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finney : tahiti, 1959 
Ben Finney  : Ancient Surfriding in Tahiti, 1959.

Finney, Ben R.: Fa'ahe'e: I'ancien sport de Tahiti.
Bulletin de la Societe des Etudes Oceaniennes
Numbers 127 and 128, Papeete, Tahiti, June - September 1959.
Pages 53 to 56.
The Translation
Originally printed in French, the intial translation into English was based on the combined results of google.translation and altavista.babelfish and modified by some remnants of high school French, circa 1967.
Following an introduction from Joe Tabler at Surfbooks.com to M. Philippe Zibin, Reunion Island, Phillipe kindly checked and corrected the text and supplied a French version with the correct punctuation.
Many thanks to Joe and Phillipe for their invaluable assistance.

The article is not noted in DeLa Vega et al. (2004) and not cited by Ben Finney himself in either his Surfing The Sport of Hawaiian Kings (1966) or Surfing A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport (1996).

Note that Finey's contention that surfriding developed from "a children's pastime" is one of the very few,
although in this case crucial, elements of his analysis that is possibly questionable.
Some (crude and undeveloped) objections are:
1. Children's pastimes or games often mimic adult activity, for example toy boats, toy cars, toy trains.
2. Children's games are often training for adult activity, in this case the development of swimming skills.
Such surf swimming skills are critical when attempts to negotiate the surf zone in canoes (for example, when
returning from fishing) are unsuccessful.
3. Childrens toys, in this case their boards, are often constructed by adults.
4. The inherent danger of the activity probably requires some level of adult supervision.

Also note, a number of early reports identifying juvenile surfriders may be a result of the observer witnessing the
activity in benign and relatively common climatic conditions (that is, small surf), whereas adult surfriders are
more likely to test their skills in more extreme, and much rarer, swell events.

The other crucial assumptions that probably deserve further analysis are the identification of "true surfboards"
as essentially based on length (1996, page 24) and the implication that "true surfing" is in a standing position
(1996, also page 24).
While length is important, surfboard performance is also function of width and volume.
By concentrating on riding in a standing position, certainly the dominant method in 1966, the analysis does not
account for other indicators of surfriding skill, principally wave size, directional manourves and critical positioning.
For example, in the period 1965 to 1969, some commentators consider the world's best, strictly in terms of
surfriding performance, was Californian kneeboarder, George Greenough.

In the following extract, Finney's footnotes are in standard brackets (1), my footnotes with a link are in square brackets [1].

Page 53

Fa'ahe'e: Ancient sport of Tahiti.

During research on the sport of "surfing" [1] from Hawaii, I had the occasion to discover facts little known about the sport such as it was practised across Oceania. [2]
Initially, I found that "surfing", which can be defined as proceeding on a sliding wave while supported by a board [3], was an ancient sport of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia.
Then I discovered that if, as is well known, "surfing" has had its greater development in Hawaii, it was also much practiced in Tahiti. [4]
This article describes "surfing" in Tahiti and compares it with Hawaiian "surfing".

In Tahiti, many travellers observed and described this game (sport?).
Several writers, Cook (1)[5], Bligh (2)[6], and Morrison (3)[7], wrote that the sport was popular at Matavai Bay and the missionary William Ellis (4), wrote that he often saw from fifty to one hundred occupied with this sport at Fare, Huahine.

According to J. A. Moerenhout,  the sport was practised where there were cuts in the reefs, and he writes that "surfing" "consisted of being carried by the waves of the sea, while being held on their tops (crests?), the most pleasant recreation of all those which they were create in water.
This exercise was located where there are openings in the reefs, where the sea breaks with more fury.
Among all exhibitions of strength or skill that men, in various countries, have achieved, I do not know any who exceed this one or which causes more astonishment at first sight.
In general, they have a board from three to four feet length, with which they gain the sea at a certain distance, watching for the waves, plunging under those which are not strong enough, and while thus letting several roll on their head, until a very high one approaches and the spectators, always gathered in a large number, shout from the shore to announce them.
Laying on their board, they await the swell; and, at the time it approaches them, they give a movement which makes them to reach the top...

