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phillip cowles haughey : surfing at waikiki and sydney, 1932 

Phillip Cowles Haughey : Surfing at Waikiki and Sydney, 1932.
Haughey, Phillip Cowles:
Letters from Phil : Young America League Tour of Australia
May 28, to October 15, 1932.
Typewritten with illustrations
Circa 1937

Hathi Trust

Gifted to the Library by Dr. Wilfred Haughey
An extensive account of canoe and board surfing at Waikiki followed by and report about body surfing in Australia, based on local informants.

Page 39

Dear Esther, Sydney, July 30, 1932
I now take my pen in hand to pencil you a few lines.
I hope you can appreciate this ratty stationery, I am running low, and this was handy so I am using it.
I will try to write to the Kodericks, the Kirkers, and the McAllisters, but if I don't get around to it give them my excuses.

Page 40

I must tell you about the beaches.
Sydney must be a beautiful place in the summer, Ihe natives talk about it incessantly. the temperature goes up to 110 [degrees] in the shade then the Sydneyites begin to feel a bit warm.
When such is the case, the whole family piles into the car and goes out to one of the beaches for a swim.
The shore of the ocean around Sydney is shaped something like this

Each of the H's are headlands, and each of the scallops, or what-ever~ya-call-ems, in between are beaches.
There are about forty of these beaches in the City of Sydney, and outside of the city the beaches grow longer and the headlands
less pronounced, until they end up with 90 Mile Beach, down by Melbourne,
That is where a lot of the Australian fast auto racing takes place.
It is similar to Daytona Beach, they tell me, only longer and not quite so nice.

Well, as I started to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, the family goes down to the beach for a swim and a surf.
How it so happens that about 5000 families thought; of the same thing half an hour earlier, and another 5000 or so thinks of it just after the much talked of family thought of it, so consequently there is a steady stream of families going to and coming from
the beaches all day.
Well, some of these families have brought their swimming suits, or as the Aussie's say, bathing costumes, with them, others had theirs on already.
Others just go down to have a look-see, others brought their lunch, some have brought a couple of beach blankets or robes as they are called here.
Anyway some have brought beach umbrellas, someone brings a gramophone (Phonograph).
In fact they are able to bring any crazy thing down to the beach to make the afternoon a pleasant one.

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Now I hope you can draw a picture of how the beach looks.

Now we come to the hard part.
You never have seen the surf, I think, but this will be tough to explain.
Well, when I left home, I thought the only place where any surfing was done was on Waikiki beach in Honolulu.
I was wrong.
There they ride the surf on boards or outrigger canoes.
In Australia it is done with the body alone.

Perhaps first I'd better explain what surf is.
On all of the oceans in the world there is to be found a little bit of surf.
Surf is nothing more or lees than a large wave which breaks at the top to form what you know as a white cap.
Some of the waves do not break at the top but they do not work so well with the surfing,  if that is the case.
These large waves come at intervals of from 20 to 200 feet.
The problem for the surfer is to decide which wave will be the best as it goes in.
Surf is formed only where there is a shallow beach.
The surf begins where the water Is from 10 to 15 feet deep.
At that stage it is nothing but a roll of water. (Very expressive isn't it?)
but some reason or other the surf is formed even if the sea is smooth.
When we were at Waikiki there was no wind at all. yet there was a medium to small surf
 It was from four to five feet high.

The manner in which the surf is ridden is somewhat like this.
In a canoe, the safest and easiest way, we had our first taste of surfing.
There are about eight in the canoe, each with a paddle.
You paddle through the breakers out to the deep water.
The boy in the back sees a good wave coming so he says "Hookie" and you all start pulling for all you are worth.
You have to start at about the top of one wave to catch the next one at the right time.
You paddle yourself sick for about a minute.
Then along comes the wave.
You have covered considerable ground by the time the wave catches you, so the water will be shallower and the waves higher.
All of a sudden up goes the back end , as the wave catches you, and if you have paddled hard enough, and are going fast enough the crest of the wave will go about as far as the middle of the canoe, and by that time you are going as fast as the wave so you lurch forward again, and the wave sticks to the tail end of the canoe, and away you go.
Stop paddling!
You have worked hard enough and from then on the ride is fun.
You are tearing along down hill over the water about 30 miles an hour, the cross section would look something like this.

