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Aloha Washington, 1902

Hawaiian George Freeth became the first person to successfully introduce stand-up surfing on wooden surfboards to North America. He started at Venice Beach in Southern California, beginning in 1907, then moved on to Redondo Beach and eventually Ocean Beach, near San Diego.1 He was, however, not the first person to surf off the beaches of the U.S. Mainland.

In 1885, Hawaiian Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana and Princes David and Edward Kawananakoa surfed for several summers at Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco, when not attending St. Matthews Military School in San Mateo.2 The sport, however, did not catch on there at that time.

There is the question about “The Sandwich Island Girl” surfing in New Jersey in 1888. It is still a mystery whether she did or not.3

Then, there were body boarders surfing prone at Wrightsville, North Carolina, in 1907 and possibly earlier.4

Indeed, Freeth himself may have put on some stand-up surfing demonstrations in New Jersey in 1905, but this has yet to be conclusively verified.5

What is little known is the story of the Emerson and Dole families surfing at Aloha, Washington, several years before George Freeth came to Venice.

Their story -- complete with numerous family photographs -- was written by Ralph Emerson’s great grandson, Gavin Kogan, and published in The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, in 2006. The article is free to subscribers and only $3.99 for non-subscribers. It is located here:


Another version, with less text but more photographs, was made into an on-line scrapbook at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC), thanks to the Kogan family. It is located here:


In brief, the story goes like this:

In 1902, experienced lumberman and mill operator George Emerson began construction of a new sawmill south of the Quinault Indian reservation, which is just south of the vast Olympic National Park and National Forest, on the west coast of the state of Washington.6

George Emerson’s son Ralph was away in college at Leland Stanford University in Palo Alto at the time. While there, he met Wilfred Dole and two of his brothers, Norman and George, also Stanford students.7 The Doles were members of a Maine family that had become Protestant Christian Missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands beginning in 1840.8

Wilfred, Norman and George Dole were also related to Sanford Ballard Dole, who became a lawyer and jurist in the Hawaiian Islands first when it was a kingdom, then a protectorate, republic and lastly as a territory. He was a proponent of Westernization over Hawaiian politics and culture and more than any one person was responsible for the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. He subsequently served as President of the Republic of Hawaii until that government secured Hawaii’s annexation to the United States.9

When Ralph Emerson’s father began to construct the new sawmill, just west of the family beach house, Ralph was obligated to help with the mill during his summer vacations. He invited Wilfred, Norman and George Dole to join him. They did and enjoyed that first summer of 1902 so much, they came back afterwards.10

It “was during this time that the cedar surfboards were made at the direction of Wilfred’s older brothers who had a more intimate knowledge of surfboard making from their earlier years in Kauai. These boards were finless and were generally for prone riding,” wrote Ralph’s great grandson Gavin Kogan.11

Photo courtesy of the Kogan Family and SHACC


“Although only one board remains today,” continued Kogan, “it appears from the chronology of Dole brothers at the Aloha Lumber Company and existing photos that at least four boards were manufactured between 1902 and 1905.”12

The one surviving surfboard is Ralph’s. It is made of knot-less red cedar and measures 6-feet 8-inches long. The rails are beveled from the bottom to the deck. His initials, ‘R.D.E,’ are inscribed on the tail deck.13

Photo courtesy of the Kogan family and SHACC


In 1905, after Ralph had graduated from Stanford and toured Europe, “Wilfred left Stanford before graduating and joined Ralph to manage the new mill they had helped construct over the previous summers. Given the task of naming the enterprise, they chose to call the new mill the Aloha Lumber Company. With the railroad completed from Gray’s Harbor to Moclips, just west of the mill, the venture held great promise and up sprang the little town of Aloha, WA.”14

Ralph and Wilfred were successful with the Aloha Lumber Company, but also put in time as ”... avid outdoorsmen,” wrote Kogan. “Well preserved photos show the young men surfing, canoeing, fishing, horse riding and hunting... one can’t help but shudder at the scant protection light wool bathing suits must have offered against the chilly Olympic waters...”15

Kogan remembers his grandmother recalling that “we used to take out those old surfboards, us and the Dole kids, and ride them in the surf and Joe Creek. I think we must have rode those boards well into the 1920’s on a regular basis.”16

Photo courtesy of the Kogan family and SHACC



1  Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “George Freeth: Bronzed Mercury,” ©2013. An ebook chapter taken from LEGENDARY SURFERS: Volume 1., ©2005 and 2017.
2  The Daily Surf, July 20, 1885. First of several mentions of the princes in the local newspaper.
3  Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “The Sandwich Island Girl,” ©2017. A chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series.
4  Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “USA East Coast Begins,” a chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series.
5  Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Freeth, Ford and London.” See original research by Geoff Cater at: “George Freeth.”
6  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington Scrapbook,” Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, courtesy of the Kogan Family; panel 4. - http://scrapbook.surfingheritage.org/Main.php?MagID=4&MagNo=18
7  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
10  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
11  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. As told to Gavin by his grandmother, wife of Ralph, Elizabeth Emerson Lambie. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
12  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
13  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
14  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington,” The Surfer’s Journal, Volume 15, Number 5, ©2006, p. 94. - https://www.surfersjournal.com/product/aloha-washington/
15  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington Scrapbook,” Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, courtesy of the Kogan Family; panel 7. - http://scrapbook.surfingheritage.org/Main.php?MagID=4&MagNo=18

16  Kogan, Gavin. “Aloha Washington Scrapbook,” Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, courtesy of the Kogan Family; panel 4. Elizabeth Emerson Lambie recalled by her grandson. - http://scrapbook.surfingheritage.org/Main.php?MagID=4&MagNo=18

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