Sunday, September 04, 2011

1930s: Mid-Decade

The following is a chapter in LEGENDARY SURFERS Volume 3: The 1930s to be published by year's end:

7. Mid-1930s

By the mid-1930s, “the surf world remained for the most part tri-cornered – practiced in Australia, Hawaii, and California by less than three thousand people total,” wrote surf writer Matt Warshaw in The History of Surfing, “— and each region was separated from the others by layers of cultural and geographic insulation… Over the previous thirty-five years, maybe a dozen surfers had circulated between California and Hawaii. Even fewer went from Australia to Hawaii, or vice versa, and surf travel between California and Australia didn’t exist. Occasionally a bit of surf news, in a magazine article or newsreel short, went international... Beyond that, not much crossed over from one surf region to the next.”[1]

Waikiki became the place of pilgrimage for California’s most influential surfers and it would remain so for the next several decades. In Southern California and Australia, surf clubs – both formal and informal – were focal points of the surfing lifestyle. Driving that lifestyle was the popularity of Tom Blake’s hollow board internationally, along with the continued spread of stand-up surfing itself.

Often overlooked in most discussions on the spread of surfing during the first several decades of the Twentieth Century, is the contribution and importance of the body board, what long ago Hawaiians used to call the kioe. Even before the 1930s, there were people riding wooden “belly boards” two-to-four feet long in Australia, California, the East Coast of the United States, and in England. It is doubtful that these surfers were dedicated surfers, but more likely beach-goers who enjoyed the salt water and riding waves flat on their stomachs during summer vacations. Rather than dismiss these riders, it is important to credit these body boarders. Much of surf lore, today, assumes that surfing was begun by the advent of stand-up surfers in these areas. The photographic proof documents quite the opposite. In some areas, body boarders preceeded stand-up surfers by only a few years; in other places, by as much as one or two decades.



Beyond wooden body boards, the development of United States East Coast surfing was spearheaded by Tom Blake’s invention of the hollow board. By the mid-1930s, his influence stretched from Oahu to Southern California clear to Florida – where Blake worked for periods of time and got to know other ocean lovers only to turn them onto surfing his hollow boards. Before the decade was over, Blake’s water craft designs could be found all along the East Coast, New South Wales, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Peru. Eventually, Blake’s contributions hit every corner of the globe.

Of his influence in Florida, Tom recalled: “Florida was virgin territory as far as I was concerned. Someone had brought a board and left it behind and I got fooling around on it in 1922. Later on I went back, in the early 1930s, trying to spread the idea of surfing and rescue boards. There were no surfers at all then, for years. The surf was pretty good and I enjoyed riding it. Slowly in the mid-1930s it started catching on. But it didn’t catch on for rescue work for a long time.”[2]

Dudley and Bill Whitman, two of Florida’s first known native surfers, began on belly boards at Miami Beach around 1932. Around 1933-34, the Whitmans were exposed to “the famous Tom Blake hollow board,” which was “fairly well accepted at that time,” recalled Dudley Whitman. “Of course, eventually it became the most popular board in Hawaii...”[3] While touring in Florida in the early 1930s, Tom “came up to see my brother and me because he understood we were riding Hawaiian surfboards. He became one of our lifelong friends.”[4]

By the 1930s, Mainland USA surfing was no longer confined to California. Following importation of Hawaiian body boards, Duke Kahanamoku’s demonstrations of the sport in New Jersey and New York, and Tom’s presence in the state, surfing got underway in Florida. The first Florida surfers hit the waves around 1932. These were Gauldin Reed, Dudley and Bill Whitman.[5] “My brother Bill,” recalled Dudley, “who is five years older than me, and I started surfing in Miami Beach in about 1932 on belly boards. My brother’s quite a craftsman and we made some belly boards that were quite beautiful. John Smith and Babe Braithwaite of Virginia Beach came to Miami Beach with the typical, 10-foot redwood Hawaiian surfboard about that time. My brother and I, being belly boarders, were totally amazed. So, my brother built the first Hawaiian surfboard that was ever built in Florida. It was 10 feet long, and made out of sugar pine. A year later, I followed... I was only about 13 years old at that time.”[6] In Tom Blake’s book Hawaiian Surfriders 1935, he named a number of well-known East Coast surfers who, in the beginning of the 1930s started surfing. Prominent among them were Dudley and Bill Whitman. Later, as members of the Outrigger Canoe Club, the Whitmans went on to patent the underwater camera, make movies, and pioneer the sport of slalom water-skiing.

Dudley vividly remembered meeting Tom Blake for the first time: “I was about thirteen years old, something like that. My brother Bill had built an exact copy of a Hawaiian surfboard. A few months later, I went to work to build one for myself. We had a very nice shop that happened to be right on the Atlantic Ocean. I was just finishing up the surfboard… and, well, it was eleven, eleven and a half feet long, and it was laminated out of three or four pieces. It was a solid board, and it was like the traditional Hawaiian-type boards. It was carved, you know, using draw knives and all that kind of stuff; and a plane that was close to 36 inches long; huge wood plane. The shavings are about knee-deep in the shop, and I’ve got it almost shaped, which is a pretty big job out of solid wood; not like shaping foam or balsa or anything like that. I looked out the window, and here goes this chap paddling by on a surfboard like I’d never seen before. It was a Tom Blake-patented surfboard and it was Tom himself. He was coming up to look for us, because he heard that we were surfing and we were the only ones in south Florida surfing. And so, from that time on, we had an acquaintanceship, and we became lifetime friends.”[7]

“We knew Tom from about 1932 or ‘3 for the rest of his life, virtually,” said Dudley. “Last few years I kind of lost track of him, but we used to exchange correspondence occasionally.”[8]

“I always thought of Tom as a person about 35 years old, or something like that,” Dudley Whitman stated, philosophically. “And, of course, he did age as we all do, but he always kept his youthful appearance. The amazing thing was that, finishing this particular board off, it was outmoded just before it was finished! So, very shortly after meeting Tom, my brother Bill built the first hollow board ever in Florida.”[9]

“Well, it’s been documented, I think,” Dudley Whitman said of the first surfers in Florida, “in some of the magazines, Surfer Magazine and so forth. The first people that came down here with Hawaiian surfboards were John Smith and Babe Braithwaite from Virginia Beach. They had an actual Hawaiian redwood board. They looked us up because we were fooling around, riding belly boards and things like that. They allowed my brother and myself to ride their boards, and they, incidentally, became lifetime friends as well.

“So, my brother Bill built his board, and then I told you about myself building my solid board. So, my brother Bill built the first Hawaiian surfboard ever built in Florida, and I built the second one – not that that matters. And then my brother Bill built the first hollow ‘Blake board’ that had ever been built in Florida. I still have that one that I built over sixty-some years ago, and that’s kind of an interesting story, in that it was, of course, mahogany and all of that. It was run over by an automobile up in Daytona. Actually, it was patched so good that when I look at it today I can hardly tell that it was patched. I had to have another board, of course, and so we built numerous Blake boards. I don’t have to tell you that the Blake board dominated the scene in Hawaii from about 1935… all through, until after World War II. There were a few square-tail hollow boards, too, but Tom, of course, is the father of the pointed tail, cigar-shaped one, and hollow boards.”[10]

“Well, of course, Tom was physically fit, a pretty handsome man, and as a person that knew him, he was a little different than a lot of surfers that you know,” Dudley said of Tom Blake and his early impressions of him. “Some people might say, or like to think, that maybe he was a hippie-type or something. No. He was a type of person of his own kind. He was always immaculately dressed with excellent clothes, excellent taste, and never far-out... He always, always presented well; not a rundown-looking, sloppy bum like you and I know some surfers degenerated to.”[11]

Miami Beach, back in those days, was not developed to much of an extent at all,” Dudley Whitman reminisced. “It was just starting its development. We had a home on the ocean… [on] Collins Avenue… also known as A1A. When I was a kid and born here, there were crocodiles all over the place. Very, very few people know that, but… we have photographs of it... Our home was at Thirty-second Street and Collins Avenue. The closest home to us was about a mile and a half away, and that was the Firestone Estate. Of course, today, there’s a dozen hotels in between where our home was. We could hear them [the Firestones], on a Sunday, start up their Pierce Arrow automobile and come down, pick us up, and take us to Sunday School. Miami Beach was just getting going, and the publicity department was running pictures nationally of bathing beauties in those ‘gorgeous bathing suits’ they had in those days; which are pretty much a big laugh to look at… Of course, during my lifetime I saw Miami Beach slowly build to be the premium resort of the world. Then, in time, [it] had a big slide in the sixties and seventies, and looked like it was going nowhere. But now it’s had a reverse [it’s getting prosperous again]. So, I’ve seen the city built. But, Miami Beach [when I was young, was a place where]… some of the roads were paved; there were few hotels and a sprinkling of homes; and virtually everybody knew each other. Today it’s a huge city, and is redeveloping as a too-popular of a resort – and also, really, a terminal for Central and South America.”[12]

Dudley Whitman said of the surf spots back then: “We probably surfed more up in Daytona than in Miami Beach, especially when Bill and I went to college. We went to the University of Florida, so every weekend – bam! – we were over in Daytona surfing. We introduced the sport there, and I think we started a lot of people surfing. Some of our friends are still surfing there, like Gauldin Reed.”[13]

“I was surfing before the Whitman brothers came up from Miami and joined us in the mid-’30s,” recalled Gauldin Reed, of the earliest days of surfing Daytona Beach. “We had a pretty strong group early on. I have a picture with 25 boards on the beach that we built ourselves. The boards were hollow and weighed about 40 pounds. We built nose and tail blocks and side strip bulkheads every foot and then nailed the plywood down on top of it. Of course, this was providing we could save $3 to buy all the materials.”[14]

“Nobody knew what we were doing,” Dudley admitted. “We carried our boards on the cars, these hollow Tom Blake boards that were 12 feet long, and people just didn’t understand it. Daytona was the focal point in Florida for surfing in 1936. Every time we surfed we had a crowd watch us, but it didn’t really take off until after World War II.”[15]

The hollow boards they built were “rounded… off a little bit more like the modern boards of today. They were put together with wooden pegs instead of screws like everybody else had.”[16] The wooden pegs created quite a stir at Waikiki when they were first seen. “Well, that’s a pretty good story,” Dudley Whitman declared when asked about his connection with the Outrigger Canoe Club and the story of the wooden pegs. “I don’t know how long we had known Tom; maybe for a year or two. Yes, at least that; maybe more. Definitely more. We were going to Hawaii and he [Tom] wrote a very nice letter to Duke Kahanamoku to introduce us to the Outrigger Canoe Club. And so, when we went to Hawaii, we saw Duke. Of course, he stood about six foot four at least, and he looks down at us haole white boys, and reads the letter and says, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any room at the Outrigger Canoe Club.’ Well, my brother Bill is a tremendous craftsman and he’s really great at lofting and stuff of that nature. So, we had built pretty nice-looking boards… and we were right there at Waikiki. So, after Duke had shoosed us, why we immediately started to unpack our boards that were wrapped up in canvas. After they saw our boards, maybe ten or twenty Hawaiian surfers gathered around. By the time we got them unpacked, there must have been at least a hundred or a hundred and fifty standing around. They took us to the Outrigger Canoe Club, gave us the racks of honor! I’ve been a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club ever since.”[17]

“My brother Bill’s probably been to Hawaii almost every summer of his life; at least certainly every other summer, and I’ve not been that fortunate. I’ve been over there about once every six-to-ten years; something like that. But, we had a lot of experiences with Tom. Incidentally, I have a beautiful – had a beautiful – little sailboat I had built, and Tom happened to name my boat. And he sailed with me on it. It’s called the Kahiki… It means, over the horizon, or in the distance.”[18]

“This one that I built, that we have in the museum,” Dudley Whitman recalled of the first surfboard he ever built, “The board that I was telling you about, about 1958 or 1962 I gave it to a doctor friend, or loaned it to him so he could train to go to Hawaii with us. Of course, we were riding modern boards like the type you have today; particularly Hobie boards… [Dudley’s original board that he loaned was] run over with a car, [so] I built another one. I loaned it to this friend of mine, Dr. Bradley, so he could condition himself for a surf safari we had in Hawaii. But he’s a practicing doctor. He didn’t have a chance to become an expert surfer or anything like that – not that I’m insinuating that I am or was. But, he used it to train on, and it got kind of beat up. And so I was throwing it away. I had it strapped on a cart that was over at our yacht club, and was moving it, and a friend of mine said, ‘What are you going to do with that?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’m throwing it away.’

“He said, ‘You can’t; it’s historic.’

“I said, ‘Oh, yes, I can. It’s a piece of junk.’

“So, he took it to Columbia, South Carolina, and stored it in his garage and his attic and his hangar, and he brought it back just a couple of years ago. It’s quite an experience to take a board that you built when you were 13, and you’re well into your seventies when you rejuvenate it.”[19]

Stand-up surfing and body boarding were not the only water sports the early Florida surfers got into. “… kind of an interesting story,” Dudley Whitman recalled. “When water skiing… first got started in this country, they thought it came from the [French] Riviera. I had a friend that had gotten a hold of a pair of water skis from the Riviera. After I tried them on me, I immediately came home and made a water ski... water skiing was brand new [in Florida]. People didn’t even know what you were doing. Within a year or so, I had met Bruce Parker, who was the U. S. National Champion, and very instrumental in introducing water skiing in the United States. He was a professional skier, incidentally. And so one time when we were skiing, he said, ‘Dudley, we’re going to have a water show. We want you to be in it.’ And I said okay. I think I was in college at the time; I’m not sure. Or, I was in high school. And he said, ‘We want you to do the single ski act.’ And I said okay.

“It happens that the ski that I had built from scratch, laminating it and everything else, was pretty much like the ones that were built in Europe, but the only skis that were made in this country actually weren’t stable. So, if a person did any single skiing, they probably went for 500 or 800 feet and invariably they’d fall off… it just wasn’t real satisfactory. Because of that, I practiced up and I never rode two skis again. So, it took about three, four years to get my friends to change over. And [one day] Bruce Parker writes me a letter and calls me on the telephone, both. He says, ‘Dudley, please stop that single skiing. We don’t need any one-legged skiers.’ Well, that’s slalom skiing as it is today. And one of our group – a younger brother of one of my close friends, who’s an expert skier – his brother went up to Cypress Gardens when they were doing their girls on a pyramid and flags. They saw them perform and from that day on they started their own ski company, and [water] skiing, of course, progressed a lot.” [20]

Dudley’s brother Bill passed on at age 92, in 2007. Obituaries marking his passage also reveal how much he, too, was an influence on Floridian water sports.

In “Surfer, horticulturist William Whitman dies,” David Smiley of the Miami Herald wrote: “A pioneering U.S. East Coast surfer (and horticulturist) has left us. Dudley Whitman’s brother Bill has passed on at age 92.

“The surfboard Bill Whitman built in 1932, the first of its kind in Florida, helped earn him a spot in the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. The underwater camera he invented and patented in 1951 shot footage that ended up in the Oscar-winning documentary ‘The Sea Around Us.’ And the 600 truckloads of rich, acidic soil he had dumped in his Bal Harbour backyard in the 1950s nurtured a world-famous grove of exotic, tropical fruits. Throughout his 92 years, the horticulturist scoured the world for tropical fruits – breadfruit, Kohala longan and a 40-pound jackfruit. All in all, Whitman is credited with introducing 80 varieties to the United States and donating more than $5 million to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

“William ‘Bill’ Francis Whitman Jr. died in his home… He was born June 30, 1914 in Chicago, but as a boy the family moved to an oceanfront home in Miami Beach. In 1932, he and his younger brother Dudley Whitman wanted to surf Hawaiian-style. But there weren’t any surf shops selling boards anywhere in Florida, let alone the East Coast. So, the brothers made their own, according to the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, of which both are members. The elder Whitman continued to surf well into his 80s.

“‘He was probably one of the greatest underwater men that ever lived,’ said brother Stanley Whitman. Added brother Dudley: ‘He was more fish than man.’ An example of the brothers’ 80-plus pound surfboards can be seen in their private museum at the Whitman-owned Bal Harbour Shops.

“On their trips to the Pacific after World War II, the brothers learned new trades, including spearfishing, which they introduced to the East Coast and Caribbean, Dudley Whitman said. In 1951, Bill Whitman wanted to show friends back in South Florida a glimpse of the South Pacific, so he created the first underwater camera and began shooting film below the surface, Dudley said. Early films earned the brothers nominations for Academy Awards. They sold some of the scenes they shot to filmmakers for use in the 1952 documentary ‘The Sea Around Us.’ The film won an Oscar. “We won the academy award and we weren’t even in the business,” Dudley Whitman said.

“Despite the accolades, Whitman was possibly best known for his expertise and accomplishments in horticulture. He devoted himself to bringing back to South Florida many of the exotic fruit species he found in the South Pacific. He found the sand and marl in his own backyard unfit to nurture the fragile plant life, so he had 600 truckloads of rich acidic soil taken from Greynolds Park area and dumped in his Bal Harbour backyard. He continued to scour the world – from the Amazon to Borneo to the Australian rain forests – for species he could bring back to United States. His traveling partner on many of the trips Whitman made late in his life was Steve Brady. By that time, Brady said, Whitman could hardly walk and used a wheelchair. But that was no deterrent. “If it involved his passions he would go to the ends of the earth,” Brady said.

“In 1999, Whitman donated $1 million to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where the Whitman Pavilion was erected in his honor. In 2003, he added $4 million to endow the tropical fruit program. He also helped found the Rare Fruit Council in 1955, and served as president until 1960. In 2001, Whitman authored the book, ‘Five Decades with Tropical Fruits: A Personal Journey.’ Whitman’s accomplishments earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Florida’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2004. He earned his bachelor’s in administration from the school in 1939...”[21]

David Karp, of the New York Times wrote in “Bill Whitman, 92, Is Dead; Scoured the Earth for Rare Fruit,” that “William F. Whitman Jr., a self-taught horticulturist who became renowned for collecting rare tropical fruits from around the world and popularizing them in the United States, died… at his home in Bal Harbour, Fla. He was 92.

“Mr. Whitman, who had suffered strokes and a heart attack, died in his sleep, his wife, Angela, said. Among rare-fruit devotees, Bill Whitman, as he was known, was hailed as the only person to have coaxed a mangosteen tree into bearing fruit outdoors in the continental United States. Native to Southeast Asia, mangosteen is notoriously finicky and cold-sensitive. That did not deter Mr. Whitman, whose garden is propitiously situated between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, minimizing the danger of catastrophic freezes. (Mangosteen is the most prominent of the exotic ‘superfruits’ like goji and noni, which are made into high-priced beverages from imported purées.)

“Mr. Whitman managed to cultivate other fastidiously tropical species like rambutan and langsat, and he was recognized as the first in the United States to popularize miracle fruit, a berry that tricks the palate into perceiving sour tastes as sweet. In pursuit of rare fruit, ‘Bill was a monomaniac,’ said Stephen S. Brady, his doctor and friend, who traveled with him. ‘He’d hear about a fruit tree, and pursue it like a pit bull to the ends of the earth.’ Richard J. Campbell, senior curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Fla., went on many of these expeditions. ‘When people said, “You can’t grow that in Florida,” he took that as a challenge,’ Mr. Campbell said.

“William Francis Whitman Jr. was born in 1914 in Chicago, a son of William Sr. and Leona Whitman. His father owned a printing company in Chicago and added to his fortune by developing real estate in Miami. Bill and his brothers helped pioneer surfing in Florida, and he was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 1998. After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, Mr. Whitman, along with his brother Dudley, built and patented an underwater camera that provided film for several movies, including ‘The Sea Around Us,’ which won an Academy Award for best documentary in 1952. Mr. Whitman’s devotion to collecting and propagating rare species and varieties stemmed from a sailing trip to Tahiti, where he became enchanted by the fruit. Mr. Whitman was a founder of the Rare Fruit Council International, based in Miami, and was its first president, from 1955 to 1960. Foremost among the fruit he introduced to Florida was Kohala longan...”[22]

Jordan Kahn of the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote a fine history of the early days of surfing at Daytona and Miami Beaches. The following is taken from his “Surfing’s Lost Chapter - How did Daytona Beach become Florida’s 1st surf city,” DAYTONA BEACH NEWS-JOURNAL, 27 July 2008.

“There is a grainy photograph of surfers posing near the Main Street Pier [in Daytona Beach, circa 1938] that holds clues to a lost chapter of local history... [In the 1930s] Few people in the world had ever seen such a thing as surfing then... Yet there they are, sepia-toned Florida surfers wearing wool swimsuits and riding 16-foot wood boards at a time when Studebakers and Model A Fords rolled down the beach...

