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hellmrich : how to swim, 1929 
Dudley Hellmrich : Origin of the Crawl, 1929.

Extracted from
Hellmrich, Dudley:
How To Swim - A Comprehensive Booklet on Swimming, Surfing and Natation Generally.
Caxton Printing Works
583A George Street, Sydney, 1929.
Pages 11, 13, 14 and 15.

Page 11.


FOR years past the origin of the "Crawl" stroke has been the subject of considerable discussion.
It is popularly agreed that AustralIans can claim the honor of being the first to employ the stroke in champIonship events, but this is open to doubt.

First introduced into Australia by Harry Wickham, a Rubiana Islander, in about 1893, the stroke did not attract the attention of local experts until 1897, when Alick Wickham, brother to Harry, then about 12 years old, astonished old-time expert, the late George Farmer, by swimming 66 2-3 yards at Bronte Baths, Sydney, in 44 secs.

Young Alick's speed, peculiar action, and continuous movement through the water, astounded Farmer, who excitedly exclaimed, "Look at that kid crawling!"
George Farmer's exclamation at Bronte was therefore the cause of the world's speediest swimming stroke being dubbed the "Crawl."

The WIckhams' stroke was not theIr own invention.
The "Crawl," as it was afterwards named, was used by all Rubiana natives, whose name for it was the "Tuppa Ta Pala."
The native name was no doubt suggested by the sound made by the leg thrash, and was singularly approprIate.

To the famous Cavill family must be credited the honor of being the first in Australia to recognise the possibilties of the "Tuppa Ta Pala."

Alick Wickham has often told me how Arthur ('Tums") Cavill  invited him to visit Cavill's bath at any time free of charge, and how the Cavill b(oys would watch his every movement in the water.

Arthur ("Tums") Cavill probably early appreciated the efficiency of Wickham's 'leg action,.-for it was well known that Cavill could sprint faster over 33 yards, using arms ,only, than when employing both arms and legs.

It is on record that "Tums" Cavill, on December 1, 1898, matched himself for £5 on the side against Sid Davis ...

Page 13

... over 33 yards, Cavill to swittl with legs tied together at the ankles.

Swum at Davis's Baths, Balmain, the race was won by Cavill in 20 secs.

Two years afterwards R. T. "Dick" Cavill caused a sensation by swimming the "Crawl" in a State championship.

The "Crawl," as Cavill swam it in those days, was a most distressing method of propulsion.

With face subttlerged and arms flying like flails in short, snappy strokes, the legs would be lifted out of the water almost at right angles to the body, to be thrashed in a two-beat action, right arm synchronising with left leg, the insteps striking the surface of the water with great force.

The swimmer lay flat upon his chest, lifting his head to breathe when forced to do so.

Mostly it was used during the final twenty yards of a race as a finishing sprint.
It was too strenuous to maintain over 100 yards.


It is interesting to note that while Cavill in 1900 had not perfected the" Crawl" sufficientiy to enable him to use it throughout a 100 yards race, an Hungariann champion, ZOLTAN de HALMA Y, had already developed the stroke to such perfection that he swam second to Australian F. C. V. Lane in the 200 metres Olympic Champidnship at Paris in August of that year, and crawled over
the entire distance.
It is only reasonable to believe that Halmay, who was then champion of Hungary, had been swimming the stroke for several months at least prior to August, 1900, and he can probably claim the distinction of being the first swimmer in the world to have swum the "Crawl" over such a distance in a classic event.

Mr. Lane vouches for the authenticity of the above statements.

Halxpay in 1905 created a world's record of 64 4-5 secs. for 100 metres, and in 1908 a world's 200 metres record of 2 min. 26 4-5 secs.

Page 14

Whether Halmay's stroke was his own natural action or was copied from a South Sea Islander, as in Cavill's case, is not known.

Returning to the history of the "CrawI" in Australia.
It was that great sportsman, the late Cecil Healy, ex- Australian and New South Wales champion, and Australian Olympic representative of 1906 and 1912, who, after months of study and practice, developed the Australian "Crawl" as a distance stroke, and after establishing an Australian record for 440 yards with it later won the 100, 220, and 440 yards Tasmanian championships, and always afterwards used the stroke in distance events.

But, although Cecil Healy undoubtedly was the first swimmer in Australia to win a State championship distance race by means of the "Crawl," swimmers of 25 years ago will remember that Herbert Dickinson, of the Rose Bay (Sydney) Club, an enthusiastic distance swimmer, employed the "Crawl" in his races, and in 1905, at Rushcutter's Bay Baths, with a start of 90 sees., he defeated the famous Barney Kieran in an 880 yards handicap.

Dickinson, in season 1906-07, swam third to Reg. Healy and Oscar Dickman in the State Mile Championship at Drummoyne Baths, and later finished fourth in the 880 Yards State Championship.

Dickinson was, therefore, the first swimmer in Australia to use the" Crawl" in a State distance championship.

