, and saw the great smoking combers
that made the breakers I had been riding look like ripples.
I don't know what I might have said had I not recollected just then that I was one of a kingly species.
So all that I did say was, "All right, I'll tackle them to-morrow."
The Wonderful Hawaiian Water (1907)
that rolls in on Waikiki Beach is just the same as the water
that laves the shores of all the Hawaiian Islands; and in
ways, especially from the swimmer's standpoint, it is
It is cool enough to be comfortable, while it is warm enough to permit a swimmer to stay in all day without experiencing a chill. Under the sun or the stars, at high noon or at midnight, in midwinter or in midsummer, it does not matter when, it is always the same temperature—not too warm, not too cold, just right. It is wonderful water, salt as old ocean itself, pure and crystal-clear. When the nature of the water is considered, it is not so remarkable after all that the Kanakas are one of the most expert of swimming races.
Triumph At Last (1908)
So it was,
next morning, when Ford came along, that I plunged into the
wonderful water for a swim of indeterminate length. Astride
of our surf-boards, or, rather, flat down upon them on our
stomachs, we paddled out through the kindergarten where the
little Kanaka boys were at play.
Soon we were out in deep water where the big smokers came roaring in.
The mere struggle with them, facing them and paddling seaward over them and through them, was sport enough in itself.
One had to have his wits about him, for it was a battle in which mighty blows were struck, on one side, and in which cunning was used on the other side—a struggle between insensate force and intelligence.
I soon learned a bit.
When a breaker curled over my head, for a swift instant I could see the light of day through its emerald body; then down would go my head, and I would clutch the board with all my strength.
Then would come the blow, and to the onlooker on shore I would be blotted out.
In reality the board and I have passed through the crest and emerged in the respite of the other side.
I should not recommend those smashing blows to an invalid or delicate person.
There is weight behind them, and the impact of the driven water is like a sandblast.
Sometimes one passes through half a dozen combers in quick succession, and it is just about that time that he is liable to discover new merits in the stable land and new reasons for being on shore.
in the midst of such a succession of big smoky ones, a third
man was added to our party, one Freeth.
Shaking the water from my eyes as I emerged from one wave and peered ahead to see what the next one looked like, I saw him tearing in on the back of it, standing upright on his board, carelessly poised, a young god bronzed with sunburn.
We went through the wave on the back of which he rode.
Ford called to him.
He turned an airspring from his wave, rescued his board from its maw, paddled over to us and joined Ford in showing me things. One thing in particular I learned from Freeth, namely, how to encounter the occasional breaker of exceptional size that rolled in. Such breakers were really ferocious, and it was unsafe to meet them on top of the board.
But Freeth showed me, so that whenever I saw one of that calibre rolling down on me, I slid off the rear end of the board and dropped down beneath the surface, my arms over my head and holding the board.
Thus, if the wave ripped the board out of my hands and tried to strike me with it (a common trick of such waves), there would be a cushion of water a foot or more in depth, between my head and the blow.
When the wave passed, I climbed upon the board and paddled on.
Many men have been terribly injured, I learn, by being struck by their boards.
The man who
wants to learn surf-riding must be a strong swimmer, and he
must be used to going under the water.
After that, fair strength and common-sense are all that is required.
The force of the big comber is rather unexpected.
There are mix-ups in which board and rider are torn apart and separated by several hundred feet.
The surf-rider must take care of himself.
No matter how many riders swim out with him, he cannot depend upon any of them for aid.
The fancied security I had in the presence of Ford and Freeth made me forget that it was my first swim out in deep water among the big ones.
I recollected, however, and rather suddenly, for a big wave came in, and away went the two men on its back all the way to shore.
I could have been drowned a dozen different ways before they got back to me.
The Penalties Of Sunburn (1908)
One slides down the face of a breaker on his surf-board, but he has to get started to sliding. Board and rider must be moving shoreward at a good rate before the wave overtakes them. When you see the wave coming that you want to ride in, you turn tail to it and paddle shoreward with all your strength, using what is called the windmill stroke. This is a sort of spurt performed immediately in front of the wave. If the board is going fast enough, the wave accelerates it, and the board begins its quarter-of-a-mile slide.