Page 54

... from where they are seen, at once, carried, with the speed of an arrow, towards the shore, on which one would believe that they will be thrown in tatters; but, when they are very near, a small movement makes them turn over and leave the wave, which, almost at the same moment, breaks with a crash on the sands, or on the rocks, while the native, with (the?) flood, and without never leaving his board, leaves, while laughing, in order to start again his terrible game.
Men and women enjoy this entertainment, with the (its?) madness and are exerted there since their more tender youth; also some acquire a practice which is incredible.
I saw some, in a very large swell, to jump onto their knees on the board, and while thus balanced, the flood carried them with an alarming speed ".

According to Ellis, "surfing", that Tahitians called fa' ahe' e or horue, was mainly an entertainment for the adults (6).
Moreover, according to Morrison, the chiefs (ari' i), women as well as men, were most skilful at "surfing" (7).

Ellis also writes that Tahitians had a god of surfing, Huaouri (8).

As we have already noted, Hawaiian "surfing" was the most developed form of sport.
In short, we can characterize Hawaiian "surfing" as a sport which was practised by the men and the women, and especially by the chiefs, and the Hawaiians often stood on boards measuring up to 18 feet length.
Hawaiian surfing contrasts with the majority of Oceania, where it was mainly practiced by young people, who lay flat on their belly on boards of three or four feet length (9).

However, in Tahiti, as we have already indicated, adults, and especially the chiefs, practised this sport.
Thus, Tahitian "surfing", from the point of view of the participants, resembled Hawaiian "surfing". There is another point of comparison between the two, because there are indications that Tahitians, as well as  Hawaiians, stood on their boards.
The Tahitians usually rode laying down on the belly, or on the knees on their boards, but Morrison
wrote that experts were standing on their boards (10).
Moreover, the Tahitian boards ...

Page 55

... did not reach the (level of?) development of Hawaii, probably not having constructed boards over 5 feet long.

Thus, considering the participation of the adults and the chiefs, and that the experts stood on their boards, we can say that Tahitian surfing  was almost as highly developed as Hawaiian surfing , in spite of the shorter boards (11).

In 1888, C. F. Gordon-Cummmgs, after a six month visit in Tahiti, writes that he did not see "surfing" at all there (12).
However, Teuira Henry writes in 1928 that (the?) sport was seldom practised in that time (13).
In 1956 I had the occasion to visit Tahiti and several other islands of French Oceania.
I saw young people surfing at Takapoto, Tuamotu islands, and at Hiva-Oa, in the Marquesas Islands, but I did not observe surfing on Tahiti.

This raises the question, did fa'ahe'e , an ancient sport of Tahiti, completely disappear?

(1) Cook, 1784, Vol. 2, pages 150-151.
(2)Bligh , 1937, Vol. 1, page 409.
(3)Morrison , 1935, page 227.
(4) Ellis, 1831, Vol. 1, page 224.
(5)Moerenhout , 1837, Vol. 2, pages 151-152.
(6)Ellis , 1831 Vol 1, page 226.
(7)Morrison , 1935, page 227.
(8)Ellis , 1831, Vol. 1, page 226.
(9) The documentation of these declarations, which is too long to be presented here, is included in
my thesis (MA), Hawaiian Surfing, A Study of Cultural Change.
(10) 1935, p. 226.
(11) Considering the probability of colonization of Hawaii by Tahitians, I suggested in my thesis that "surfing" became an important sport initially in Tahiti, which was later brought to Hawaii where it reached its highest development.

Two notes are not included in the published text:
(12) Gordon-Cummings, 1883-1888, page ?

(13) Henry, 1928, page?

Page 56

Bligh, William
The Log of the Bounty. London, 1937.

Cook, James
A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean... for Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere in... the 'Resolution' and 'Discovery'... London, 1784.

Ellis, William
Polynesian Researches. London, 1831.

Finney, Ben
Hawaiian Surfing, A Study in Cultural Change.
Thesis (M.A.) University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1959.

Gordon-Cummings (sic), C. F.
Fire Fountains, The Kingdom of Hawaii... London, 1888.

Henry, Teuira
Ancient Tahiti. Bishop Museum Bulletin 48, Honolulu, 1928.

Moerenhout, J.A.
Voyages aux Iles du Grand Ocean... Paris, 1937.

Morrison, James
The Journal of James Morrison. London, 1935.

1. It is unclear why "surfing" has been enclosed in inverteted commas, but it is used consistently throughout the paper.

2. See Finney, Ben R: "Surfboarding in Oceania: Its Pre-European Distribution."
Weiner Volkeerkund Liche Mitteilungen (Viennese Ethnological Bulletin)
Vienna, Austria 1959 (SB) pages 2:23 to 36.
Noted in:
DeLaVega, Timothy T. et al.: 200 Years of Surfing Literature - An Annoted Bibliography
 Published by Timothy T. Dela Vega.
 Produced in Hanapepe, Kaui, Hawaii. 2004, page 41.
"The summer after I received my M.A. I was studying German in Vienna, in preparation for my PhD studies which required that I be able to read at least two other scientific languages besides English.
Anyway the editors of the "Viennese Ethnological Bulletin" asked me for an article from my thesis, so I wrote this one about the distribution of surfing around the entire Pacific, not just Hawai'i and Polynesia."
Ben Finney (4/7/03).

3. Finney's definition excludes body and canoe surfing, two closely related activities that, in terms of the historial development of surfriding skills, are probably deeply interconnected.
Specifically, before the universl adoption of the leg rope (circa 1975), efficient body surfing skills were required to retrieve lost boards and were crucial to the rider's safety.
Pedants may note that the definition would also exclude inflatable fabric craft.

4. The development of Polynesian surfriding to a high art in Hawaii was probably significantly enhanced by the islands' superior surfriding resources, still in evidence today.

5. Finney's source for "Cook" is probably an account of canoe surfing at Matavai Bay:

"He went out from the shore till he was near the place where the swell begins to take its rise; and, watching its first motion very attentively, paddled before it with great quickness, till (it) had acquired sufficient force to carry his canoe before it without passing underneath.
He sat motionless, and was carried along at the same swift rate as the wave, till it landed him on the beach.
Then he started out ... and went in search of another swell.
I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while his was driven so fast and smoothly by the sea."

Quoted in:
Warshaw, Matt: The Encyclopedia of Surfing.
Penguin Books Australia Pty Ltd
250 Camberwell Road
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia, 2004, pages 134 - 135.

The  location is not identified, although likely to be Matavai Bay, and the quotation is possibly incomplete.

Warshaw credits the quote to James Cook, as does DeLaVega et. al, who note on page 15:

Cook, James 1728-1779 (First written description of surfing, first drawing of a surfboard)
A26_ A Voyage to The Pacific Ocean Undertaken by Command of his Majesty
For Making Discoveries in The Northern Hemisphere Peifonned Under Captains Cook, Clerke, Gore in Years 1776, 1777, 1778 and 1780, being a copious and Satisfactory Abridgement (London: 1784).
"In (Cook, 1784) Vol. II, Chapter 9, 1777, Capt. Cook describes canoe surfing in Tahiti."

In a personal email, July 2006, Patrick Moser, Drury University, noted (amoungst other important  information):
"the famous description of Tahitian canoe riding by William Anderson (not James Cook) on Cook's third voyage".

Sincere thanks to Patrick Moser for his substantial contribution to this subject.

I am currently unable to determine the complete quotation and the original reference beyond that as noted by Dela Vega et. al.

This 1777 account is not, in fact, the first report of surfriding.
An earlier report of surfriding in Tahiti was recorded on Cook's fifst Pacific expedition on the Endeavour by a member of the crew, Joseph Banks in 1769.