“From a campsite on the beach a few blocks south of the pier, three brothers waded through the sea foam, and surfing in this city began. “People didn’t know what a surfboard was, and for years they didn’t know what we were doing,” said Dudley Whitman, one of those brothers. The puzzling sight of these three brothers from Miami Beach standing above the waves didn’t go unnoticed long so near the Boardwalk. In the 1930s, this was the hub of beach activity. Pep’s Pool and Pat Sheedy’s Handball Courts were there. The ‘Flying Mile’ race was held on the sand, and boxing rings were erected on the beach. Within a few years, a chain reaction of surfing discoveries was spreading. James Nelson of Daytona Beach Shores remembers the day some 70 years ago when he was at the handball courts and saw something in the ocean. “Some of the lifeguards were out there fooling around on these boards.”  Nelson, now 91, was fascinated. He went to talk to them and found out one of the lifeguards made and sold surfboards. Soon afterward, the young Stetson University law student bought an 18-foot red board for $25... [23]

“None of the men in that 1938 photo was the first person known to surf Florida, but the details of their boards contain the fingerprints of the man who was. A fin is visible on one board. And a few bear the telltale dots of nails securing plywood to a hollow frame. These are the inventions of Tom Blake, the seminal trailblazer of surfing as not just sport, but lifestyle and craft. While living in Hawaii, Blake put the first fin on a surfboard only [four] years before that photo was taken...

[Hawaiian] “Duke Kahanamoku... was famed as much as a surfer as for being an Olympics sensation, setting world records and winning three gold medals in the 1912 and 1920 games. It was Kahanamoku who inspired Blake to take up surfing. When Kahanamoku traveled to swim meets, he saved surfing from disappearing by giving the surf exhibitions for which he is now renowned as the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of modern surfing. Kahanamoku told his biographer that by 1900, western colonization had so completely stamped out native Hawaiian culture that ‘surfing had totally disappeared throughout the islands except for a few isolated spots… and even there only a handful of men took boards into the sea.’ It is surfing’s narrow escape through this historic bottleneck that gives it a lineage like a family tree. Ancient Hawaiians are surfing’s roots. Kahanamoku is the trunk. And surfing’s genesis in Daytona Beach is only one branch removed.[24]

“Whitman said lifeguards visiting Miami from Virginia Beach, where Kahanamoku had held a surf demo, first showed him and his brothers how to surf in 1930. Two years after that, the Whitman brothers were at their oceanfront workshop in Miami Beach when they saw someone paddling a surfboard. It was Blake, who in his biography, ‘Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman,’ said he was looking for these Florida surfers he’d heard about. Blake taught the Whitmans to build his boards that transformed the sport’s 180-pound planks into 80-pound hulls.

“These brothers’ surfing experiments may have begun in Miami, but they did most of their actual wave riding in Daytona Beach as students at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We worked every minute so we could leave on the weekend and go to Daytona and surf,’ Whitman said. ‘We actually surfed at Daytona; probably one of the first times was after the 1934 hurricane… We carried our surfboards on a trailer and camped on the beach.’ Blake could have directly influenced other locals, too. He was a lifeguard in Florida during the early 1930s and toured with the Red Cross promoting the use of surfboards to save people from drowning.

“And among the surfers in that 1938 photo are Paul Hart, a lifeguard examiner for the Red Cross, and Donald Gunn and Dick Every, who are both wearing the wool tank-top uniforms of the day for Daytona Beach lifeguards. Every even remembers a picture of Blake surfing in Daytona Beach at Harvey Street... [25]

“I remember seeing Dudley driving into town in a fancy convertible with surfboards towed behind it,” said Every, now 85. “My brother and I decided to build boards like them.” Gaulden Reed said in an interview before his death in November [2007] at 89 that people started making Blake-style boards in Seabreeze and Mainland high school shop classes. Bill Wohlhuter, the owner of Port Orange Seafood today, said he built his board from plans he got from Every’s brother, Don. ‘I once mounted a 1 1/2-horsepower Water Witch outboard on that board,” Wohlhuter said. ‘I steered the tiller with my foot!’ Many of these men – including the three Whitmans – are in the photo, preserved by the surfing hall of fame in Cocoa Beach, the Halifax Historical Museum in Daytona Beach and the Whitman family museum in Miami. The occasion is said to be the East Coast or Florida surfing championships.

“By today’s standards though, those boards are closer to boats. ‘They were kind of like a freight train,’ Whitman said. ‘They were very much faster for paddling, slow to get started of course, but probably faster than you could paddle a canoe once you got going. And you could catch big waves much farther out.’ After hurricanes, to make it past the onrush of whitewater, Reed said he used to throw his board off the pier and dive in. ‘During the hurricane season, you could catch some pretty good-sized ones, maybe 7- , 8- , 9-foot waves that were breaking out there beyond the pier,’ Nelson said. ‘You’d have to really walk the board. You’d catch the wave and you’d have to walk about four or five feet to keep the nose down and then walk it back and forth to keep it going.’

“They stuck their hands in the water like oars to prod those big boards into turns. ‘To be a cool cat and get the girls,’ Nelson said, ‘you had to lean over with your hand to steer it.’ The real hot dog move was shooting the pier, surfing through the pilings from one side to the other. ‘I almost lost a kneecap trying to do it,’ Nelson said. [26]

“When some of Daytona Beach’s surfers made their first pilgrimage to the sport’s birthplace, these Florida upstarts would achieve a degree of stature with the world’s most hallowed surfing club. The relatively advanced boards the Whitmans are holding in that 1938 photo defied odds in arriving in Waikiki... They were beautifully crafted; one made with mahogany and brass screws. Blake had given the Whitmans a letter of introduction to the Outrigger Canoe Club, the first surfing club.

“‘We were just kids and we showed it to Duke,’ Whitman said. ‘But he didn’t really have time for a couple of haole (Hawaiian slang for mainland outsiders) boys. So we went ahead and unwrapped our surfboards. People gathered around to watch us unpack and when the Hawaiians saw our surfboards, they gave us surf racks of honor.” The Whitmans were made club members and they surfed next to Kahanamoku. Reed also flew [probably travelled by steamship, as commercial aviation was still in its infancy] to Hawaii and met Kahanamoku and Blake. And Every met and surfed alongside Kahanamoku at Makaha. Sadly, the life these men gave to an embryonic Daytona Beach surf culture nearly vanished.[27]

“A nucleus of roughly 45 Daytona Beach surfers had developed. As quickly as surfing was becoming part of life in Daytona Beach, World War II and its exodus of young men would all but end it. In the days leading up to the war, Nelson sold Mainland High School grad George Doerr ‘a half interest’ in his $25 red wooden surfboard. ‘When World War II came along,’ Nelson said, ‘(Doerr) went into the Air Force and he was a fighter pilot and got shot down and was in a German prison camp for a couple of years.’ Reed said the only person he remembers surfing with during the war was Brewster Shaw, a famous local beach race driver. And on a coast suddenly on high alert for German submarines and spies, surfing went from a bizarre to a suspicious sight. ‘Brewster and I were in front of the Boardwalk and we came in after dark because the waves were so good, and we were reported to the police that two men had come in on torpedoes,’ Reed said. They were surrounded at gunpoint by military police. Reed said another time he was out past the end of the pier and a patrol boat approached him, machine guns drawn. ‘I’m saying, “No! No! No! Surfboard! Surfboard! Don’t Fire!” Reed said. “Scared my mule!”’

“When Every returned home from the war in ‘45, he said, ‘there was no surfing at all.’ Tony Sasso, a longtime director of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Museum in Cocoa Beach, said it’s been very hard to come by stories about surfing at that time. ‘Right around 1940 the trail goes dead. It doesn’t start back up again until the 1950s,’ Sasso said. ‘Everything started from scratch again.’ It is as if the war erased the heritage of Daytona Beach’s surfing pioneers as cleanly as footprints washed by waves from the sand. Only a few photos and people survive to stake Daytona Beach’s claim as Florida’s first surf city. ‘I kind of hate to admit it, being from Cocoa Beach where we call ourselves the East Coast surfing capitol,’ said Sasso, ‘but the first seeds were planted in the Daytona Beach area.’[28]

“By 1958, foam and fiberglass surfboards had transformed the sport. Richard Brown of Daytona Beach turned 14 and bought his first surfboard that year. He remembers being one of the very first people at Seabreeze High School to have one. ‘There were some guys at Mainland,’ he said. ‘But by ‘69, everybody at Seabreeze had a surfboard, or damn near.’ To those who were catching this new wave, it felt as if surfing had just been born. But Richard and his brother Dana, who today own the insurance company Hayward Brown Inc., grew up around surfing. And it was some of these early surfing pioneers who almost literally handed down the sport. Dick Every, who had the first foam surfboard in town, used to lend it to Richard and Dana. And Oscar Clairholme made a hollow board they used to play on as kids. ‘In fact, we had it out in the ocean one day and it sank. We lost it,’ Richard said.

“What has generally been remembered as Florida’s first generation of surfers was, in fact, the second. And these Floridians lived the kinds of experiences romanticized by Hollywood’s beach-blanket movies. As a lifeguard, Dana Brown often hung out on the beach in a palm frond and wood shack in front of the Daytona Plaza Hotel and rented surfboards. ‘In the summertime,’ Richard said, ‘my brother Dana used to anchor a sailboat out off of Daytona Plaza. We had pretty big boards back then, too, and my brother and his friends would each put a case of beer and a beach bunny on their board and paddle out to the sailboat for an evening of revelry.’

“... Richard remembers one of the best days of surfing he ever had was after a hurricane in 1964. ‘I came home from Gainesville because I knew it was going to be good and I surfed in front of the old Voyager Hotel,” he said. “You couldn’t lose your board because it would smack into the sea wall. There was no beach... We’d never seen waves like that; it was so big, 10- or 12-foot waves.’ Richard even saw what he called ‘the day the style of surfing changed.’ He was in high school when two road-tripping surfers from California paddled out. They were all shooting the pier, riding gently rolling outside waves they called ‘humpers.’ Suddenly the Californians headed in. ‘We figured, “Well hell, they don’t like it. They’re leaving,”‘ Richard said. And the next thing we see is their heads from the back of the waves screaming right and left and then they would do a kick out and the board would come flying back out of the wave. ‘We were just sitting there dumbfounded. We thought you’d be killed if you tried to surf in the shallow water in big wave shore pound,’ he said. ‘Then we started doing it.’[29]

“Is it possible that boogie boarders were the first wave riders in Florida? There are numerous accounts of belly boarding, as it was called generations ago, predating surfing in the state. Dudley Whitman said in 1930 when the group of lifeguards visiting Miami taught him to surf, he and his brothers had already been riding belly boards. The St. Augustine Record archives contain an article about a man named Guy Wolfe riding the waves in 1914. The article says Wolfe rode on his belly on wood planks covered in painted canvas that had ‘barrel stays’ for a sled-like nose. And one of Daytona Beach’s first surfers, native Gaulden Reed, who was born in 1919, said in his life both body surfing and belly boarding had always been among the sights at the beach. ‘Prior to (surfing), we were really expert body surfers,’ Reed said before his death [in 2007]. ‘We also built belly boards that were about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide by putting thin boards together and crossing them with two small boards and rounding the nose. They were only good for catching a breaking wave and riding the foam in.’