A Gleam of Success - and the Price (1907)
never forget the first big wave I caught out there in the
I saw it coming, turned my back on it and paddled for dear life.
Faster and faster my board went, till it seemed my arms would drop off.
What was happening behind me I could not tell.
One cannot look behind and paddle the windmill stroke.
I heard the crest of the wave hissing and churning, and then my board was lifted and flung forward.
I scarcely knew what happened the first half- minute.
Though I kept my eyes open, I could not see anything, for I was buried in the rushing white of the crest.
But I did not mind.
I was chiefly conscious of ecstatic bliss at having caught the wave.
At the end, of the half-minute, however, I began to see things, and to breathe.
I saw that three feet of the nose of my board was clear out of water and riding on the air.
I shifted my weight forward, and made the nose come down.
Then I lay, quite at rest in the midst of the wild movement, and watched the shore and the bathers on the beach grow distinct.
I didn't cover quite a quarter of a mile on that wave, because, to prevent the board from diving, I shifted my weight back, but shifted it too far and fell down the rear slope of the wave.
It was my
second day at surf-riding, and I was quite proud of myself.
I stayed out there four hours, and when it was over, I was resolved that on the morrow I'd come in standing up.
But that resolution paved a distant place.
On the morrow I was in bed.
I was not sick, but I was very unhappy, and I was in bed.
When describing the wonderful water of Hawaii I forgot to describe the wonderful sun of Hawaii.
It is a tropic sun, and, furthermore, in the first part of June, it is an overhead sun.
It is also an insidious, deceitful sun.
For the first time in my life I was sunburned unawares.
My arms, shoulders, and back had been burned many times in the past and were tough; but not so my legs.
And for four hours I had exposed the tender backs of my legs, at right- angles, to that perpendicular Hawaiian sun. It was not until after I got ashore that I discovered the sun had touched me.
Sunburn at first is merely warm; after that it grows intense and the blisters come out.
Also, the joints, where the skin wrinkles, refuse to bend.
That is why I spent the next day in bed.
I couldn't walk.
And that is why, to-day, I am writing this in bed.
It is easier to than not to.
But to-morrow, ah, to-morrow, I shall be out in that wonderful water, and I shall come in standing up, even as Ford and Freeth. And if I fail to-morrow, I shall do it the next day, or the next.
Upon one thing I am resolved: the Snark shall not sail from Honolulu until I, too, wing my heels with the swiftness of the sea, and become a sun-burned, skin-peeling Mercury.
Islands to Tahiti.—There is great difficulty in making this
passage across the trades. The whalers and all others speak
with great doubt of fetching Tahiti from the Sandwich
islands. Capt. Bruce says that a vessel should keep to the
northward until she gets a start of wind before bearing for
her destination. In his passage between them in November,
1837, he had no variables near the line in coming south, and
never could make easting on either tack, though he
endeavoured by every means to do so.
We sailed from Hilo, Hawaii, on October 7, and arrived at Nuka-hiva, in the Marquesas, on December 6. The distance was two thousand miles as the crow flies, while we actually travelled at least four thousand miles to accomplish it, thus proving for once and for ever that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. Had we headed directly for the Marquesas, we might have travelled five or six thousand miles.
I have forgotten to mention that the seventy-horse-power gasolene engine, as usual, was not working, and that we could depend upon wind alone. Neither was the launch engine working. And while I am about it, I may as well confess that the five-horse-power, which ran the lights, fans, and pumps, was also on the sick-list. A striking title for a book haunts me, waking and sleeping. I should like to write that book some day and to call it "Around the World with Three Gasolene Engines and a Wife." But I am afraid I shall not write it, for fear of hurting the feelings of some of the young gentlemen of San Francisco, Honolulu, and Hilo, who learned their trades at the expense of the Snark's engines.
Then there was the fishing. One did not have to go in search of it, for it was there at the rail. A three-inch steel hook, on the end of a stout line, with a piece of white rag for bait, was all that was necessary to catch bonitas weighing from ten to twenty-five pounds. Bonitas feed on flying-fish, wherefore they are unaccustomed to nibbling at the hook. They strike as gamely as the gamest fish in the sea, and their first run is something that no man who has ever caught them will forget. Also, bonitas are the veriest cannibals. The instant one is hooked he is attacked by his fellows. Often and often we hauled them on board with fresh, clean-bitten holes in them the size of teacups.
But it is the dolphin that is the king of deep-sea fishes. Never is his colour twice quite the same. Swimming in the sea, an ethereal creature of palest azure, he displays in that one guise a miracle of colour. But it is nothing compared with the displays of which he is capable. At one time he will appear green—pale green, deep green, phosphorescent green; at another time blue—deep blue, electric blue, all the spectrum of blue. Catch him on a hook, and he turns to gold, yellow gold, all gold. Haul him on deck, and he excels the spectrum, passing through inconceivable shades of blues, greens, and yellows, and then, suddenly, turning a ghostly white, in the midst of which are bright blue spots, and you suddenly discover that he is speckled like a trout. Then back from white he goes, through all the range of colours, finally turning to a mother-of-pearl.
who are devoted to fishing, I can recommend no finer sport
than catching dolphin.
The dolphins, which remained with us over a month, deserted us north of the line, and not one was seen during the remainder of the traverse.
We made our easting, worked down through the doldrums, and caught a fresh breeze out of south-by-west. Hauled up by the wind, on such a slant, we would fetch past the Marquesas far away to the westward. But the next day, on Tuesday, November 26, in the thick of a heavy squall, the wind shifted suddenly to the southeast. It was the trade at last. There were no more squalls, naught but fine weather, a fair wind, and a whirling log, with sheets slacked off and with spinnaker and mainsail swaying and bellying on either side. The trade backed more and more, until it blew out of the northeast, while we steered a steady course to the southwest. Ten days of this, and on the morning of December 6, at five o'clock, we sighted land "just where it ought to have been," dead ahead. We passed to leeward of Ua-huka, skirted the southern edge of Nuka-hiva, and that night, in driving squalls and inky darkness, fought our way in to an anchorage in the narrow bay of Taiohae. The anchor rumbled down to the blatting of wild goats on the cliffs, and the air we breathed was heavy with the perfume of flowers. The traverse was accomplished. Sixty days from land to land, across a lonely sea above whose horizons never rise the straining sails of ships.
eastward Ua-huka was being blotted out by an evening rain-
squall that was fast overtaking the Snark. But that little
craft, her big spinnaker filled by the southeast trade, was
making a good race of it. Cape Martin, the southeasternmost
point of Nuku-hiva, was abeam, and Comptroller Bay was
opening up as we fled past its wide entrance, where Sail
Rock, for all the world like the spritsail of a Columbia
River salmon-boat, was making brave weather of it in the
smashing southeast swell.
But we were more interested in the recesses of Comptroller Bay, where our eyes eagerly sought out the three bights of land and centred on the midmost one, where the gathering twilight showed the dim walls of a valley extending inland. How often we had pored over the chart and centred always on that midmost bight and on the valley it opened—the Valley of Typee. "Taipi" the chart spelled it, and spelled it correctly, but I prefer "Typee," and I shall always spell it "Typee." When I was a little boy, I read a book spelled in that manner—Herman Melville's "Typee"; and many long hours I dreamed over its pages. Nor was it all dreaming. I resolved there and then, mightily, come what would, that when I had gained strength and years, I, too, would voyage to Typee.
Abruptly, with a roar of sound, Sentinel Rock loomed through the rain dead ahead. We altered our course, and, with mainsail and spinnaker bellying to the squall, drove past. Under the lea of the rock the wind dropped us, and we rolled in an absolute calm. Then a puff of air struck us, right in our teeth, out of Taiohae Bay. It was in spinnaker, up mizzen, all sheets by the wind, and we were moving slowly ahead, heaving the lead and straining our eyes for the fixed red light on the ruined fort that would give us our bearings to anchorage. The air was light and baffling, now east, now west, now north, now south; while from either hand came the roar of unseen breakers. From the looming cliffs arose the blatting of wild goats, and overhead the first stars were peeping mistily through the ragged train of the passing squall. At the end of two hours, having come a mile into the bay, we dropped anchor in eleven fathoms. And so we came to Taiohae.
morning we awoke in fairyland. The Snark rested in a placid
harbour that nestled in a vast amphitheatre, the towering,
vine-clad walls of which seemed to rise directly from the
water. Far up, to the east, we glimpsed the thin line of a
trail, visible in one place, where it scoured across the
face of the wall.
