An Anthology of Surf Writing
Publication Year: 2008
Readers follow the historical transformation of surfing’s image through the centuries: from Polynesian myths of love to Western accounts of horror and exoticism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to modern representations of surfing as a character-building activity in pre-World-War II California and the quintessential expression of disaffected youth. They explore the sport’s most recent trends by writers and cultural critics, whose insights into technology, competition, gender, heritage, and globalism reveal how surfing impacts some of today’s most pressing social concerns.
Aided by informative introductions, the writings in Pacific Passages provide insight into the values and ideals of Polynesian and Western cultures, revealing how each has altered and been altered by surfing—and how the sport itself has shown an amazing ability throughout the centuries to survive, adapt, and prosper.
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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Surfriding has not changed much over the centuries. A surfer paddles a board out to the waves and rides back toward shore. Then does it again. Surfboards have become shorter and lighter, the addition of fins has improved maneuvering, but the basic procedure—with the exception of recent...
Part I: Surfriding in Polynesian Culture
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Polynesian mythology encompasses legends of the most sacred divinities, stories of the highest chiefs, and the everyday folk wisdom of the common people. In song, in dance, in stories of lovers lost and found, surfriding weaves its way through these traditions and plays its own distinctive role...
1. “Kelea-nui-noho-‘ana-‘api‘api” (1865)
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Samuel Mânaiakalani Kamakau is one of several native historians whose invaluable writings have preserved much Hawaiian history during a period of dramatic change. Learned in the traditional Hawaiian culture into which he was born and the new Western education that arrived with the...
2. “The Story of Laie-i-ka-wai” (1888)
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The king and queen of Kauai both dying a short time after the events just before recorded, they left the sovereignty of the island to their son, Ke-kalukalu-o-ke-wa. They also left in his charge a magical bamboo (ohe) called Kanikawi, and enjoined upon him a promise to seek out and...
3. “A Surfing Legend” (1913)
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Reverend William Westervelt first came to Hawai‘i from Chicago in 1889 to study mission work. He settled in the Islands permanently ten years later and studied Hawaiian language, history, and mythology. Numerous collections resulted from his research, including...
4. “A Shark Punished at Waikiki” (1915)
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According to Samuel M. Kamakau, the story of Ka-ehu occurred in 1834. The shark’s full name is Ka-ehu-iki-manò-o-Pu‘u-loa (“the little yellow shark of Pearl Harbor”). Kamakau states that “because sharks save men in times of peril, protect them when other sharks try to devour them, and...
5. “Faithless Lover Is Turned to Stone” (1958)
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Birds are among the most prevalent animals in Hawaiian mythology. According to Martha Beckwith, gods may be man-eating birds who take on human form, or they may appear as birds themselves to serve their family descendants. Beckwith notes that birds were also worshipped by...
6. “Name Chant for Naihe” (1973)
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Polynesian mele (songs, chants) are the first surf songs known to exist. In Nineteenth Century Hawaiian Chant, Elizabeth Tatar writes that mele are “expressions of religious devotion and personal emotion, as well as formal documentation of genealogy and history.” She adds: “As a type...
7. “‘Auhea ‘O Ka Lani’ (Where Is the Royal Chief?)” (1957)
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Nona Beamer indicates in her preface to Nâ Mele Hula that nearly all of the chants and hula she has compiled were handed down to her as part of the oral tradition from previous generations. “Starting in the fourteenth century with our ancestor King Liloa,” she writes, “and the fifteenth...
8. “Ka Hui Nalu Mele: The Surf Club Song” (1989)
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The island of Ni‘ihau holds a long tradition of surfriding and includes many local stories and chants. Rerioterai Tava and Moses Keale relate one particular story of a surfer named Pu‘uone, “whose boast was ‘E keiki mai au no Kawahamana,’ or ‘I am the child (champion) of Kawahamana...
9. Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings (1983)
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E ho ‘i ka u‘i o Mânoa, ua ahiahi.
Let the youth of Mânoa go home, for it is evening.
Refers to the youth of Mânoa who used to ride the surf at Kalehuawehe in Waikîkî. The surfboards were shared among several people who would take turns using them. Those who finished first often suggested going...
Part II: Explorers, Missionaries, and Travelers (1769–1896)
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10. “Activities in Court Circles,” from Fragments of Hawaiian History: Kuokoa (1866–1870)
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John Papa ‘Î‘î’s account of Hawaiian court life during the reign of Kamehameha I (1758?–1819) offers a rare glimpse of daily life under the ancient kapu system that was abolished in 1819, one year before the arrival of New England missionaries whose religion and influence permanently...
