A Hawaiian History of Surfing
This chapter chronicles a history of surfing from a Hawaiian perspective. First, it charts centuries-old histories of Hawaiian surfers from ka wā kahiko (times of old, prior to 1778) to show that Hawaiian pride in he'e nalu (surfing, surfer; lit., wave sliding) has deep historical roots. It draws from several mo'olelo (history, legend) not previously recorded in popular surf histories and found in Hawaiian-language sources. It spotlights stories about Hawaiian women. While surfing was arguably a male-dominated sport in the twentieth century, in ka wā kahiko women had a strong presence in the po'ina nalu and were the primary characters in most of surfing mo'olelo (histories, legends). The chapter also refutes key myths generated by popular versions of surfing history. By showing that Hawaiians continued surfing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it argues that he'e nalu's “extinction” at the turn of the twentieth century was a fallacy. Thus Alexander Hume Ford did not resurrect surfing, as is often purported, but rather learned to surf from Native Hawaiians like George Freeth, who had been surfing and continued to do so in Hawaii during this so-called restoration period. Furthermore, throughout the 1900s and despite construed historical memory, Hawaiian surfers still ranked as top performers and competitors in the world surfing arena—even on the North Shore in the 1960s, 1970s, and today.
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