Bank's surfriding report, although transposed to Cook's voice, was first published in:

Hawkesworth, John: An Account of the Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere by Commodore Byron, Captain Carteret, Captain Wallis and Captain Cook.
Drawn up from the Journals which were kept by the several Commanders and from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq.
In Three Volumes
Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell in the Strand,1773.
The surfriding report appears on pages 135 to136.

Bank's  complete journal become available in 1962:

Banks, Joseph: The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768 - 1771.
Edited by J. C. Beaglehole
The Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales in Association with Angus and Robertson
89 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Second Edition 1963. First published February 1962. Two Volumes
The surfriding report appears in Volume 1, page 281.

5. Bilgh's edited account, as published in 1937 and cited by Finney reads:

"The heavy surf which has run on the shore for a few days past has given great amusement to many
of the natives, but is such as one would suppose would drown any European.
The general plan of this diversion is for a number of them to advance with their paddles to where the
sea begins to break and, placing the broad part under the belly, holding the other end with their arms
extended full length, they turn themselves to the surge and balancing themselves on the paddles are
carried to the shore with the greatest rapidity."

Bligh, William, (1754-1817):
The log of the Bounty; being Lieutenant William Bligh's log of the proceedings of His Majesty's
armed vessel Bounty in a voyage to the South Seas, ...  Now published for the first time from the
manuscript in the Admiralty records, with an introduction and notes by Owen Rutter, comments on
Bligh's navigation by Rear-Admiral J. A. Edgell ... and four engravings on wood by Lynton Lamb.
Golden Cockerel Press, London,1937. Two volumes.
Volume 1, pages 408 to 409.

The full accreditation was contributed by email in May 2007, with thanks, by  Daved Marsh.

A more extensive account was published in 1978:
Bowker, R.M. and Bligh, Lt. William:
Mutiny!! Aboard HM Armed Transport 'Bounty' in 1789
Bowker and Bertram Ltd.
Old Bosham, Sussex, England 1978.
The surfriding report is on page 262.

The importance of this account is Bligh's observation that surfriding occurred in conjunction with "The heavy surf which has run on the shore for a few days past".
Bligh, and Morrison- see below, witnessed surfriding at Matavai Bay in extreme swell conditions.
Calculations based on journal entries and Bligh's charts indicate the waves were possibly up to twenty feet.

Finney, Ben R.: Fa'ahe'e I'ancien sport de Tahiti.
Bulletin de la Societe des Etudes Oceaniennes
Numbers 127 and 128.
Papeete, Tahiti, June - September 1959.
Pages 53 to 56.


Page 53

Fa'ahe'e I'ancien sport de Tahiti.

Au cours de recherches sur le sport de «surfing» chez les Hawaïens, j'ai eu l'occasion de découvrir
des faits peu connus au sujet du sport tel qu'il se pratiquait dans toute l'Océanie.
D'abord, j'ai trouvé que Ie «surfing», qui peut être défini comme Ie procédé de glissement sur une
vague, pendant qu'on est supporté par une planche, était un sport ancien de la Polynésie, de la
Mélanésie, et de la Micronésie.
Ensuite j'ai découvert que si, comme on le sait bien, Ie « sur-fing » a eu son plus grand
développement aux (sic, îles ?) Hawaii, il était aussi beaucoup pratiqué à Tahiti.
Dans cet article on décrira Ie « surfing » de Tahiti et on Ie comparera avec Ie « surfing » hawaïen.

A Tahiti beaucoup de voyageurs ont observé ce jeu et l'ont décrit.
Plusieurs écrivains, Cook (1), Bligh (2), et Morrison (3), ont écrit que Ie sport était en vogue à la Baie
de Matavai, et Ie missionnaire, William Ellis (4), écrit qu'il voyait souvent de cinquante à cent
Polynésiens occupés à ce sport à Fare, Huahine.