11. An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere (1773)
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Having given up all hope of recovering our clothes, which indeed were never afterwards heard of, we spent all the morning in soliciting the hogs which we had been promised; but in this we had no better success: we therefore, in no very good humour, set out for the boat about twelve...
12. A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784)
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Neither are they strangers to the soothing effects produced by particular sorts of motion; which, in some cases, seem to allay any perturbation of mind, with as much success as music. Of this, I met with a remarkable instance. For on walking, one day, about Matavai Point, where our tents were...
13. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery (1967)
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These People handle their Boats with great dexterity, and both Men and Women are so perfectly masters of themselves in the Water, that it appears their natural Element; they have another convenience for conveying themselves upon the Water, which we never met with before; this is by means...
14. An Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke in His Majesty’s Ships Resolution and Discovery (1782)
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Their canoes or boats are the neatest we ever saw, and composed of two different coloured woods, the bottom being dark, the upper part light, and furnished with an out-rigger. Besides these, they have another mode of conveying themselves in the water, upon very light flat pieces of boards...
15. The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery (1967)
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As two or three of us were walking along shore to day we saw a number of boys & young Girls playing in the Surf, which broke very high on the Beach as there was a great swell rolling into the Bay. In the first place they provide themselves with a thin board about six or seven foot long &...
16. Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: The Journal of Midshipman George Gilbert (1982)
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Several of those Indians who have not got Canoes have a method of swimming upon a piece of wood nearly in the form of a blade of an oar, which is about six feet in length, sixteen inches in breadth at one end and about 9 at the other, and is four or five inches thick, in the middle, tapering...
chapter 17 The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery (1967)
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But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, & surf breaking upon the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat up an oval piece of plank about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on the top...
18. A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784)
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Swimming is not only a necessary art, in which both their men and women are more expert than any people we had hitherto seen, but a favourite diversion amongst them. One particular mode, in which they sometimes amused themselves with this exercise, in Karakakooa [Kealakekua] Bay, appeared to us most perilous and...
19. The Log of the Bounty (1937)
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The heavy surf which has run on the shore for a few days past has given great amusement to many of the Natives, but is such as one would suppose would drown any European. The general plan of this diversion is for a number of them to advance with their paddles to where the Sea begins...
20. The Journal of James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate of the Bounty (1935)
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When the Westerly Winds prevail they have a heavy surf Constantly running to a prodigious height on the Shore & this Affords excellent diversion and the part they Choose for their Sport is where the Surf breaks with the Most Violence—when they go to this diversion they get peices of Board...
21. A Voyage of Discovery to the Northern Pacific Ocean and Round the World, 1791–1795 (1984)
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From [Keeaumoku’s] village we walked through some pleasant cultivated Grounds to a Small Stony Beach where the natives were amusing themselves in the Surf on Swimming Boards. Nammahana [Namahana], the wife of Tayomodu [Keeaumoku], who is reckoned one of the most expert at that...
22. “Mission at the Sandwich Islands” (1822)
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Soon after noon, Kaneo, with her attendants, landed just in front of the mission house, where the king and queen, with their attendants, met her, embraced, and joined noses, with loud crying, many tears, and other expressions of emotion. After some minutes, all sat down together on the...
23. Narrative of a Tour through Hawaii (1826)
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We found Arapai, the chief, and a number of his men, busy on the beach shipping sandalwood on board a sloop belonging to the governor, then lying at anchor in a small bay off the mouth of the valley. He received us kindly, and directed two of his men to conduct us to his house, which...
24. Polynesian Researches (1829)
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Like the inhabitants of most of the islands of the Pacific, the Tahitians are fond of the water, and lose all dread of it before they are old enough to know the danger to which we should consider them exposed. They are among the best divers that are known, and spend much of their time...
25. Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (1838)
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A change has taken place in certain customs, which must have influenced the physical development of the islanders. I allude to the variety of athletic exercises, such as swimming, with or without the surf-board, dancing, wrestling, throwing the jav[e]lin, &c., all of which games, being in opposition...
26. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition (1845)
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Playing in the surf was another of their amusements, and is still much practised. It is a beautiful sight to see them coming in on the top of a heavy roller, borne along with increasing rapidity until they suddenly disappear. What we should look upon as the most dangerous surf, is that they most...