Of all inhabitants of the South Seas, the Marquesans were adjudged the strongest and the most beautiful. Melville said of them: "I was especially struck by the physical strength and beauty they displayed . . . In beauty of form they surpassed anything I had ever seen. Not a single instance of natural deformity was observable in all the throng attending the revels. Every individual appeared free from those blemishes which sometimes mar the effect of an otherwise perfect form. But their physical excellence did not merely consist in an exemption from these evils; nearly every individual of the number might have been taken for a sculptor's model." Mendana, the discoverer of the Marquesas, described the natives as wondrously beautiful to behold. Figueroa, the chronicler of his voyage, said of them: "In complexion they were nearly white; of good stature and finely formed." Captain Cook called the Marquesans the most splendid islanders in the South Seas. The men were described, as "in almost every instance of lofty stature, scarcely ever less than six feet in height."
Darling, Ernest Darling flying the red flag that is
indicative of the brotherhood of man, hailed us. "Hello,
Jack!" he called. "Hello, Charmian! He paddled swiftly
nearer, and I saw that he was the tawny prophet of the
Piedmont hills. He came over the side, a sun-god clad in a
scarlet loin-cloth, with presents of Arcady and greeting in
both his hands—a bottle of golden honey and a leaf-basket
filled WITH great golden mangoes, golden bananas specked
with freckles of deeper gold, golden pine-apples and golden
limes, and juicy oranges minted from the same precious ore
of sun and soil. And in this fashion under the southern sky,
I met once more Darling, the Nature Man.
I have said that the sail was impossible. It was. It was one of those things, not that you have to see to believe, but that you cannot believe after you have seen it. The hoist of it and the length of its boom were sufficiently appalling; but, not content with that, its artificer had given it a tremendous head. So large was the head that no common sprit could carry the strain of it in an ordinary breeze. So a spar had been lashed to the canoe, projecting aft over the water. To this had been made fast a sprit guy: thus, the foot of the sail was held by the main-sheet, and the peak by the guy to the sprit.
It was not a mere boat, not a mere canoe, but a sailing machine. And the man in it sailed it by his weight and his nerve—principally by the latter. I watched the canoe beat up from leeward and run in toward the village, its sole occupant far out on the outrigger and luffing up and spilling the wind in the puffs.
"Well, I know one thing," I announced; "I don't leave Raiatea till I have a ride in that canoe."
A few minutes later Warren called down the companionway, "Here's that canoe you were talking about."
Promptly I dashed on deck and gave greeting to its owner, a tall, slender Polynesian, ingenuous of face, and with clear, sparkling, intelligent eyes. He was clad in a scarlet loin-cloth and a straw hat. In his hands were presents—a fish, a bunch of greens, and several enormous yams. All of which acknowledged by smiles (which are coinage still in isolated spots of Polynesia) and by frequent repetitions of mauruuru (which is the Tahitian "thank you"), I proceeded to make signs that I desired to go for a sail in his canoe.
His face lighted with pleasure and he uttered the single word, "Tahaa," turning at the same time and pointing to the lofty, cloud- draped peaks of an island three miles away—the island of Tahaa. It was fair wind over, but a head-beat back. Now I did not want to go to Tahaa. I had letters to deliver in Raiatea, and officials to see, and there was Charmian down below getting ready to go ashore. By insistent signs I indicated that I desired no more than a short sail on the lagoon. Quick was the disappointment in his face, yet smiling was the acquiescence.
"Come on for a sail," I called below to Charmian. "But put on your swimming suit. It's going to be wet."
It wasn't real. It was a dream. That canoe slid over the water like a streak of silver. I climbed out on the outrigger and supplied the weight to hold her down, while Tehei (pronounced Tayhayee) supplied the nerve. He, too, in the puffs, climbed part way out on the outrigger, at the same time steering with both hands on a large paddle and holding the mainsheet with his foot.
"Ready about!" he called.
I carefully shifted my weight inboard in order to maintain the equilibrium as the sail emptied.