What a terrible artist I am.
Anyway you are scooting down hill for all you are worth.
The farther you go the shallower it gets and the higher the wave gets till the depth of three feet is reached, then the wave begins to peter out.
The surf at Waikiki is the longest in the world, I think.
You ride about 1/4 of a mile in the outrigger canoes.
And it's a ride you never forget, tearing along in front of that immense wave, the water breaking over the top, and forming a most pleasant rumble.
I think I could do that for ages without tireing of it.

Board surfing is a different thing altogether.
To do that you have to be an excellent swimmer, a daredevil, and an acrobat all rolled into one.
The surfboard is about ten feet long and about two feet wide.
Any of these shapes and hundreds of others may be seen ...

They are curved upwards slightly at the front, something like a ski, only not nearly so pronounced.
In fact it is barely noticeable.
A surfboard is very buoyant, and will weigh about 100 pounds, I think, maybe not so much.
Anyway you lay on the back portion with the feet sticking out the end.
You kick with your feet and paddle with your hands to move about,
You don't go out so

Page 42

far in a surf board as in an outrigger.
And in order to get a good ride you must have a breaker, one that goes white at the top.
That is not essential in the outrigger, but it is best.
On the board, when you see a good wave ooming you paddle like heck to try to go as fast as it is coming.
You see you have to get o strrt on it, else it will pass right under you.
You get going like heck, and when the wave starts to break you go sailing along as nice as you please.
Now cones the acrobatics.
In order to stay ahead of the wave you must shift your weight farther forward on the board.
Of course you can crawl up like a snake on its belly, but that's no sport.
You have to stand up so you'll have a better chance of getting killed.

How try to picture this.
You are tearing along about 30 m.p.h, trying to stand up on a board ten by two.
The board is oscillating forwards, sidewise and up and down.
If you think it is easy try to stand on such a board while it is still and on a calm day.
Oh! this business of surfing ia no pipe.
But what fun.
Standing on your feet two inches from the water, and tearing along 30 per. It is the life.
You can ride right up on the shore on the surf board.
Some of the Hawaiian beach boys are marvels at surfing.
It is fun to see some one take a spill.
They will begin to lose their balance, and their arms will start to wave about, suddenly they will let out a yell, and under they go.
If they are very fortunate, they will have to swim only a out 50 yards to their board, but sometimes the boards are so well balanced that they will go all the way into the shore, all by themselves.
To take such a spill certainly makes them feel cheap.

This business of body surfing, the type they do in Australia will be hard to explain, because I haven't actually seen it myself yet. However I've heard enough about it so I think I could do it in my sleep.
The body surfing beaches are short ones, but they must kick up a good sized surf.
You have to swim out about 200 yards.
The funny thing about these Australian beaches is they are all infested with sharks, yet the people swim out as blandly as you please.
They seem to be trying to egg the sharks on.
However there are not many casualties from sharks, only about 20 deaths a year, so I don't suppose there is anything to be scared about really.
As I said before, you swim about 200 yards and wait for a good wave.
Now you know as well as I do that you can't swim as fast as those waves come in, so you have to start at the point they begin breaking.

In body surfing they are absolutely no good if they don't break.
The thing in body surfing seems to be a question of picking out the right wave.
It seems some of these bally things are called "dumpers", If you are so unfortunate as to get on a dumper, you are liable to have most anything happen to you.
The most common treatment these dumpers seen to have is to take the ill fated surfer along for a bit, then dump him straight down on the bottom, where said surfer receives a healthy crack on the head.
Then along comes the undertow which grabs the aforesaid surfer and chokes him, strangles him, then carries hin about 200 feet out to sea.
When he finally appears above the surface of the water he is quite apt to appear a little the worse for wear, and he may even have the wretched luck to stay unconscious for a couple of hours or so.

Haughey, Phillip Cowles:
Letters from Phil :
Young America League Tour of Australia

May 28, to October 15, 1932.
Typewritten with illustrations
Circa 1937

Hathi Trust


Geoff Cater (2017) : Phillip Cowles Haughey : Surfing at Waikiki and Sydney, 1932.