“How this more basic wave sport made it to Florida before surfing is unknown... The idea could have been imported by people who had either visited Hawaii or cities in California and the eastern seaboard that had been exposed to canoe surfing, traditional surfing and body surfing as demonstrated by Duke Kahanamoku in his travels.[30]

“... [At] the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Museum in Cocoa Beach and the Halifax Historical Museum in Daytona Beach... Only two of the 16 people are named... Dudley Whitman and Floyd Graves, but the names are written in a way that indicates who is who. A total of 28 names of people surfing in Daytona Beach during that time were given during interviews for this story. These are the 16 surfers in the 1938 photo. Fourteen of them are now identified; Wilbur Flowers, Barney Barnhart Jr., Bill Whitman, Stanley Whitman, Dudley Whitman, Don Every, Earl Blank, Bill Wohlhuter, Paul Hart, Donald Gunn, Floyd Graves, Al Bushman, James Nelson and Dick Every. An additional 13 surfers of that era were named in interviews: Gaulden Reed, Welling Brewster Shaw, Oscar Clairholme, George Doerr, Tom Porter, Buster MacFarland, Nelson Rippey, ‘Nudder’ Wilcox, Charles Spano, Carlisle ‘Boop’ Odum, Earnest Johnson, George Boone and George Jeffcoat.

“Plus there are two surfers from the 1938 photos that remain unidentified. That’s a total of 29 surfers. James Nelson remembers the photo as taking place after the event and after some of the competitors had already left. And in the photo, only 16 surfers are shown, but Dudley Whitman is wearing a No. 24. Dick Every said there were probably about 10 or 15 more surfers in the area who didn’t come to the event, giving 1938 Daytona Beach a rough estimate of 40 to 45 surfers. ‘There was nobody from New Smyrna surfing and I don’t recall anybody from Cocoa either,’ Every said. Paul ‘Bitsy’ Hart won the contest that day, which in interviews was sometimes called the Florida Surfing Championships and sometimes the East Coast Surfing Championships.

“‘(Hart) was in the same fraternity we were in, in Gainesville,’ Dudley Whitman said. ‘We used to stay with him. His mother had the drug store on Main Street. He built his own surfboard.’ Earl Blank, who died in 1993, was, among other things, a lifeguard and a hobby beekeeper. Bushman and Nelson were law students at Stetson University in DeLand when the photo was taken. Barnhardt remembers Boone and Jeffcoat were lifeguards in the 1930s. Johnson’s family owned bait-and-tackle stores in the Daytona Beach area. Wilcox was a boxer and a lifeguard. Spano was a city champ handball player and a head lifeguard. Clairholme was a builder in the area. Shaw was the father of William ‘Flea’ Shaw, who coached and married the four-time world champion surfer from Flagler Beach, Frieda Zamba Shaw. It’s noteworthy that Pep’s Pool was a public swimming pool at the Boardwalk near the foot of the Main Streer Pier in the time because the son of the pool’s owners is in the photo, Barney Barnhardt Jr. ‘The kid on the far left is a boy named Wilbur Flowers,’ Barnhardt said. ‘We were both 12 years old then. ‘We weren’t in the contest, but the photographer said, “Hey you’ve got a board. Get in the picture.” Let me tell you an interesting thing about that picture. My grandfather lived in Akron, Ohio, and he saw that picture in the Akron Beacon Journal because it went out on The Associated Press wire.”[31]

Back in the beginning years of Floridian surfing, just after it got underway, Tom Blake returned to lifeguard at the Roman Pools, located on 23rd Street and the Atlantic Ocean, in Miami.[32] Over the years spanning the 1920s to the 1950s, he went back and forth between California and Florida “several times,” he noted.[33]

In Hawaiian Surfboard, he mentioned briefly a trip to the Bahamas with his surfboard along; quite probably the first surf safari to the Bahamas: “In a seaplane, (Pan American) trip from Nassau, the English possession, I carried a full-sized hollow surfboard as baggage without trouble or inconvenience. Had we been forced down and the ship sunk in the Gulf Stream, I could have maintained the two pilots, steward, three passengers and myself from sinking for many hours, or until help came.”[34] Dudley Whitman said they also “surfed the island of Eleuthera,” at some point; probably much later.”[35]

Reviews of Tom’s book, published in 1935, reference his previously working in New York – even New York City. This was, no doubt, following a stint in Florida. Perhaps Tom’s first time working in New York, since the time he worked in the carnival at Jones Beach in 1921, was the summer of 1934. Tom tells it like this: “One time in Florida, I had a job at the surf club. That was the most exclusive beach club at Miami. The rich come down there from all over the country. I worked for Richard Ricardi… This rich man named Feldman was at the club one day and he had a big estate up in New York; Long Island… He had some kids. He used to have someone take care of the kids; teach them in the summer, you know. Steve recommended me. I heard him discussing it with his friend once. He said, ‘That’s the guy who beat the Hawaiians at their own game.’ Well, I didn’t say anything. That wasn’t what the Hawaiian’s game was, you know. They’re game was winning! [laugh] Anyway, Feldman said, ‘Come work for me this summer.’”[36]

Tom travelled to Long Island, New York and instructed the Feldman children. It is likely that he also did some lifeguarding in the area, possibly New York City. He certainly was in touch with the guards at Jones Beach and credits “Mullahey of Honolulu and Valley Stream, N.Y.” with making lifeguards at Jones Beach, on the South Shore of Long Island, N.Y., “surfboard minded.” Mullahey “battled for several years, as a lieutenant in the famous Jones Beach Lifeguard Patrol, to show them the value of the surfboard in rescue work. So when I came along with the improved hollow boards they were ready and eager to accept them.”[37]

“I went up there,” Tom continued of his New York summer. “That summer was fantastic for me… [My costs] were very little and they paid me $500 dollars a month. It was fantastic. I took care of these kids, taught them to swim, had good luck with them. Good luck for their parents, too, because they were all individuals and they were hard to get along with. We did get along… I came out of it with about $1500 bucks, well fed and everything, and heading for the Islands, again, for some surfing.”[38]

Long Beach

Back in California, in summer 1933, at one of the most popular surf beaches at the time – Long Beach – City Ordinance No. C-1195 went into effect, restricting surfboard riders to certain areas of the beach. If surfers failed to obey, it was possible that they could be fined $500 and put in jail for six months. The June 16th edition of the Press-Telegram gave the lowdown:

“An emergency ordinance, proposed by the Municipal Lifeguards… [has] become City Ordinance No. C-1195. Henceforth, timorous bathers need not dive in terror to the bottom of the sea in hope of avoiding being cut in twain by a speeding Hawaiian surfboard. The surfboard riders either will mind the new P’s and Q’s or will go to jail.

“Certain lanes of the surf will be reserved for bathing, and other lanes will be legal highways for riders of the booming wave. The maximum penalty for offense is a fine of $500, six months in jail, or both.”[39]

At the beginning of the following summer, the Long Beach Press-Telegram declared that “Surf-Riding” was now a “Popular Sport.”

“For beginners there are always plenty of little crumble waves, easy to ride on a two-bit surfboard. The experts ignore such ripples and ignore such surfboards; they ride a ‘comber’ or none at all, and they use either an Hawaiian board or none at all.

“There are several approved methods of wave riding. The simplest for the beginner is to repose oneself upon a thin five-foot plank and to place oneself, plant and all in the path of a wave. With fair luck the wave then will carry one, plank and all, on a speedy scenic voyage to the beach.

“The second variety of wave riding in the board class is much more spectacular. It requires strength, courage and skill. Furthermore, the participant may crack his skull or break his neck, before reaching the safe degree of expertness. The rider paddles seaward on a surfboard nearly twice his own length and equal to his own weight. Away out in the breaker line he about-faces and waits for a ‘big one.’ Pretty soon a toppling wall of green sea water approaches. The rider paddles; the wall scoops him up, board and all, almost to the point where board and rider would spill. Precariously he rights the board and as it is driven shoreward in front of the breaker’s crest he stands upright, aloof, conqueror of board and breaker. Or else, with a precipitous and ungraceful leap, he loses balance and disappears in the water.

“Of body surfing, as the lifeguards call it, there are two varieties. In one, the arms are extended beachward while the rider moves along in the lather of a wave. This type is juvenile; this type is taboo among the tanned gentry of many beach seasons. They prefer the second and more spectacular way of body surfing.

“This latter way is to clamp the arms against the sides, push the shoulders forward and stick the head down, and to ride the wave face-downward. The bathers who survive the rigors of learning this are in heavy surf become expert at ‘taking the drop’ with a crashing breaker and riding part and parcel with it until it casts itself upon the sand. Occasionally on the swift shoreward voyage they take a breath by raising the head, with jaw pugnaciously forward; barracuda-fashion.

“The experts in advanced surf riding have a right to strut on the beach. They have challenged the ocean’s mightiest breakers and have looked Old Man Neptune squarely in the eye.”[40]

Two years later, in September 1936, the Long Beach Press-Telegram featured a surfer by the name of Steve Skinner who assured the newspaper’s reporter that the “Thrilling Sport of Riding Surf” is “Easy to Master.”

“‘Hold the surf board in a horizontal position, the end against the middle of your body. Turn a little cornerwise to the breakers, so that you can see the rolling water over your shoulder. When the wave gets to you make a swing straight for the shore. Lay the board flat on the water and slip both hands to the center of the board at full arms length.’

“It’s Stephen ‘Steve’ Skinner speaking, and Steve should know. He not only rides a surfboard himself, but has taught a thousands others to do the same. Friendly, smiling and burned a mahogany color by the sun, Steve spends his spare time between Silver Spray Pier and Rainbow Pier swimming, riding a surf board, teaching others to ride, chatting with tourists. He is a one-man Chamber of Commerce, teaching enjoyment of water sports and making friends for the city.

“‘When I first came to the coast from Wichita, Kansas, fourteen years ago I didn’t know how to ride a surf board,’ he recalls. ‘I had a friend who did. I would ask him how he did it. ‘Just like this,’ he would say, and he would ride in with the wave and I couldn’t see what he did. I asked Henry B. Marshall, the umbrella man, how to ride a surfboard. He showed me the way I now teach others. I went out and rode in. It’s simple when you know exactly what to do, and riding in the first time is the greatest thrill in your life. I’ve had tourists come up to me on the beach and say: “I remember you! You taught me to ride a surfboard six years ago” or “You taught me to ride a surf board. Now will you teach my wife and children?” I’m always glad to do it. I’ll go back in the surf any time to teach anyone how to ride a surf board.’”[41]

In 1937, what Long Beach lifeguards and city fathers had feared might happen finally did, only it was not an injury caused to a bather by a surfer but rather self-inflicted upon the wave rider. The Press-Telegram reported: “Woman, Hurt by Surfboard July 5, Dies of Injury: Fatality First of Kind Ever Recorded in History of Beach.”

“Mrs. Phyllis Hines, 19, whose riding of breakers here July 5 came to an abrupt and painful stop when her own surfboard jabbed her in the abdomen. She died last night from effects of the blow.

“While the autopsy surgeon’s report was awaited today lifeguards here said that the young woman’s death was the first surfboard fatality of which they have heard. ‘Sometimes a bather has received an injury from a surfboard, usually because he tried to lie too far forward on the board, forcing it into a nose dive under water,” Lieutenant Henry P. Coleman of the Municipal Lifeguards said this morning. ‘Usually the injury is only a bruise or a bump on the head.’ A city ordinance requires surfboard riders to stay away from the surf immediately in front of lifeguard stations, where the boards might imperil swimmers.

“Police reports of the accident to Mrs. Hines indicate that a wave drove her own surfboard against her while she was in the surf with hundreds of other bathers.”[42]

The following year, the local paper gave a rundown of contest results from the “Southern California surfboard relay championship”:

“Surfboard riding, ancient sport of South Sea Islanders, gave a crowd of several thousand beach visitors a thrilling show here yesterday in Southern California championship events in the Salute to the States water circus beside Rainbow Pier.

“More than thirty expert surfers competed in the races. They represented surfing clubs of several beach cities. Their spectacular rides and frequent spills proved to be the most popular entertainment on the 4 1/2-hour water circus program. Five husky swimmers of the Manhattan Beach Surfing Club won the Southern California surfboard relay championship from the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club. The Venice Paddleboard Club finished third. Each member of a competing team raced from the beach to a marker a quarter-mile offshore and returned to the beach riding on a breaker, passing his surfboard to the next member of his team.” [43]

Following this regional paddleboard contest, Long Beach hosted the first National Surfing and Paddleboard Championships on Sunday, November 13, 1938. It was the first countrywide paddleboard title event held in the United States. More than 140 of America’s finest surfers competed for the mammoth silver trophy presented to the winning team and for the gold trophies presented individual winners.

The main event started with a half-mile paddleboard race through the surf. Women as well as men competed. It was broadcast live over radio station KFOX while 20,000 people crowded onto Rainbow and Silver Spray piers and the beach in front of the Pike to view 140 competitors. Pete Peterson and Mary Ann Hawkins of the Del Mar Surfing Club won in the national paddleboard division.

In conjunction with the paddle boarding event, there was also a surfing competition scheduled. However, lack of heavy surf postponed the surf contest until December 11, 1938. Not wanting to disappoint the crowd who had come to see them perform and the radio audience who were listening, the surfers held a trial open surfing event, with John Olson of Long Beach winning the competition, James McGrew of Beverly Hills placing second and Denny Watson of Venice third.[44]

“Preston Peterson and Miss Mary Ann Hawkins of Del Mar Surfing Club yesterday were crowned national paddle board champions,” reported the Long Beach Press-Telegram, “in the first annual national surfing and paddle board contest at Long Beach. Competing were 140 members of twelve organizations.

“Lack of a heavy surf made necessary a postponement of competition in the surf riding events and the highly anticipated initial interclub clash for possession of the Dick Loynes perpetual team trophy until December 11.

“Riding the small waves, John Olson of Long Beach won the open surfing event with James McGrew of Beverly Hills second and Denny Watson of Venice third. In the most thrilling event of the day, a five-man team from the Venice Surfriding Club, nosed out the Manhattan Club at the finish of a relay event entered also by Long Beach and the Surfriders.” [45]

40,000 onlookers watched sixty-five surfers compete in team and individual competitions on that cold December day in 1938. The Santa Ana Band led the participants, whose boards ranged in length from eleven to eighteen feet, to the edge of the surf between Rainbow and Silver Spray Piers where the water temperature was 52 degrees. Newsreel, magazine and newspaper photographers were also there taking pictures of the event.

The Press-Telegram reported on the following day:

“Forty thousand onlookers yesterday watched one of the most thrilling aquatic demonstrations ever staged when nature provided thundering rollers for the third annual Mid-winter Swim coupled with the National Surfing Champions.

“Postponed from a month ago, the National Surfing Championships provided the greatest action, with sixty-five surf riders participating. The Manhattan Surfing Club won the 44-inch silver perpetual team cup. The Venice Surfing Club placed second, Santa Monica third, Palos Verdes Surfriders Club fourth, and the Del Mar Club fifth. The open surfing championship was won by Arthur Horner of Venice, with Jim Kerwin of Manhattan Beach coming in second, and Don Campbell also of Manhattan Beach third. Medals were given to Chuck Allen, Palos Verdes, fourth place; Tom Ehlers, Manhattan Beach, fifth place; Kenneth Beck, Venice, sixth; Bob Reinhard and John Lind of Long Beach who placed seventh and eighth.”[46]

So successful was this first national Surfing and Paddleboard Championships, a second was held the following year off Rainbow Pier – again during the winter swell season – on December 3, 1939.

“A three-man team representing the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club yesterday won the Dick Loynes perpetual trophy emblematic of the national surfing championship in an event in the fog-shrouded waters off Rainbow Pier.

“Booming out of the fog blanket on the crests of curling breakers that saturated onlookers, the Hermosa Beach men nosed out the defending trophy holders of Manhattan Beach by 10 points. Venice Surfing Club was third and Long Beach, fourth. Gene Smith, member of the Hawaiian Surfing Club, which traveled here from the islands, competed alone against the teams after his two teammates A.C. Spohler and Jack May withdrew in the face of the unusual weather conditions. He finished fifth against the heavy odds.

“Individual surfing honors went to Long Beach Surfing Club members John Olsen who finished first, Alvin Bixler, second, and Bob Rhienhardt, forth. Gene Smith of Hawaii came in third.” [47]

The second was the last. There would never again be another national surf contest held in Long Beach for two reasons: war and the breakwater. World War II broke out in Europe and it was not long before the Japanese attacked and the United States was drawn into the war. The Long Beach breakwater was extended during the war when the U.S. Navy came to Terminal Island and made it their home. After the war, the surfers who returned from battle would find that there were no more waves in Long Beach to ride. The breakwater had seen to that. But love of surfing still continued, and shapers such as Ernest Guirey still made Long Beach their home.


San Diego

“There’s a good chance Ralph Noisat caught the first wave in San Diego,” wrote Jeannette De Wyze in a retrospective on San Diego surfers, published in the San Diego Reader in 2006. Noisat’s surfing in the Sand Diego area preceded George Freeth’s by several years at least.

De Wyze wrote that “… as he wasn’t a man to brag, his pioneering role might have been lost were it not for his board. He made it himself when he was a boy, and it was still in the Noisat family home in 1998 when Ralph’s daughter, Margie Chamberlain, was preparing to sell the Mission Hills residence. Chamberlain realized the heavy wooden board might have historic value… her father’s maternal grandfather worked on the construction of the Pioneer Sugar Mill in Lahaina, Maui. Her father’s mother spent at least part of her childhood there, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, marrying, and having [her father] Ralph in 1896. From what her father later told her, Chamberlain got the impression he was close to his grandfather; he may have even visited him in Hawaii, where the older man lived for many years. ‘My dad knew some of the Hawaiian royal family members,’ Chamberlain says. ‘He had a lot of the sense of Hawaiian history, which I can only imagine he got from his grandfather.’ [48]

Although Ralph Noisat’s daughter didn’t know “how her father came to make the seven-foot-long, square-tailed board, ‘He always talked about the wood being koa,’ she says. She has the impression he may have surfed on it in Northern California before 1910, the year he and his mother moved to San Diego. He would have turned 14 that year. Noisat enrolled as a freshman at San Diego High School and got involved with track and field and student government; he managed the football team. He also surfed from 1910 to 1914, he told his daughter years later.” It’s not known where Ralph surfed, “but he wasn’t riding the waves alone. ‘When he was telling me these stories of his youth, it always sounded like he had this little circle of friends,’ his daughter says. Whether his pals borrowed his board or fashioned copies is another detail that’s been lost.[49]

“Before he reached his 18th birthday in 1914, Noisat enlisted in the Navy, embarking on a military career that would last 30 years. Chances are he wasn’t here when one of the most famous surfers in the world arrived. George Freeth, born in Oahu in 1883, was the son of an Englishman and a half-Hawaiian woman. A champion swimmer and high diver, Freeth taught himself the ancient Hawaiian art of riding waves, a skill that by the end of the 19th Century had almost disappeared from the islands. By 1907 he was so adept he caught the eye of writer and travel adventurer Jack London, who later described Freeth’s aquatic prowess in The Cruise of the Snark. London was among those who provided letters of introduction to the young Hawaiian as he prepared to sail to California, where he hoped to make his fortune promoting surfing and other water sports.[50]

“Less than three weeks after departing Oahu (on July 3, 1907), Freeth was surfing at Venice Beach. The spectacle attracted the attention of at least one newspaper reporter and has since inspired the claim that Freeth was the first person to surf in California. (This seems unlikely, according to the staff at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. They point to a newspaper article that details how, in 1885, three members of the royal Hawaiian family who attended a military school in San Mateo surfed at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz.) Freeth’s water skills distinguished him from most Americans of that era. Drownings were so commonplace they were scaring away tourists from resorts in Venice and Redondo Beach. To counteract the negative publicity, railroad magnate and Redondo developer Henry Huntington hired Freeth to show off his surfing skills, and the developer of Venice followed suit. Freeth’s performances included standing on his head while riding the waves. And in the years that followed, he improved water safety off Southern California, teaching fundamental water-rescue skills to a cadre of young men who later formed the lifeguard services of Los Angeles County, Long Beach, and San Diego. At times Freeth took a more hands-on approach to lifesaving, most notably when he rescued 11 Japanese fishermen during a violent winter storm in December 1908. Eighteen months later, the United State Congress saluted his bravery by giving him a Congressional Gold Medal.