27. A Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands (1847)
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The adoption of our costume greatly diminishes their practice of swimming and sporting in the surf, for it is less convenient to wear it in the water than the native girdle, and less decorous and safe to lay it entirely off on every occasion they find for a plunge or swim or surf-board race...
28. Mardi and a Voyage Thither (1849)
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Approached from the Northward, Ohonoo, midway cloven down to the sea, one half a level plain; the other, three mountain terraces—Ohonoo looks like the first steps of a gigantic way to the sun. And such, if Braid- Beard spoke the truth, it had formerly been...
29. Life in the Sandwich Islands (1851)
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It is highly amusing to a stranger to go out into the south part of this town, some day when the sea is rolling in heavily over the reef, and to observe there the evolutions and rapid career of a company of surf-players. The sport is so attractive and full of wild excitement to Hawaiians, and...
30. Around the Horn to the Sandwich Islands and California, 1845–1850 (1924)
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By invitation of Mr Douglass took a ride with the young Chiefs, they very kindly offering me a horse. Rode to Waititi [Waikîkî] 3 miles where there is fine bathing in the surf. The premises there are in the hands of the Chiefs. Near the beach are fine groves of Coconut trees, & Kou trees, also...
31. Travels in the Sandwich and Society Islands (1856)
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About mid-day we reached the village of Keauhua, where I had the satisfaction of witnessing, for the first time, the famous ancient sport of the country played in the water, upon what is termed by Europeans the surfboard. This is truly a famous and animating diversion, but, for what reason...
32. The Victorian Visitors (1958)
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At twelve, we started in our litters to a bay a little way below this, to see some surf riding. Seeing the R. Catholic Church open we looked in—the priest invited us in but we declined, stopping only long enough to observe that it was large, very well kept, and without any of the usual nonsense and...
33. “Ancient Sports of Hawaii: Such as Surfing, Jumping, Sledding, Betting and Boxing” (1865)
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Very many were the practices in Hawaii here relative to this subject of pastimes, which has been termed the ancient sports of Hawaii here, such as those named above. Those are the sports it is desired to have described, therefore it is best perhaps for me to explain them singly, and their nature...
34. Roughing It (1872)
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In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly...
35. Honolulu Directory and Historical Sketch of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands (1869)
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I have just been told an incident that occurred at Ninole, during the inundation of that place. At the time of the shock on Thursday, a man named Holoua, and his wife, ran out of the house and started for the hills above, but remembering the money he had in the house, the man left his wife...
36. The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six Months among the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands (1875)
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I had written thus far when Mr. Severance came in to say that a grand display of the national sport of surf-bathing was going on, and a large party of us went down to the beach for two hours to enjoy it.29 It is really a most exciting pastime, and in a rough sea requires immense nerve...
37. “Some Hawaiian Pastimes” (1891)
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Here I witnessed, by the courtesy of Mr. Gay, the sport of surf-riding, once so universally popular, and now but little seen. Six stalwart men, by previous appointment, assembled on the beach of a small cove, bearing with them their precious surf-boards, and accompanied by many women...
38. “Hawaiian Surf Riding” (1896)
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Among the favorite pastime s of ancient Hawaiians that of surf riding was a most prominent and popular one with all classes. In favored localities throughout the group for the practice and exhibition of the sport, “high carnival” was frequently held at the spirited contests between...
Part III: Surfriding Revival(1907–1954)
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Surfriding’s revival in the early twentieth century began with the quiet athleticism of George Freeth, a celebrity endorsement by Jack London, and the enthusiasm and persistence of Alexander Hume Ford. The influence of each helped lay the groundwork for the founding of the Hawaiian Outrigger and Canoe Club in 1908, the first official organization...
39. “Riding the South Seas Surf” (1907)
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This is what it is: a royal sport for the natural kings of earth. The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach and within fifty feet of the everlasting sea. The trees also grow down to the salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward at a majestic surf thundering...
40. “Aquatic Sports” (1908)
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Hawaii is the only place in the world, I believe, where man stands erect
upon the crest of the billows, and, standing, rides toward the shore.
Riding the surf-board threatened to become a lost art, but today there are probably more people than ever before who can balance themselves...
41. Seven Weeks in Hawaii (1917)
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At three o’clock they dropped me out at Waikiki, where I had an appointment to go riding in an outrigger canoe. We had engaged the services of the champion swimmer of the world to guide our boat. His name is Duke Kahanamoku. He carried the honors at the Olympic Games...
42. Article from The Evening Herald (1917)
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I cannot remember the day when I couldn’t swim. The first days I can remember were those spent at Waikiki Beach, four miles distant from Honolulu, Hawaii, where, with hundreds of native boys, I swam and dove a greater part of the time. I was born at that beach, my father being...