"Hard a-lee!" he called, shooting her into the wind.
I slid out on the opposite side over the water on a spar lashed across the canoe, and we were full and away on the other tack.
"All right," said Tehei.
Those three phrases, "Ready about," "Hard a-lee," and "All right," comprised Tehei's English vocabulary and led me to suspect that at some time he had been one of a Kanaka crew under an American captain. Between the puffs I made signs to him and repeatedly and interrogatively uttered the word SAILOR. Then I tried it in atrocious French. MARIN conveyed no meaning to him; nor did MATELOT. Either my French was bad, or else he was not up in it. I have since concluded that both conjectures were correct. Finally, I began naming over the adjacent islands. He nodded that he had been to them. By the time my quest reached Tahiti, he caught my drift. His thought-processes were almost visible, and it was a joy to watch him think. He nodded his head vigorously. Yes, he had been to Tahiti, and he added himself names of islands such as Tikihau, Rangiroa, and Fakarava, thus proving that he had sailed as far as the Paumotus—undoubtedly one of the crew of a trading schooner.
CHAPTER XIV—THE AMATEUR NAVIGATOR
There are captains and captains, and some mighty fine captains, I know; but the run of the captains on the Snark has been remarkably otherwise. My experience with them has been that it is harder to take care of one captain on a small boat than of two small babies. Of course, this is no more than is to be expected. The good men have positions, and are not likely to forsake their one-thousand-to- fifteen-thousand-ton billets for the Snark with her ten tons net. The Snark has had to cull her navigators from the beach, and the navigator on the beach is usually a congenital inefficient—the sort of man who beats about for a fortnight trying vainly to find an ocean isle and who returns with his schooner to report the island sunk with all on board, the sort of man whose temper or thirst for strong waters works him out of billets faster than he can work into them.
has had three captains, and by the grace of God she shall
have no more. The first captain was so senile as to be
unable to give a measurement for a boom-jaw to a carpenter.
So utterly agedly helpless was he, that he was unable to
order a sailor to throw a few buckets of salt water on the
Snark's deck. For twelve days, at anchor, under an overhead
tropic sun, the deck lay dry. It was a new deck. It cost me
one hundred and thirty-five dollars to recaulk it. The
second captain was angry. He was born angry. "Papa is always
angry," was the description given him by his half-breed son.
The third captain was so crooked that he couldn't hide
behind a corkscrew. The truth was not in him, common honesty
was not in him, and he was as far away from fair play and
square-dealing as he was from his proper course when he
nearly wrecked the Snark on the Ring- gold Isles.
The Snark sailed from Fiji on Saturday, June 6, and the next day, Sunday, on the wide ocean, out of sight of land, I proceeded to endeavour to find out my position by a chronometer sight for longitude and by a meridian observation for latitude.
Then, to the south, Aneiteum rose out of the sea, to the north, Aniwa, and, dead ahead, Tanna. There was no mistaking Tanna, for the smoke of its volcano was towering high in the sky. It was forty miles away, and by afternoon, as we drew close, never ceasing to log our six knots, we saw that it was a mountainous, hazy land, with no apparent openings in its coast-line. I was looking for Port Resolution, though I was quite prepared to find that as an anchorage, it had been destroyed. Volcanic earthquakes had lifted its bottom during the last forty years, so that where once the largest ships rode at anchor there was now, by last reports, scarcely space and depth sufficient for the Snark. And why should not another convulsion, since the last report, have closed the harbour completely?
I ran in
close to the unbroken coast, fringed with rocks awash upon
which the crashing trade-wind sea burst white and high. I
searched with my glasses for miles, but could see no
entrance. I took a compass bearing of Futuna, another of
Aniwa, and laid them off on the chart. Where the two
bearings crossed was bound to be the position of the Snark.
Then, with my parallel rulers, I laid down a course from the
Snark's position to Port Resolution. Having corrected this
course for variation and deviation, I went on deck, and lo,
the course directed me towards that unbroken coast-line of
bursting seas. To my Rapa islander's great concern, I held
on till the rocks awash were an eighth of a mile away.
