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clark : hawaiian surfing , 1939

Sydney A. Clark :  Surfriding in Hawaii, 1939.

 Extracts from
Clark, Sydney:
Prentice-Hall, New York, 1939.


One of many tourist guides promoting the islands for intending visitors, Clark reprises considerable material from Thomas Thrum's flawed account of surfriding and surfboard construction in ancient Hawaii.
Also note that Clark further compounds these errors with a less than accurate transcription:
The aristocratic wood was a very light and buoyant variety called olo ... the commoners' wood was alaia, page 153.
1896 Thrum* : Hawaiian Surfriding.

Clark (1890-1975)
Map illustration by Jacqueline Clark.

Page 42
About Sports for the Malihini

The water sports of Waikiki are the red letter item on the roster - especially surf-riding, the national sport of Hawaii.
The subject is too big to mention as a trailer to this brief {page 43] review.
We shall look into it in a later chapter when we find ourselves settling into the picture of "the beach."

Page 48

A hard day at Waikiki.

Page 146

The spirit of speed at Waikiki.

Page 151

The quarter-million-dollar natatorium of Waikiki needs more than casual mention.
Built as a tribute to Hawaii's World War heroes, it is called, and I think fairly, the finest outdoor pool in the world.
Rising from the very sea, its dimensions are forty yards by one hundred and ten yards and its bleachers seat six thousand people.
Duke Kahanamoku lent his Olympic prestige to the occasion of its opening in 1929, and Buster Crabbe here burst into prominence as a great swimmer.
Important aquatic meets are held each year and you will wish to scrutinize your calendar to see if one happens to coincide with your visit.

Page 152
The Royal Sport of Surf-Riding

The most deservedly famous feature of Waikiki is the exhilarating sport of the old kings and chiefs, surf-riding.
Found at various other beaches on the other islands, it nowhere compares in quality with that at Waikiki, for there a convenient reef, a third of a mile from shore, creates long rollers ideal for the sport.
It is not widely known that religious rites played their part in first instituting this sport and that the universal passion for gambling kept it alive.
Commoners, even in earliest days, took to it merely as an exciting competitive sport, but the kings and priests prayed about it
and consulted their magicians.
When a tree was selected and felled for surfboard material, a hole was dug at its roots and a red fish, the kumu, thrown into the hole by way of payment to the gods.
By laborious use of a stone adze the board was fashioned; its surface was scraped smooth with coral and oahi stone; and finally the finished product was stained by ti root or painted with a lustrous black paint obtained from burned kukui roots.
The material for the surfboards was of two distinct types, one for kings and chiefs, the other for the common run.
The aristocratic wood was a very light and buoyant variety called olo from the wiliwili tree, so corklike in floating power that it could not be paddled out against the surf to the starting line but had to be towed out by canoeists.
These boards were six to eight inches thick.
The commoners' wood was alaia from the koa tree, or the breadfruit tree, and these boards required only a third or a quarter of the thickness of the others.
Betting on surfboard races sustained interest for decades and reached high levels in the stakes risked.
Personal property ranging from fish nets to valuable livestock was wagered regularly and in some cases liberty and even human life were offered as backing for the wagerer's own skill or that of a

Page  153

favorite rider.
The surf meets of olden days must have been permeated with wild excitement.
Women were often quite as adept at the sport as men, and were sometimes willing to wager themselves as stakes.
Many a romantic tale, half-buried in legend, has survived a century and a half.
I suppose the early missionaries must have looked askance at this sport because of its gambling features.
At any rate it declined and finally died outright, and, strange as it seems, a haole revived it early in this present century.
He was Alexander Hume Ford of the Chicago Tribune who organized the Outrigger Club at Waikiki in 1908.
This far-famed club, whose headquarters adjoin the big hotels, now has members all over the world and is the central school of
the surfing art.
Hawaiians re-learned this art of their ancestors from interloping haoles, but it is needless to say that they quickly surpassed their teachers and attained uncanny skill to match their native ease and grace.
It is thrilling to watch their carefully careless perfection.
The bronzed beach boys are to surfing what Norwegian hill runners are to the art of skiing.
The technique of surf-riding is simple - once you learn it - as simple, in fact, as playing the violin.
In other words it is not something you can master in an afternoon or two, unless you have a wonderful sense of balance and a bold flair for all things athletic.
Having paddled yourself (with perpendicular arm stroke) out to the proper point, you lie in wait for a series of rollers that seems to promise success, then, letting one or two of these rollers pass, for they will not be sufficiently potent, you propel yourself furiously shoreward, letting your board catch the third swell or perhaps the fourth.
If all goes well you soar along, tilted slightly forward, at a pace that has been estimated at thirty miles an hour.
If all does not go well you miss the roller altogether, or worse still, lose your grip of the board which nose-dives violently and
bounces out into the clear.
Having learned to balance your-

Page 154

self on your wooden steed with confidence, the business of standing up is less hard than it seems.
Beach boys think nothing of carrying a passenger in on their shoulders or of standing on their heads as they ride in.
The Wahine Surf, near the Moana Hotel, is the "sissy surf" for beginners, as its name implies; the Cornucopia and Queen Surfs, farther toward Diamond Head, are trickier and faster; and the big Castle Surf in front of the Elks' Club is the most dangerous one,
for experts only.
Surfing in outrigger canoes is a sociable sport, like that of the toboggan or the old-fashioned double-runner for six or eight persons.
Even ten or twelve may make the thrilling ride at once, guided by a steersman on whom the responsibility rests.
The canoes, generally painted black with an inch rail of yellow, are fifteen to forty feet in length, with two carved timbers arching to the buoyant float of wiliwili wood on the left. In general semblance they suggest the ancient peleleus or war canoes with which Kamehameha and his chiefs went on naval expeditions, but their size is comparatively diminutive.
The ancient canoe, carved from a single koa tree, had a length of seventy feet, a depth and beam of three feet, and could hold three or four score warriors with their trappings and implements of battle.
Canoe surf-riding may seem a softer sport than surfboarding, since you are presumably in charge of an expert steersman, but it is actually no less exciting.
The speed is the same and there is the same delicious danger of a fierce nose-dive straight to the ocean's floor.
The cost of surf sport is not entirely negligible, but neither is it prohibitive to the slender purse.
Standard rates for hiring a surfboard are $1 a day; for instruction (together with the surfboard) $2.50 to $3 an hour.
Outrigger canoes, with steersman, generally cost a minimum of $3 for a half hour's use or $1 per passenger, if there are more than three.

Page 155

periods can be arranged by the time-honored process of dickering.
Moonlight and canoeing are mated by romance in all parts of the world, but nowhere so perfectly as here at Waikiki, where spray-drenched racing on the crests of silvered rollers adds thrill to thrill.
Try it and crackle with the electricity of living.

Clark, Sydney:
Prentice-Hall, New York, 1939.


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Geoff Cater (2016) : Sydney Clark : Hawaii, 1939.