“For all the acclaim, Freeth struggled to make a living. He got a break in 1915 when the moneyed and well-connected San Diego Rowing Club asked him to coach the club’s swim team. Freeth took the job, and it seems likely he would have surfed in San Diego [at that time] at least in the summer months, when to earn extra money he taught swimming in Coronado. By May 1918, after 13 men died in a single day in rip currents off Ocean Beach, that community had secured Freeth’s services as a lifeguard, and as a July 17, 1918, San Diego Union article attests, he couldn’t resist showing off. ‘Four thousand beachgoers received a surprise and enjoyed a succession of thrills and healthy laughs yesterday at Ocean Beach when George Freeth, lifeguard, presented his unannounced surfboard dive,’ the paper reported. ‘Riding on the crest of the wave in the usual manner, Freeth suddenly leaped, clearing the board by at least three feet, turned a somersault, regained his balance on the board again, then completed his stunt with a dive.’

“That was around 1916 or 1917, according to local amateur surfing historian John Elwell. Elwell says [Duke] Kahanamoku surfed the OB Pier, and when he did, he asked a teenaged lifeguard named Charlie Wright if he could store his board in Wright’s beach shack. Elwell, who interviewed Wright a few years before his death in 1994, says Wright encouraged Kahanamoku to use the shack but asked if he might try the board. ‘So Charlie surfed the board and also got the dimensions and later copied it,’ Elwell says. [51]

“Wright, who was something of a showman as well as an entrepreneur, was putting on surfing demonstrations at special events. The California Surf Museum has one photograph of Wright surfing on New Year’s Eve of 1925 next to the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach; on his shoulders he bears a young woman wielding a torch.

“But by the late 1920s, Wright wasn’t using his board for much besides the occasional exhibition. Emil Sigler says he found it near the Mission Beach lifeguard station when he went there the day after his arrival in San Diego in 1928. ‘It was two pieces of thick pine, bolted together. And it had an iron tip,’ recalls Sigler... He asked whom the board belonged to and then tracked down Wright, who told him he could use it as much as he wanted. ‘Just put it back where you found it. Lean it against the seawall,’ Sigler says Wright instructed him.[52]

“Born in San Francisco, Sigler had wanted to become a fisherman, and since school didn’t interest him, he often ditched classes to hang out at the Fleischacker Pool. Some of the pool’s lifeguards were Hawaiian, and Sigler says one day during an outing to the beach they gave him a couple of rides on their boards. That triggered his interest in surfing. Like the Hawaiians’ boards, Wright’s 125-pound behemoth ‘was so heavy, it was steady, real steady,’ Sigler recalls. ‘It was a lot more steady than the other boards later on.’ It was so massive, in fact, that a rider couldn’t make it turn in the water, and the varnish was so worn ‘you had to be careful you didn’t get any splinters,’ Sigler says. Still, he enjoyed riding the combers off Queenstown Court in Mission Beach. Sigler says Wright warned him away from surfing at Ocean Beach, claiming that the outflow from Mission Bay, which at that time streamed under a bridge rather than through the present channel, could be tricky. ‘You could get knocked out or something, and the tide’ll take you out,’ he says Wright told him. One day while jogging on the beach, Sigler noticed another spot that looked promising. At the north end of Pacific Beach, just south of Pacific Beach Point, the waves seemed particularly well formed. The board was too heavy for Sigler to carry that distance, so he hauled it aboard a ten-foot wooden dory and rowed north from Mission Beach. He unloaded Wright’s board at the beach that’s now known as Tourmaline and caught some impressive rides. He never saw anyone else surf there for years; he thinks he was the first. [53]

“Sigler will tell you he was the first serious local surfer, but Lloyd Baker dismisses that claim with a snort. Sigler ‘surfed a little bit,’ Baker acknowledges, ‘but he was not very agile. Not that he wasn’t strong and not that he couldn’t have become a better surfer, but he and Don Pritchard and Dempsey Holder [two other early surfers] were never, ever stylists. They went out and tried, but when they got up it was like you never thought they were going to last for more than 20 feet before they fell off or something.’ [54]

“Baker says he and his pal Dorian Paskowitz and a handful of other teenagers from Point Loma and La Jolla were the first true San Diego surfers, so obsessed with riding the waves, they developed confidence and elegance though their boards were primitive. At 85, Baker’s a big man who moves with an easy grace… He gave up surfing about 1975, when tennis and skiing had become all-consuming.

“Born in San Diego, Baker and his family moved around California in his early childhood, but in 1934, when Lloyd was 13, they settled into a house at Portsmouth Court in Mission Beach. Dorian Paskowitz lived a couple of blocks away. In the years that followed, ‘We went to school every day together,’ Baker says. ‘We swam in the morning before school. We ran together. We dated together. We did everything together.’ [55]

“School was Point Loma High, which they reached by riding the streetcar that ran south on Mission Boulevard and over the bridge to Ocean Beach. (That bridge was later torn down when the Mission Bay jetty was created.) ‘On the other side of the bridge, we’d get off and take a bus up to school.’ In their sophomore year they built paddleboards in the high school woodshop. Paddleboards had been invented in the late 1920s by a Wisconsin native named Tom Blake who had found his way to Hawaii and become fascinated by the ancient Hawaiian boards in Honolulu’s Bishop Museum. In an attempt to devise something that would work like the old planks (as surfboards were called) but be lighter, he had come up with a design that was essentially a surfboard-shaped hollow box. Dubbed a cigar box or a kook box, paddleboards became popular with lifeguards for rescue work, but they could also be used to ride waves. Baker and Paskowitz copied this design and learned to stand up on the boards in the surf that sometimes formed at the entrance to Mission Bay. ‘Those boards probably lasted a year, year and a half,’ Baker estimates. [56]

“Besides being unwieldy, the boards ‘were a pain in the ass, because as soon as they got just a little warped or they got in the sunshine or whatever, why, they started leaking,’ Baker says. When a fellow named Pete Peterson moved from Hawaii to San Diego, where he got a job at the Mission Beach Plunge, he brought with him a couple of square-tailed solid-wood Hawaiian boards, and the boys studied these with interest. About the same time, they learned about boards that promised to work better than paddleboards or Hawaiian planks. [57]

In the early-to-mid 1930s, “a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of prefabricated homes started building surfboards as a sideline. Although the company used solid redwood at first, it later began importing lightweight balsa from South America for use in both the home-building and surfboard-manufacturing businesses. The balsa ‘was beautiful stuff!’ Baker recalls. ‘They had it all milled, and it was very pretty.’ But a surfer couldn’t simply order a finished board. He had to request that a block of wood be manufactured to the shape and dimensions he specified. ‘They’d put it together in any configuration you want,’ Baker says. ‘You could actually go through their bins and pick out the pieces you were going to have them glue up.’ Some pieces were harder, some softer; they also varied in weight. ‘You could pick them out so the board balanced. You’d pick out redwood pieces with pretty grains of wood.’ If you wanted a “runner” of redwood glued down the middle of the board to stiffen it or along the sides (the rails) or tip (the nose) to protect the softer wood, you could order that too. You drove up to L.A. to pick up your order, then took it home, where with woodworking tools you shaped the simple geometry into a board that planed over water with power and speed. Or if you had a friend who was good at shaping, you might press him into service. [58]

“Baker became renowned for his skill at shaping the Pacific Systems Homes boards. Today he downplays his ability; he says he wasn’t great compared to subsequent generations of shapers. But for a few years in the late 1930s, he worked on probably 40 or 50 boards. Baker worked on boards for Paskowitz and for the small gang of Ocean Beach and La Jolla boys who had started surfing, as well as others. He did it for free. ‘We were happy to do the work and pass the board on to somebody that would use it.’ Because they were lighter, weighing 45 to 65 pounds, the balsa/redwood boards were more responsive in the water, and with the addition of a fin (introduced by Tom Blake in 1935), they became more maneuverable. [59]

“Kimball Daun, one of the Ocean Beach boys, doesn’t remember when or where he met Lloyd Baker, but he says it didn’t take long to realize they were kindred spirits. Born in a house on Larkspur Street 83 years ago, Daun remembers wandering over to the water, unsupervised, when he was six or seven, and teaching himself to swim. Not long after that, he became friends with another kid named Skeeter Malcolm, who lived a few blocks away on Voltaire and shared his love of the ocean. By the time they were eight or nine, they were bodysurfing on ‘the big beach.’ Somehow they heard that Duke Kahanamoku had surfed the Mission Bay channel back in the 1920s, and that piqued their interest.