Dickinson lifted the legs fairly high out of the water, but Healy's heels scarcely broke the surface.


The popular belief among natatorial enthusiasts in Australia is that the Americans, in endeavouring to copy the "Crawl" as swum by Wickham and Cavill, blundered upon the present-day" Crawl" stroke, and several Amerlcan sportIng wrIters have admItted that the Cavills taughy the stroke to America.
L. B. Handley, AmerIca's foremost coach, however, denIes thIs, and explains the genesis of the "Crawl" in America as follows:-

Page 15.

"In 1903 I received from Australia newspaper clippings describing the Australian "Crawl," in which the left leg beat synchronised with the right arm stroke.
I took the clippings to the New York Athletic Club's pool, and, with other club mates, tried unsuccessfully to get the hang of it.

"A few days later Gus Sundstrum, N.Y.A.C. pool manager, gave a demonstration of what he termed 'The Swordfish Glide,' shooting down the pool with arms out-stretched in front of his head, face submerged, legs almost straight, and feet moving in scissoring action under the surface.

"N.Y.A.C. swimmers, thinking that the leg drive was identical with the Australian 'Crawl,' adopted it, and in 1904 two members, Jack Lawrence and Van Cleaf, cov- ered 50 yards in 26 secs., lowering the American record."

Owen E. Griffiths  : How to Shoot a Breaker, 1929.

Extracted from
Griffiths Owen E.: "How to Shoot A Breaker" , in
Hellmrich, Dudley:
How To Swim - A Comprehensive Booklet on Swimming, Surfing and Natation Generally.
Caxton Printing Works
583A George Street, Sydney, 1929.
Pages 230 and 231.


Surfing is an acquired art.
It is not necessary to be an expert swimmer to be a good surfer.
A non-swimmer may enjoy a dip in the surf, although to experience the real thrills of surfing and shooting the breakers, it is essential to be a reasonably good over-arm swimmer.
Furthermore, a cool head is desirable if the surfer is to become proficient in this art.

A few hints on how to acquire some degree of proficiency in breaker-shooting sbould be of some help.
We are all acquainted with the beginner's reluctance to plunge into the water.
The most popular and best method of entering the surf is to run into the water and dive.
In making your way out to a point where the waves are breaking, best progress can be made by wading when the water is not above the waist and by swimming when the water is above the waist. Don't stand and get knocked over by a breaker, or try to swim through it.
Take a deep breath and go under the breaker, taking care to go deep enough to miss its force, and to keep facing seawards so as to be ready to dive under the next breaker.

Once out past the line of broken foam, the surfer must tread water or stand on the sandbank if shallow enough until a suitable wave tempts him to shoot it.
The secret of shooting a wave lies in timing "the break."
It is practically impossible to shoot a wave either before it breaks or after it has broken.

When a wave reaches shallow water, it mounts up, curls over or "breaks," and then surges towards the shore.
It is at the stage where the wave ceases to mount higher and is actually breaking, that the surfer must take the wave.
The surfer should commence swimming towards the shore as the wave is mounting up, so as to have pace up when the overtaking wave breaks.
This will assist him to time the break properly and to shoot the breaker.

When you feel the wave lifting and shooting you forward, bring your hands down to your sides, hunch the shoulders, take a deep breath, incline the head downwards and tip the body forward, keeping the feet together, legs straight, and body rigid.

The action of the wave after it has broken is like inumerable wheels rolling over and over towards the shore.
The body is in this way carried along.
Having filled your lungs. with air before taking the shoot, your body becomes more buoyant.
Hold this breath as long as possible, because, while taking another breath, you may drop off the wave.

Keep ahead of the wave, even when it is nearing the shore and losing power, otherwise you will be left behind.
Should you find the wave losing its driving force, you should kick the feet crawl fashion, or put your arms out in front as if diving.
This will help you to keep in front of the wave.

A wave has such force when it is breaking, that a proficient surfer can "corkscrew" on it.
To corkscrew means to completely turn over from the position on the stomach, over on to the back and then over again on to the stomach, keeping the body horizontal all the time.
This must be done quickly, and as the wave is breaking.
The surfer then finishes the shoot in the ordinary way.
In the case of a big wave there is a likelihood of the surfer being "smothered" or doubled up by the force of the water.
Again, some waves do not break evenly, but curl over and under themselves, or "dump."
These waves are known as "dumpers," and if taken in the ordinary way, the surfer will get knocked about or "dumped."
To avoid the results in both of the above cases, the surfer should put his arms out with a "pawing" action as the wave is breaking, and in this way fight his way to the front of the wave.
He may then take up his position as in an ordinary shoot.

In shooting breakers with boards, or boats, the same principles apply with modifications.

Hellmrich, Dudley:
How To Swim - A Comprehensive Booklet on Swimming, Surfing and Natation Generally. 
Caxton Printing Works
583A George Street, Sydney, 1929.
Pages 230 and 231.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (1997-2007) : Dudley Hellmrich : Origin of the Crawl, 1929.