Selon J. A. Moerenhout, Ie sport était pratiqué où il y avait des coupures dans les récifs, et il écrit que
Ie « surfing » «consistait à se laisser emporter par les vagues de la mer, en se tenant sur leurs
sommets, amusement Ie plus agréable pour eux, de tous ceux qu'ils s'étaient crées dans l'eau.
Cet exercice avait pour théâtre les ouvertures dans les récifs, lieux ou la mer brise avec Ie plus de
Parmi tous les tours de force ou d'adresse que les hommes, en différents pays, sont parvenus à exécuter, je n'en connais pas qui surpasse celui-ci ou qui cause plus d'étonnements à première vue.
En général, ils ont une planche de trois à quatre pieds de long, avec laquelle ils gagnent la mer à une
certaine distance, guettant les vagues, plongeant sous celles qui ne sont pas assez fortes, et en
laissant ainsi rouler plusieurs sur leur tête, jusqu'à ce qu'il en vienne une très élevée, que leur
annoncent les cris poussés de la terre, par les spectateurs, toujours réunis en grand nombre sur Ie
Couchés sur leur planche, ils attendent la lame; et, au moment ou elle les aborde, ils se donnent un
mouvement qui leur en fait atteindre le sommet, ...

Page 54

... d'où on les voit, aussitôt, emportés, avec la rapidité d'une flèche, vers la rive, sur laquelle on
croirait qu'ils seront jetés en lambeaux; mais, quand ils en sont très près, un petit mouvement les
fait retourner et quitter la vague, qui, presque au même instant, se brise avec fracas sur Ie sable, ou sur les rochers, tandis que l'Indien (sic, indigène ?), à flot, et sans jamais quitter sa planche, part, en riant, pour recommencer son terrible jeu.
Hommes et femmes aiment à la folie ce divertissement, et s'y exercent dès leur plus tendre jeunesse;
aussi quelques-uns en acquièrent-ils une habitude qui passe toute croyance.
J'en ai vu, dans de très gros temps, sauter à genoux sur leur planche, et se tenir ainsi en équilibre,
pendant que Ie flot les emportait avec une vitesse effrayante ».

Selon Ellis, Ie «surfing », que les Tahitiens appelaient fa'ahe'e ou horue, était principalement un
divertissement des adultes (6).
De plus, selon Morrison, les chefs (ari'i), les femmes aussi bien que les hommes, étaient les plus
habiles au «surfing» (7).

Ellis écrit aussi que les Tahitiens avaient un dieu, Huaouri, du « surfing ».

Comme nous I'avons déjà constaté, le « surfing» hawaïen était la forme la plus développée du sport.
En bref, on peut caractériser Ie «surfing» hawaïen comme un sport qui était pratiqué par les hommes
et les femmes, et surtout par les chefs, et les Hawaïens souvent se tenaient debout sur des planches
mesurant jusqu'a 18 pieds de long.
Le «surfing» hawaïen contraste avec celui de la plupart de l'Océanie, ou il était pratiqué surtout par
des jeunes, qui se couchaient à plat ventre sur des planches de trois ou quatre pieds de long (9).

Cependant, à Tahiti, comme nous I'avons déjà indiqué, c'étaient des adultes, et spécialement les
chefs, qui pratiquaient ce sport.
Ainsi, Ie « surfing» tahitien, au point de vue des participants, ressemblait au «surfing» hawaïen.
II y a un autre point de comparaison entre les deux, car il existe des indications que les Tahitiens,
aussi bien que les Hawaïens, se tenaient debout sur leurs planches.
Les Tahitiens se couchaient d'ordinaire à plat ventre, ou se tenaient à genoux sur leurs planches,
mais Morrison écrit que les experts se tenaient debout sur leurs planches (10).
D'ailleurs, les planches tahitiennes ...

Page 55

... n'ont pas atteints Ie développement des hawaïennes, n'ayant pas eu vraisemblablement plus de 5
pieds de long.

Ainsi, vu la participation des adultes et des chefs, et Ie fait que Ies experts se tenaient debout sur
leurs planches, on peut dire que Ie « surfing » tahitien était presque aussi hautement développé que
Ie « surfing» hawaïen (11), malgré les planches plus courtes (11).