“Their first attempt at following his example involved a paddleboard owned by an older teenager named Bob Sterling. ‘He would take it out on the ocean, usually on calm days, and paddle round on it.’ Sterling was willing to lend his board to the younger duo. Daun says he and Malcolm took it to an area of Ocean Beach where few swimmers were in the water; they didn’t have to worry about other surf- or paddleboards, because there weren’t any. They took turns pushing each other into the shore break, and while the nose would sometimes take a dive and the board come to an abrupt halt, at other times the board surged forward. Then whoever was on it would pop up into a crouch, balancing for a couple of seconds before tumbling off. [60]

“They couldn’t steer at all, but they had fun on Sterling’s board, Daun says, until the day one of them caught a good-sized wave and nosed in hard enough to hit the bottom. ‘All of a sudden, the board was just sunk, which was unusual.’ When they got it onto the sand, they realized ‘four feet of the plywood bottom of the board had peeled off and was just hanging under it. We thought, “Oh my God, this is ruined.”‘ Sterling was a hulking fellow, and they quaked at the thought of his reaction. They loaded the casualty on a wagon and hauled it to Daun’s house. ‘I said, “Well, we gotta glue it,” but we didn’t have any glue. So we went on Green Street, which was the next block over, and dug the tar out of the cracks in the street. We put it in a can, melted it, and poured the seam all the way around. We scraped off the excess and nailed it down with the tar in there. When we got finished, you could see the black here and there.’ It seemed to hold, though Daun and Malcolm never pressed their luck by borrowing the board again. [61]

“A bit of larceny enabled them to get a board of their own. This happened one night when the boys were walking home from the high school. ‘Out around Coronado Avenue, someone was building a new house,’ Daun says. On the building site, they spotted ‘six magnificent redwood boards that they were using for the window frames. They were about 12 feet long. No one was around, and in those days no one stole anything.’ Daun and Malcolm hoisted the boards on their shoulders and headed down the hill for the home of a friend who had a big basement. He refused to harbor their plunder, so they continued on to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. ‘The boards would bounce because of the distance between us. We were walking along, and a couple of Ocean Beach cops drove around the corner, and oh my God, I thought we were going to die right there. I said, “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look!”’ The police slowed down but didn’t stop the boys, who reached the safety of the garage adjoining the café and barbershop on Voltaire operated by Malcolm’s parents. Later, ‘Skeeter told his dad that my father had bought the wood, and I told my dad that his father had bought it,’ Daun says. The only problem with this was that ‘when my dad went down to get a haircut, one of us always had to be in the damn barbershop to keep the talk away from the surfboard.’ [62]

“Somehow that worked. Three-quarters of an inch thick, the boards were far too thin to be made into a solid surfboard, so Daun and Malcolm set about building another box with cross-members. For this they needed screws and plywood, which cost little – but more than they had. ‘But Skeeter got 20 cents a day for lunch money, which was unheard of for me,’ Daun says. ‘I had my mom make three sandwiches for me, and I’d take two and give Skeeter one. That way he could save his lunch money.’ They earned a bit more from chores. ‘We finally got the board built, and at 11 feet long, it was slow in turning, just like all big boards. But for a hollow board made at minimal expense, it was easy to catch waves.’ [63]

“Daun says he and Malcolm (who died in 1993 after a long career as a teacher, coach, and principal) later graduated to boards fabricated from the Pacific Systems Homes balsa/redwood blanks and shaped by Lloyd Baker. So did three other Ocean Beach friends of theirs. They all attended Point Loma High. Baker could look out from his music-appreciation class and assess the surf conditions. If the day looked good, he would sweep through the building, poking his head into the other boys’ classrooms and catching their attention. They’d get up and leave. Someone always had an old Model A or some other vehicle they could pile into. ‘The teachers didn’t like it,’ Daun acknowledges. ‘But that’s how much we were into surfing.’ Every minute of their waking lives, they were either doing it or thinking about doing it. [64]

“The weight of the boards limited the choices of where these first hard-core surfers surfed. ‘See, in those days, those boards were nose-heavy,’ explains Bill (“Hadji”) Hein, who by the late 1930s had joined the small band of regulars at Mission Beach and at 88 continues to surf today. Because of the boards’ tendency to ‘pearl’ (or plunge beneath the water), ‘You had to be selective in where you could go. You had to have a wave at least four to five feet high, and it had to have slope in front of it, not a curl,’ he says. In San Diego County, the most reliable places to find those conditions were San Onofre, Windansea (in La Jolla), Pacific Beach Point, Sunset Cliffs (south of OB), and Imperial Beach. [65]

“Often compared to Waikiki in Hawaii, San Onofre began luring Southern California surfers as early as the 1920s. According to Emil Sigler, the location’s remoteness encouraged some at the all-male gatherings to swim naked, in a day when men wore bathing suits that covered them from neck to knee. By the 1930s, San Onofre was the setting for the Pacific Coast Surfriding Championships, the first organized surfing contests in the world. These were not cutthroat affairs, according to Jane Schmauss, the director of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. ‘Those guys didn’t care a feather or a fig about who was the best surfer,’ she says. But they were curious about each other’s boards and techniques, and the San Onofre gatherings provided an opportunity to compare notes. ‘We had campfires and luaus,’ Hein recalls. ‘It was the Hawaiian Islands spirit.’ San Onofre was too far away for everyday surfing. So was Imperial Beach for all but the few guys who lived there, and most of the time the IB surf wasn’t great anyway, Baker says. But in the winter, when the surf came up at Tijuana Sloughs, ‘Then Dempsey [Holder] would call, and we’d go down.’ It might happen only three times a year, Baker says, ‘usually for three to four days. Then there wouldn’t be any other surf for a month or so. And the beach surf [in Imperial Beach] wasn’t any different than the beach surf at Mission Beach or anywhere else’ – unpropitious for boards that might weigh 70 pounds or more. [66]

“The waves off Sunset Cliffs were excellent year-round, although access to them wasn’t easy. A fellow could make the long paddle south from Ocean Beach or approach from the cliff top or the Theosophical Society. ‘We used to take our surfboards and just leave ‘em in the brush [and] carry them down the little trail and surf there day in, day out,’ Baker says. [67]

“At Windansea, the reef causes the swell to break abruptly, creating powerful waves that often have a tubular shape. But no one rode Windansea until 1937. One day a young glider pilot named Woody Brown, riding a homemade hollow board, and a handful of other young men from La Jolla ‘found great surf at Bird Rock and Pacific Beach Point, where we rode 20-foot waves, taking off right on the edge of the kelp,’ Brown recalled in a 2000 Surfer’s Journal article. He and his buddies then ventured out at Windansea. After that, Ocean and Mission Beach surfers began joining them, at least on occasion. [68]

“Most, however, considered PB Point ‘the absolute best for us,’ according to Kimball Daun. ‘You always had a long right slide. When the surf was really big, you could actually ride all the way over to Tourmaline.’ As at Sunset Cliffs, access to the water off the headland wasn’t easy. ‘You had to drive up La Jolla Boulevard and jump the curb,’ Hadji Hein recalls. Japanese-American farmers were growing fruits and vegetables on the bluff, and the surfers would drive through an opening in their fence and down a mud road leading south to a canyon. They’d park their jalopies there and walk the rest of the way to the beach. ‘There were beautiful oleander trees all along there,’ Hein says. The surfers would pick the blossoms, bring them home to their girlfriends, and they would make leis. ‘That was the spirit we had in those days. We’d play Hawaiian music and all that sort of thing.’ [69]

“One other way at least a few people reached Tourmaline Beach was via a City of San Diego lifeguard truck. By 1935, Emil Sigler had overcome the handicap of being blind in his right eye (the result of an early childhood accident) to come in second on the city’s lifeguard-screening exam. He wound up working at the Mission Beach lifeguard station, which had an old Model A. Sigler says he would often rise early and load up a couple of the local kids like Baker and Paskowitz with their boards. He would drive north along the sand, going under Crystal Pier, to Tourmaline Beach. The group would surf, then return in time for Sigler to start his work shift by 9:30 a.m.

“An encounter on that truck resulted in the Ocean Beach boys getting their nickname. As Kimball Daun recalls it, Sigler had driven up to Crystal Pier and stopped to chat with Daun, Malcolm, and a couple of their OB cohorts. Finally Sigler started the engine to drive back to the lifeguard station. ‘Well, Skeeter and I were going to have to walk down to Old Mission Beach,’ about a mile south of the pier. ‘So we jumped on the back of the truck. It had handles to hold on to. When we did that, the truck bottomed out.’ Emil Sigler chastised them, ‘So we jumped off and Emil worked the thing out of the sand, then we’d jump on again. Pretty soon it was ‘You goddamned vandals!’ He picked up big rocks and started flinging them at us! That was the first time we were called the Vandals.’ The name stuck. [70]

“Were the Vandals the first San Diego surf club? They weren’t an organization. The Mission Beach surfers formed the first formal association of local wave riders around 1938, with the support of a city councilman named Fred Simpson. Lloyd Baker was the first president, and the group held meetings in a little room on the north end of the bathhouse that was located at the Mission Beach seawall, near Queenstown Court. But the club ‘dropped into oblivion when the war came along,’ says Hein, who was one of the first members. ‘Everybody had to go into the service, and it just went kaput.’ [71]

Aloha Shirts 

One enduring “invention” that came out of the mid-1930s was what we now call the “Aloha Shirt.” As land based attire, it would help define the beach lifestyle that continues today.

The Aloha Shirt was initially thought up in the early 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods, a store in Waikiki. “Chun began sewing brightly colored shirts for tourists out of old kimono fabrics he had leftover in stock,” describes the Wikipedia. “The Honolulu Advertiser newspaper was quick to coin the term Aloha shirt to describe Chun’s fashionable creation. Chun trademarked the name. The first advertisement in the Honolulu Advertiser for Chun’s Aloha shirt was published on June 28, 1935. Local residents, especially surfers, and tourists descended on Chun’s store and bought every shirt he had. Within years, major designer labels sprung up all over Hawaii and began manufacturing and selling Aloha shirts en masse.” Retail chains in Hawai‘i and on the U.S. Mainland even produced single aloha shirt designs for employee uniforms.[72]

The same year that “Aloha Shirt” became a registered trademark, a surfer named Nat Norfleet Sr. and his partner George Brangier opened an Aloha shirt company called Kahala. “We began like nearly everybody else in the business, not with a pair of shoestrings but with one shoestring between the two of us,” Norfleet Sr. said. “Red McQueen had brought back from the 1932 Olympics in Japan some shirts made out of silk kimono cloth. We copied them to produce our first aloha shirts. They were absolutely horrible, but Elmer Lee had a stand in front of the old Outrigger Canoe Club where he sold coconut milk and pineapple juice, and he sold our horrible shirts.”[73]

“The shirts were purchased by local residents, beach boys, surfers and tourists. The first advertisement placed in the Honolulu Advertiser using the words “Aloha Shirt” was on June 28, 1935. With the birth of Rayon in the mid 1920’s, the dazzlingly colored and tropically decorated Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirt became a staple souvenir of cruise ship tourists. Early shirt labels bore names like Musa Shiya, Watamulls, Kamehameha, Kahala, Surfriders, Alfred Shaheen, Duke Kahanamoku, etc. The 1940’s and 1950’s furnish us with a memorable list of personalities depicted wearing Hawaiian-Print Aloha Shirts. Elvis Presley, the undisputed king of rock and roll had many Hawaiian Shirts. Here is an off-the-top-of-my-head, recollection, list of famous people, motion picture and television personalities, politicians and sports celebrities that have been photographed and featured wearing Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirts. Harry S. Truman, our 33rd President loved to wear Aloha Shirts. He was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1951 wearing one. Montgomery Cliff and Frank Sinatra were featured in the memorable motion picture From here to Eternity in Hawaiian-Print Aloha shirts.[74]


Beach Boys of Waikiki

Where there’s Aloha Shirts, there are Beach Boys. In trying to come up with a list of the Waikiki Beach Boys of the 1930s, I have relied on an email that came to me from Karen Cotter, assisted by her sister Emily Fradkin. An aunt of the two sisters was Emily Campbell Kauha Davis (1896-1987). A school teacher at 20, Emily sailed away to Honolulu at age 22 to the horror of her parents. She settled in with delight, taught school, and soon after met and married Waikiki beach boy and later captain of the Waikiki lifeguards, John Kauha. After over a decade together, Emily lost John Kauha to cancer in 1939.

“Anyway,” wrote Karen Cotter, “from amongst my aunt’s books I acquired two old poetry books by Don Blanding, published in 1923 and 1925 respectively, and in the back of one, written in pencil, is a list of ‘Beach Boys of Waikiki’ in my aunt’s hand which I thought you might find of interest...”

The listing – by no means complete, but still the largest list of 1930s Waikiki Beach Boys I have seen anywhere – is as follows, in the order it was written:

·         Pua Kealoha
·         Davd Kahanamoku
·         Louis Kahanamoku
·         Sergent Kahanamoku
·         William Kahanamoku (whom Emily referred elsewhere as ‘Billy’)
·         Sam Kahanamoku
·         John Napahu
·         John D. Kaupiko (who was married to Emily’s best friend, Helen)
·         John Kauha
·         Hiram Anahu
·         William Keawemaha (nicknamed ‘Tough Bill’)
·         ‘Steamboat’ Keawemaha
·         Paul Tsang
·         John Liu
·         Chick Daniel
·         Jeremiah Lima
·         Joseph Guerrero
·         Tony Guererrero
·         George Harris
·         Ilima
·         Abe Umiamaka
·         Louis Rutherford
·         Enay MacKinney[75]

“For many years,” Emily’s niece Karen wrote, “my aunt wrote a newsy column in the Honolulu Advertiser in the ‘30s and ‘40s called ‘Beachwalk Girl.’ She often sent my mother columns which she thought my mother would enjoy – not all the columns for sure as I believe they were a daily item – perhaps only weekly, but we have a fat scrapbook full of the daily happenings in the neighborhood. My aunt lived on Seaside Avenue and Kuhio so was in the middle of the action!

“... perhaps the list will be of some use in your ongoing research. Thank you, Karen and Emily.”[76]

The Surf Ski 

One of the few surf-related innovations and inventions of the 1930s that cannot be attributed to Tom Blake is the invention of the surf ski, normally credited to Dr. G.A. “Saxon” Crackanthrope, a stalwart of the Manly Club, N.S.W., Australia, circa 1930. Dissatisfaction with his ability to ride a surfboard and the possible influence of surf canoes led to Crakanthorpe’s development of the surf ski.

The original design was 8 foot x 28 inches x 6 inches thick with 12 inches of tail lift, solid cedar planks and a double bladed paddle and footstraps.[77]

Other claims to the invention of the surf ski include: Bill Langford at Maroubra, pre-World War II; a 1934 design recalled by Denis Green of oil impregnated canvas stretched over a timber frame, again at Maroubra;[78] a type of ski used by two brothers at Port Macquarie N.S.W. on their oyster leases, and occasionally in the surf around 1930;[79] and a “first appearance on Newcastle beaches during the twenties, and came to Deewhy about 1932;”[80] as well as 1933, Jack Toyer of Cronulla.

Despite the competing claims, it was Saxon Crackanthrope who was the one to register and received the patent for the surf ski.[81]

The Surf-o-Plane 

Another form of surf craft invented in Australia in the 1930s was the inflatable “Surf-o-Plane.” It was invented by a Sydney doctor in 1933, Dr Ernest Smithers of Bronte, N.S.W., who worked for eight years to develop it. A prone craft made of an inflated molded rubber, it was an immediate success. Apart from the ease of paddling and wave catching due to the buoyancy, danger to the rider and other bathers was minimal. For this reason they were accepted in general bodysurfing areas, whereas wooden prone boards were limited to designated boardriding zones. [82]

On a side note, an article entitled “Making Money at the Beach,” published in Popular Mechanics, July 1934, Volume 62 No. 1, pages 115 – 117, gave plans and specifications for making a solid wood “Bellyboard.”[83]

We now leave a general look at the mid-1930s and focus, again, on the surfers of the time…

[1] Warshaw, Matt. The History of Surfing, ©2010, published by Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, p. 67. Matt’s estimation of the numbers surfing may be overblown.
[2] Lynch, Gault-Williams, et. al. TOM BLAKE: Journey of a Pioneer Waterman, ©2001.
[3] Vansant, Amy. “Dudley Whitman: A Visit with Florida’s First Surfer,” Surfer magazine, Vol. 35, No. 4, p. 84.
[4] Vansant, 1994, p. 84.
[5] Vansant, Amy, 1994, p. 84.
[6] Vansant, 1994, p. 84. Dudley Whitman quoted. Dudley was born March 20, 1920.
[7] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[8] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000; most likely 1933 or ‘34.
[9] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[10] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[11] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[12] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[13] Vansant, 1994, p. 85. Dudley Whitman quoted.
[14] Vansant, Amy. “Goofing Off In God’s Waiting Room,” or “Gauldin Reed: A Link to Florida’s Surfing Past,” Surfer, Volume 36, No. 6, June 1995, p. 96. Gauldin Reed quoted.
[15] Vansant, 1994, p. 85. Dudley Whitman quoted.
[16] Vansant, 1994, p. 85. Dudley Whitman quoted.
[17] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[18] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[19] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[20] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[21] Smiley, David. “Surfer, horticulturist William Whitman dies,” Miami Herald , June 1, 2007. See also The Whitmans at the First East Coast Surfing Championships, Daytona, Florida, 1938, at:
[22] Karp, David. “Bill Whitman, 92, Is Dead; Scoured the Earth for Rare Fruit,” New York Times, June 4, 2007 with Correction Appended.
[23] Kahn, Jordan. “Surfing’s Lost Chapter - How did Daytona Beach become Florida’s 1st surf city,” Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[24] Kahn, Jordan. “Surfing’s Lost Chapter - How did Daytona Beach become Florida’s 1st surf city,” Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[25] Kahn, Jordan. “Surfing’s Lost Chapter - How did Daytona Beach become Florida’s 1st surf city,” Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[26] Kahn, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[27] Kahn, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[28] Kahn, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[29] Kahn, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[30] Kahn, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[31] Kahn, Jordan. “Surfing’s Lost Chapter - How did Daytona Beach become Florida’s 1st surf city,” Daytona Beach News-Journal, 27 July 2008.
[32] “Roman Pools Are the Only Pools in This Area Devoted Exclusively to Water Sports.” See handbill, February 18, 1934. Tom had worked here before.
[33] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Thomas Edward Blake, July 25, 1988, Washburn, Wisconsin. See also handbill advertising a swim show with the most “National Champions Ever At One Pool in America,” including Tom Blake, “Champion of the Hawaiian Surf Board,” Sunday, February 18, 1934.
[34] Blake, Tom. Hawaiian Surfboard, 1935.
[35] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Dudley Whitman, May 10, 2000.
[36] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Thomas Edward Blake, July 25, 1988, Washburn, Wisconsin.
[37] Blake, 1935, 1983, p. 69.
[38] Lynch, Gary. Interview with Thomas Edward Blake, July 25, 1988, Washburn, Wisconsin.
[39] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Surfboard Riders Must Watch Areas,” June 16, 1933.
[40] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Surf-Riding Now Popular Sport,” May 14, 1934.
[41] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Thrilling Sport of Riding Surf Easy to Master,” September 13. 1936.
[42] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Woman, Hurt by Surfboard July 5, Dies of Injury: Fatality First of Kind Ever Recorded in History of Beach,” July 14, 1937.
[43] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “States’ Celebrants Take to Surfboards, August 8, 1938.
[44] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Dozen Clubs in Surf Contests,” November 14, 1938.
[45] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Dozen Clubs in Surf Contests,” November 14, 1938.
[46] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Surfriders Watched By Big Crowd,” December 12, 1938.
[47] Long Beach Press-Telegram, “Surf Event Is Won By Hermosians,” December 4, 1939. This was the contest Tarzan had originally won entry to but had been initially denied. It would appear that he managed to be sent, after all, along with A.C. Spohler and Jack May. See chapter on Tarzan.
[48] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. This piece is excellent in many ways, but fraught with numerous historical inaccuracies which have been removed whenever known.
[49] De Wyze, Jeannette.  “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006.
[50] See Verge, Arthur C. “George Freeth: King of the Surfers and California’s Forgotten Hero,” ©2001,
[51] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. John Elwell quoted.
[52] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Emil Sigler quoted.
[53] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Emil Sigler quoted.
[54] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted. Although Dempsey was never a surf stylist, true, this is a bit of an amazing statement by Lloyd Baker. Dempsey Holder was the Imperial Beach lifeguard who lead the charge on the Tijuana Sloughs – in the 1930s and 1940s, California’s only recognized big wave spot. See Gault-Williams, “Riders of the Tijuana Sloughs” at
[55] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[56] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[57] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[58] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[59] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[60] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[61] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[62] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[63] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[64] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[65] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Bill “Hadji” Hein quoted.
[66] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Jane Schmauss, Hadji Hein and Lloyd Baker quoted.
[67] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Lloyd Baker quoted.
[68] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Woody Brown referenced, from the Surfer’s Journal article of 2000.
[69] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun and Hadji Hein quoted.
[70] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Kimball Daun quoted.
[71] De Wyze, Jeannette. “90 Years of Curl,” San Diego Reader, December 14, 2006. Hadji Hein quoted.
[75] See comment by DeSoto Brown.
[76] Email from Karen Cotter, 2010.
[77] Maxwell, 1949, p. 245; Bloomfield, p. 69; Harris, p. 56. The footstraps addition, at this early stage, is questionable.
[78] Galton, p. 43.
[79] Wells, p. 160.
[80] Thomas, E.J. The Drowning Don’t Die – Fifty Years of Vigilance and Service by the Deewhy Surf Life-Daving Club, 1912-1962, ©1962, p. 31. Published by the Deewhy Surf Life Saving Club. Printed by the Manly Daily Pty Ltd. Hard cover, 54 pages, 33 two-tone photographs, executive officers 1912-1962.
[81] Wells, p. 155.