Thursday, December 23, 2010


Mark Twain's Roughing It, published in 1872, contains the following
description of surfing:

"In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both
sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of
surf- bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards
out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and
wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right
moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon
the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did
not seem that a lightning express-train could shoot along at a more
hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made
a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right
moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the
shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck
the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in
me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly."
This refers to a trip Twain made in 1866.

A beautiful early account of surfing was written by Lieutenant James
King, commander of the Discovery, who completed Captain James Cook's
ship log after Cook's death in 1779:

"But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a
very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20
or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an
oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs
close on top of it, & their Arms are us'd to guide the plank, thye
wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether
push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with
a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so
as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, &
as it alters its direct. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks
before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais'd. On first
seeing this very dangerous diversion I did not conceive it possible
but that some of them must be dashed to mummy against the sharp rocks,
but jus before they reach the shore, if they are very near, they quit
their plank, & dive under till the Surf is broke, when the piece of
plank is sent many yards by the force of the Surf from the beach. The
greatest number are generally overtaken by the break of the swell, the
force of which they avoid, diving and swimming under the water out of
its impulse. By such like excercises, these men may be said to be
almost amphibious. The Women could swim off to the Ship, & continue
half a day in the Water, & afterwards return. The above diversion is
only intended as an amusement, not a tryal of skill, & in a gentle
swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they
seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise