: riding the surf at waikiki,
: Riding the Surf at Waikiki, 1916
George Marvin : Riding the Surf at Waikiki.
in The Children's Hour Volume 12, Sports and Pastimes
Selected and arranged by Eva March Tappan.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston,
Introduction An extensive account, the technical elements of
surfboard riding are incorporated in a semi-fictitious story
featuring native Hawaiians Duke Paoa (Kahanamoku), Kahola, and Makaele, and haolesJudy, Mrs. Neave
and Marvin himself.
The story (as noted
on page vi) was originally
published in Outing by the Outing
Publishing Company, the date
The initial publication, with photographs by
A. J. Guerry, was in Outing, Outing
Publishing Company, New York, Chicago,
Volume 64 Number1 April 1914. See 1914 George Marvin : The Surf at Waikiki.
"The first edition of the Children's hour is limited to 1000
numbered copies, of which this is no. 382." Published in fifteen volumes, each volume has special
title page. Page 128
RIDING THE SURF AT WAIKIKI By George Marvin
PAST us as we sit on the sand waiting for Linda runs Duke
Paoa, stripped to a blue breech clout, with his light
"alaia" like a dark mahogany ironing-board under his arm.
Makaele hails him: —
"Hai," in his sing-song voice, "wait for us; what's your
"Goin' out with Kahola," the duke calls back without
stopping, heading off down the beach where Kahola's mighty
back makes a warm-colored break on the white sand.
"The two best surfers in the islands," says Makaele,
"See, they 're goin' to ride the big surf this mornin'."
Sure enough Kahola, grabbing up his big board, joins Paoa,
and the two together, moving still farther away to the left,
slosh out through the shallows.
Pretty soon, waist deep, they slap their boards down and
begin paddling through the broken white water where spent
rollers come creaming up the sand.
"Yes, surely the two best here at Waikiki — not counting
Paoa is wonderful.
Kahola slower, not so graceful.
But how about the other
islands, Niihau or Hawaii? Those wild stories of Hilo Bay?"
"Every one says the best in the world are here," says
Makaele, throwing handfuls of sand on his coppery legs.
"But those are not wild stories.
After a big kona (south wind) at Hilo I have seen men come
in standin' three miles across the bay, fair tearin' up the
At Niihau, the reef is very far out there, farther than at
Hilo, five miles even they ride in that surf, though I have
not myself seen them.
But in those places they have big boards, 'olos.'
Your 'alaia' is not seven feet.
Paoa's and mine less than six.
Now at Hilo Bay they are often ten or twelve, sometimes
To manage an olo like that takes a very strong man, like the
"Like old chief Kahola there navigating that barge of his.
Anybody else would have to lug it out in a canoe."
The two champions, outward bound, are hurdling their first
Three or four other "kamaainas" (old-timers) are riding in
on the "big surf," their poised, glistening bodies coming
zipping ashore, picked out against the dark tree line over
toward Diamond Head.
In the "canoe surf" in front of us some dark-skinned Kanaka
boys are playing, and westward, near the Outrigger Club, a
couple of canoes are launching in what they call the
"cornucopia surf," where the neophytes, the "malihini,"
learn their first lessons in
riding the rollers.
The difference in these three parts of Waikiki beach lies
simply in the way the coral and sand shoal out to the
reef, a mile or so offshore. From where we sit the whole
sunny sweep of sparkling ocean seems the same, as from one
wooded point to the other the long, onward-marching ridges
reach clear across in even succession.
But when you get into the water there is a whole lot of
difference between the big surf where eastward a more abrupt
shoal piles incoming waves up steep and strong and the
serener cornucopia rollers where the bottom goes out almost
flat for half a mile or so.
One of those outrigger canoes up there belongs to Linda, the
dilatory, who is keeping us waiting.
She's got that pretty Mrs. Neave with her, who came in
yesterday on the Tenyo Maru from 'Frisco, "just crazy to try
surfboard riding," as she calls it.
So Linda is taking her in an outrigger to-day to see it done
and give her a long coast back in the canoe.
Makaele and I are part of the Roman holiday, a very willing
pair of barbarians.
We don't mind waiting much either, for it is very
comfortable lying here in the sun-warmed sand.
Makaele has got started on his folklore about the
extraordinary stunts of the old Hawaiian chiefs, who "used
to run seven and eight feet tall, sure kela."
Some chiefs, those, as the pretty Mrs. Neave would say — and
their Homeric surfing on twenty-five foot boards that no
modern man could lift.
Punctuating Makaele's monologue come the shouts of the
Kanaka boys, beginning now to paddle out together toward the
reef; from time to time I can hear the drone of the Honolulu
trolley car with its changing note as it hits the bridge
back of ex-Queen Liliuokalani's house.
The blue sky comes down clean and sharp to the
darker blue of the deep Pacific beyond the reef where the
white sails of fishing boats are heaving.
"There they are," says Makaele, suddenly breaking off in the
maritime amours of Kalea and Kalamakua; and summoned out of
our sun-baked laziness by Linda's familiar whistle, we are
off down the beach to meet two graceful figures drifting in
long white bath wraps to the sea.
Behind them Linda's French maid comes mincing like a cat,
trying to keep the sand out of her tight patent leathers.
The Kanakas in the outrigger have sighted them, too, and are
coasting along toward us, both paddles going.
"You wouldn't believe what a time I've had to make her leave
her skirt off," laughs Linda.
"That's what has kept us all this time," I tell her, with a
wink of her long-lashed eyes to us, "there's a perfectly
chance of our upsetting out on the reef or turning turtle
coming in, and then where should you be, Mrs. Propriety,
with an old skirt wrapped round your legs?"
The two girls splash laughing up to the outrigger.
Linda and the two Kanakas start paddling easily out in the
Makaele and I are right after them, running with our boards
like sleds in both hands as far as we can keep our knees
free, then, souse! flat out we shoot alongside them.
The pretty Mrs. Neave, watching Makaele, forgets all about
her bathing suit.
This is one of his specialties.
Flat on his chest, his legs churning the water in the
trudgeon stroke, he keeps both arms going like paddle wheels
each side, the front end of his alaia scowing over the water
like the bow of a launch.
Everyone goes out more or less that way;
I'm doing the same thing, but only two or three others can
make such speed as Makaele, even when he is n't showing off.
"Keep way over to your left," calls Linda; "we must see the
duke and Kahola coming in."
So our squadron changes its course and, swimming and
paddling diagonally in the long intervals between waves, we
work over eastward toward the edge of the big surf and
always outward toward the reef.
This matter of navigating out with your board is an
important part of surfing, and good fun, too.
At first you think you are going to wear your short ribs
right through the skin from the chafing of your position on
the hard "koa" wood, and for the first week of your
malihiniship you contract pains like inflammatory rheumatism
in your shoulders, the back of your neck, and the small of
But the sun and the exercise bake and work the soreness out
of your muscles long before you make sufficient progress in
the science to take the soreness out of your spirit.
This is the leeward side of the island, you see, so there is
never a pounding surf inside the reef, even after a storm.
Also, over this flat, level bottom the surf forms slowly and
is slow to break.
Consequently you often have long distances where you can
make speed going out; sometimes, depending on the tide and
wind, the sea all about you will be like a plain; then,
especially half a mile or more from shore, where most riders
turn, the surf will come in series, three or four, or even
seven, crests at a time, rolling in very grandly in a sea
Soon we strike our first big waves.
Over the first two broken ones Mak and I coast.
Then I see him dive headlong into the third, which is
curling to break, and in a minute I follow suit, depressing
the front of my board with a sharp forward thrust.
On the reverse slope, looking back, we see the outrigger
lift drunkenly over the white ridge and come down, ke-slosh!
— Linda a victorious figurehead in the bow.
In negotiating these big toppling fellows you must be
careful to duck the front of your board just right as you
dive through, otherwise she is apt to plumb the depths
without you or set you back shoreward with a big drink of
Now comes a level space, and way ahead of us we make out the
dark heads and shoulders of the Kanaka boys sitting on their
boards waiting for a good wave.
There it comes, its mounting top shutting out the sails of
the fishing boats.
We hear them calling to each other excitedly "Nalu-nui!"
(big wave) and "Hoe, hoe, hoe" (paddle, paddle, paddle);
then with a shout the row of dusky figures out at sea leap
upright on their boards and come tearing in.
Theirs proves to be a lumpy wave, badly chosen.
We slip over it as they go cheering by to the west of us,
but on behind come some hummers, and right on the crest of
the second stand two figures glorified.
"Look, look," calls Makaele back to the canoe, "the duke and
They must have seen us coming out and swum across, and a
good thing they did, too, for now the eager visitor will see
the finest sight at Waikiki, the last word in surf riding.
No race in the world is so beautifully developed as the
and these two men are the pick of their race.
Without changing a line, you could put them into a Greek
frieze, but you would have to animate or electrify the
frieze to keep it in key with their poised grace supreme in
this immemorial pastime of their people.
Both are as much at home on the streaming mane of a breaker
as a Pawnee brave on the bare back of a galloping bronco.
Ducking through the top of the wave ahead of theirs, we
emerge to find their glistening brown bodies against the sky
surging down a smoky green hillside.
A familiar sight, it is nevertheless a miracle, for the
boards are nearly hidden in spray so that we behold shooting
down at us two youthful Tritons, not, as they really are,
obeying the course of the wave they ride, but directing it;
ruling, triumphing over the ocean.
"A-i-i-i-i-e-e-e-e-!" yells the duke, as he goes streaming
by, light as the spray smoking after him, the last of his
yell swallowed by the half-drowned work I make of that
breaker because of watching him too long.
It is still a long hoe out to the reef, and Mak and I,
already half a mile offshore, decide to mark time
here-abouts, the outrigger going on to the "kulana nalu,"
place where the surf begins to form, so as to give our now
highly enthusiastic gallery a longer ride in.