En 1888, C. F. Gordon-Cummings, après une visite de six mois à Tahiti, écrit qu'il n'y a pas du tout vu
de « surfing » (12).
Cependant, Teuira Henry écrit en 1928 que Ie sport était rarement pratiqué en ce temps-la (13).
En 1956 j'eus l'occasion de visiter Tahiti et plusieurs autres îles de l'Océanie Française.
Je vis des jeunes gens qui faisaient du « surfing » à Takapoto, aux îles Tuamotu, et à Hiva-Oa, aux
îles Marquises, mais je n'observai pas du tout de « surfing» chez les Tahitiens.
Enfin, je pose la question: Est-ce que Ie fa'ahe'e, ancien sport de Tahiti, à complètement disparu?

(1) Cook, 1784, Vol. 2, pages 150-151.
(2) Bligh, 1937, Vol. 1, page 409.
(3) Morrison, 1935, page 227.
(4) Ellis, 1831, Vol. 1, page 224.
(5) Moerenhout, 1837, Vol. 2, pages 151-152.
(6) Ellis, 1831 Vol 1, page 226.
(7) Morrison, 1935, page 227.
(8) Ellis, 1831, Vol. 1, page 226.
(9) La documentation de ces déclarations, qui est trop longue pour être
soumise ici, est inclue dans
ma thèse (M.A.), Hawaiien Surfing, A Study of Cultural Change.
(10) Morrison, 1935, p. 226.
(11) Vu la probabilité de la colonisation de Hawaii par les Tahitiens, je
suggère dans ma thèse que
c'est d'abord à Tahiti que Ie « surfing» devint un sport important, et
que c'est plus tard, quand il fut apporté jusqu'aux Hawaii qu'il atteignit son plus grand développement.

Page 56

Bligh, William
The Log of the Bounty. London, 1937.

Cook, James
A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean... for Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere in... the «Resolution» and « Discovery»... London, 1784.

Ellis, William
Polynesian Researches. London, 1831.

Finney, Ben
«Hawaiian Surfing, A Study in Cultural Change. »
Thèse (M.A.) inédite à l'Université de Hawaii, Honolulu, 1959.

Gordon-Cummings, C. F.
Fire Fountains, The Kingdom of Hawaii... London, 1888.

Henry, Teuira
Ancien Tahiti. Bishop Muséum Bulletin 48, Honolulu, 1928.

Moerenhout, J.A.
Voyages aux Iles du Grand Océan... Paris, 1937.

Morrison, James
The Journal of James Morrison. London, 1935.

Finney, Ben R.: Fa'ahe'e I'ancien sport de Tahiti.
Bulletin de la Societe des Etudes Oceaniennes
Numbers 127 and 128.
Papeete, Tahiti, June - September 1959.
Pages 53 to 56.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2007) : Ben Finney : Ancient Tahitian Surfriding, 1959.

VOYAGES AUX ILES DU GRAND OCEAN, contenant des documents nouveaux sur la géographie physique et politique, la langue, la littérature, la religion, les moeurs, les usages et les coutumes de leurs habitants; et des considérations générales sur le commerce, leur histoire et leur gouvernement, depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu'a nos jours (two volumes in one).
Paris. 1959. Adrien Maisonneuve., 1944, 1959.
Reprint of the 1837 original.
Volume I: XV, 576, (8) PP.
Volume II: (4 blank), (4), VII, 520 PP
plus 1 large folded map at rear of book and 4 plates.
Cloth cover, gilt title on spine.
French text.
Early researches on the Polynesian people after numerous voyages through these archipelagoes in the 1830's.
Moerenhout, J.A.: Travels to the Islands of the Pacific Ocean

Translated by Arthur R. Borden Jr.
Univ Press of America, Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, 1993.

Gordon-Cumming, C. F.
Fire Fountains : The Kingdom Of Hawaii; Its Volcanoes And The History Of Its Missions
Edinburgh and London; William Blackwood and Sons; 1883,
Lightning Source Inc, 2007
Kessinger Publishing, 2007