I confess I thought so, too; but I ran on abreast, watching to see if the line of breakers from one side the entrance did not overlap the line from the other side. Sure enough, it did. A narrow place where the sea ran smooth appeared. Charmian put down the wheel and steadied for the entrance. Martin threw on the engine, while all hands and the cook sprang to take in sail.
A trader's house showed up in the bight of the bay. A geyser, on the shore, a hundred yards away; spouted a column of steam. To port, as we rounded a tiny point, the mission station appeared.
"Three fathoms," cried Wada at the lead-line. "Three fathoms," "two fathoms," came in quick succession.
Charmian put the wheel down, Martin stopped the engine, and the Snark rounded to and the anchor rumbled down in three fathoms. Before we could catch our breaths a swarm of black Tannese was alongside and aboard—grinning, apelike creatures, with kinky hair and troubled eyes, wearing safety-pins and clay-pipes in their slitted ears: and as for the rest, wearing nothing behind and less than that before. And I don't mind telling that that night, when everybody was asleep, I sneaked up on deck, looked out over the quiet scene, and gloated—yes, gloated—over my navigation.
CHAPTER XV—CRUISING IN THE SOLOMONS
Hawaii, Its People and Their Legends.
Hawaiian Promotion Committee, Honolulu, H.T., 1904.
Johnson, Martin: Through the South Seas with Jack London
T.W. Laurie, London, 1913.
spent a couple of days in Honolulu at this period, doing
some special camera work, and trying my luck at surf-board
This is said to be one of the greatest sports in the world, but as it takes several months, at the least, really to learn it, I can hardly testify as to that.
But I do know that I was nearly drowned, and managed to swallow a few quarts of salt water before the fun wore off.
Jack stayed at it for some time, and got so sunburned that he was confined to his bed.
Let me say here that it is my honest belief that only the native Hawaiians ever
really learn the trick in all its intricacies, despite the fact that, at several contests held, white men have come out victorious.
I myself spent a couple of days in Honolulu at this period,
doing some special camera work, and trying my luck at surf-board
This is said to be one of the greatest sports in the world, but as it takes several months, at the least, really to learn it, I can hardly testify as to that.
But I do know that I was nearly drowned, and managed to swallow a few quarts of salt water before the fun wore off.
Jack stayed at it for some time, and got so sunburned that he was confined to his bed.
Let me say here that it is my honest belief that only the native Hawaiians ever
really learn the trick in all its intricacies, despite the fact that, at several contests held, white men have come out victorious.
Illustrator: Percy F. S. Spence (etc.)
Adam and Charles Black, London, 1911
Few European or American children can enjoy such sea beaches as are scattered all over the Australian coast. They are beautiful white or creamy stretches of firm sand, curving round bays, sometimes just a mile in length, sometimes of huge extent, as the Ninety Miles Beach in Victoria. The water on the Australian coast is usually of a brilliant blue, and it breaks into white foam as it rolls on to the shelving sand. Around Carram, Aspendale, Mentone and Brighton, near Melbourne; at Narrabeen, Manly, Cronulla, Coogee, near Sydney; and at a hundred other places on the Australian coast, are beautiful beaches. You may see on holidays hundreds of thousands of people—men, women, and children—surf-bathing or paddling on the sands. It is quite safe fun, too, if you take care not to go out too far and so get caught in the undertow. Sharks are common on the Australian coast, but they will not venture into the broken water of surf beaches. But you must not bathe, except in enclosed baths in the harbours, or you run a serious risk of providing a meal for a voracious shark.
Sharks are quite the most dangerous foes of man in Australia. There have been some heroic incidents arising from attacks by sharks on human beings. An instance: On a New South Wales beach two brothers were bathing, and they had gone outside of the broken surf water. One was attacked by a shark. The other went to his rescue, and actually beat the great fish off, though he lost his arm in doing so. As a rule, however, the shark kills with one bite, attacking the trunk of its victim, which it can sever in two with one great snap of its jaws.
Children on the Australian coast are very fond of the water. They learn to swim almost as soon as they can walk. Through exposure to the sun whilst bathing their skin gets a coppery colour, and except for their Anglo-Saxon eyes you would imagine many Australian youngsters to be Arabs.
Facing Page 73
SURF-BATHING—SHOOTING THE BREAKERS