Off they go seaward, disappearing and reappearing, and one
of the Kanaka boys we lately passed, who has lost his wave
and with it his companions, paddles up to join us.
He and I, sitting on our boards, shove them all but the tip
Makaele, a brown merman stretched out half submerged on his
light shingle, kicks his feet lazily.
In this seventy-eight degree water we are even more
comfortable than on the sand ashore, and the view is finer.
Off to the eastward old Diamond Head, couchant like
ourselves, stretches out into blue water, the iron pyrites
at its base shimmering like myriads of real diamonds.
Millions more of sparkling water diamonds the sun makes far
westward over the sea to the purple headland of Waianae.
Straight ashore, in interrupted views, stretches a long,
white band of beach with the parallel green band of palm and
rubber trees above it broken by square hotels and angular,
We have not long to wait before we hear a distant hail from
the sea and, looking back over our shoulders from the top of
the next low swell that heaves us up, we make out a fine
series of surf charging toward us hot off the reef, the
canoe chasing down the face of the first hill.
Now it is all action with us, for to catch a wave just right
you must get to going at top speed before it over-takes you.
"Hoe, hoe, hoe," yells the Kanaka boy, but "No!" Mak sings
out; "Wait, wait, no good."
Checking my headway I see he is right, for this first wave
is a dull, heavy-moving one with a lumpy surface.
In spite of its threatening height it will peter out before
it gets ashore and be absorbed by the following surf. You
must let that kind, or double ones, go, and wait patiently
for a precipice with a jagged edge toppling over you.
The canoe goes sifting by down the steep slope we climb, a
burly, naked mariner high in the air astern
straining over on his paddle to keep her head straight, a
cloud of fine white spray whisping up from her fore-
foot. There is a brief dream of fair women,
starry-eyed,their mouths open and their arms outstretched,
and back on the wind comes a Gabriel-horn kind of noise, the
result of Linda's contralto jeer at us mingling with her
friend's high soprano shriek of delight.
We let them go with their inferior wave, and the next one,
too, but the third, a high green comber with a dancing ridge
of spray, we mark for our very own.
There is a lot of excited yelling in the process of making
this judgment unanimous, but then each man is down on the
tail of his board with never another look behind, legs
churning madly and arms whaling the water for dear life.
Now the surf has caught us, towers over us.
I feel my feet lifted in the air, the board shoots forward,
higher and faster I drive till in a sudden white seething I
break through the top of the wave.
Then, lost for a second in the foam, quick my hands slip
back, legs gather up, one foot in front as though kneeling,
and I rise head and back together, feel for the balance
center, then stand erect.
Just ahead on my right Makaele is calmly standing in a
smother like the wake of a motor boat; behind on the other
side the Kanaka boy is whooping, and we are off all
together, forty miles an hour, for the coast.
Anyone who has sailed a racing canoe in a fresh breeze, or
held the tiller of a sloop, running free in a heavy
following sea, will have some idea of the sensation of
Only you must multiply those other
sensations by at least ten to get the exhilaration of riding
a big surf at Waikiki.
The lift and yawning thrust of the wave under you is
something like that you feel in a boat, but a twenty-pound
board is, of course, far more sensitive.
When you first stand erect, it feels as though you had
suddenly spurred some gigantic marine monster with a wild
response of a thoroughbred hunter rising at a fence, or as
though the Ancient Mariner's Spirit of the deep had reached
fathoms up a great hand
to hurl you like a javelin at the beach.
As a racing canoe is balanced on a rigger out to wind-ward,
so we, standing upright on our racing boards, balance them
by anticipating the whim of the wave, keeping them coasting
forever down hill and never reaching the valley.
While the surf is high and steep I stand back on the board;
when it begins to flatten out I slip forward.
The danger point ahead is in driving the alaia nose under,
when she is very sure to throw you and dive for coral; yet I
must not let her climb too high or I shall lose the wave and
be dragged backwards over the crest as though someone had
suddenly tied a flock of peach baskets on behind.
And all the time, like a shying colt, she is apt to slew
sidewise; sometimes I let her slide off on the bias and then
straighten her with a flip of my legs, when she shoots ahead
again, obeying the tread of her master's feet.
Sunlight and flashing color! A great wash of air and water;
tingling life and speed, speed!
We are chiefs of old, back in the springtime of the world,
in the undiscovered Pacific!
And so at length we drive into the "kipapa," the
place where the long rollers from end to end break and come
foaming down in white ruins.\
Here is the canoe close at hand.
Makaele, in sheer exuberance, stands on his head on his
board and goes on so, his legs in the air like the spars of
I tread back from the "muku" to the "lala" side of the wave,
am caught in the drag, and stop as though I had run into a
My board sinks slowly and I swim with it alongside the
"I'm going to learn to do that," says the extraordinarily
pretty Mrs. Neave, "if I have to stay here a year."
Children's Hour Volume
Sports and Pastimes
Selected and arranged by Eva March Tappan.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston,1916.