43. Hawaiian Surfboard (1935)
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Tom Blake visited Hawai‘i for the first time in 1924 and proved to be a Renaissance man for surfriding. Intensely interested in the sport’s history, including surfboard design, Blake began shaping replicas of the early Hawaiian olo and alaia boards housed in the Bishop Museum in...
44. “Lessons in Surfing for Everyman” (1936)
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To the average citizen watching a surf rider, the impression is that these stalwart, sun-tanned youths are gifted with superhuman daring and are some species of duck or fish, or that they are reckless youngsters who have not sufficient experience in life to know the meaning of danger...
45. “Surf boarding from Molokai to Waikiki” (1954)
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On October 24, 1953, during the annual Aloha Week Molokaito- Oahu Outrigger Canoe Race, I paddled my surfboard from Point Ilio, Molokai, to Waikiki beach, Oahu. This was accomplished in nine hours and twenty minutes; the course was thirty-six miles with an actual total...
Part IV: Youth Culture (1957–1979)
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46. Gidget (1957)
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I must have been sleeping way into the morning because when I opened my eyes the sun was filtering into the hut and I heard a roar from the outside as if all hell was loose...
47. “The Pump House Gang Meets the Black Panthers—or Silver Threads among the Gold in Surf City” (1966)
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Our boys never hair out. The black panther has black feet. Black feet on the crumbling black panther. Pan-thuh. Mee-dah. Pam Stacy, 16 years old, a cute girl here in La Jolla, California, with a pair of orange bell-bottom hip-huggers on, sits on a step about four steps down the...
48. “We’re Tops Now” (1967)
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John Witzig, an Australian surf journalist, heralded with this article a new era of surfing dominated by Australians and characterized by power and aggression rather than style and poise. His initial diatribe against California surfers, and David Nuuhiwa in particular, transformed into a pointed...
50. “Centroamerica” (1973)
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Alive, we lay in our hammocks, swaying as leaves in a gentle breath of wind. We set our minds back three weeks into the recent past to remember (as everyone does who has survived the long trek here) the hellish nightmare it took for us to follow our dreams to surf. It’s easy to...
51. “An Alternate Viewpoint” (1975)
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Paradise, 1958: I was a freshman at the University of Hawaii. I was finished for the day, and was on my way home. My car radio was on, the usual mixture of music and news, when the announcer mentioned that giant surf was at that moment hitting the north and west shores of...
52. “We’re Number One—Interview: Ian Cairns” (1976)
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It was a surprise seeing Ian when I did on the North Shore in October. I hadn’t seen him for over nine months, and in that time he had put on a few pounds during his winter stay in his home state of Western Australia. I started kidding him about the L-B’s, and asking him if he...
53. Articles from Skateboarder Magazine (1976–1977)
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Traditionally, on the Westside, the varied beach and adjacent communities have been a hotbed of skate action. In the 60’s, the Santa Monica Bay area spawned both the original Makaha and Hobie Vita Pak teams. Personalities like Fries, Johnson, Bearer, Woodward, Saens, Blank, Archer, the Hiltons...
54. “Indonesia: Just Another Paradise” (1979)
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As soon as the Thai Airlines 707 left the ground, my friend Mark Oswin and I each stretched out on some empty seats to catch up on some very needed sleep. As I drifted off, I dreamed of a beautiful stewardess laying a blanket over me, which I pulled around my neck and fell deeper to...
Part V: Surfing Today
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55. “Laird Hamilton: 20th Century Man” (1997)
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There is no greater privilege than standing on the bluffs at Peahi, watching Laird and his crew dictate the future of surfing. It’s not a place you find by accident; even an earnest set of directions won’t work too well. You must be led there, through a maze of bumpy roads and...
56. “The Cat’s Ninth Life . . . On Visiting Miki Dora Near the End” (2002)
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I had an appointment with Yvon Chouinard to meet early morning on December 18th, a Tuesday, at his beachfront home north of Ventura. Yvon had suggested timing the drive up from San Clemente to coincide with a good swell, but it was late in the year and I wanted to present him...
57. “The Maui Surfer Girls” (2002)
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The maui surfer girls love one another’s hair. It is awesome hair, long and bleached by the sun, and it falls over their shoulders straight, like water, or in squiggles, like seaweed, or in waves. They are forever playing with it—yanking it up into ponytails, or twisting handfuls...
58. “Lost Horizons: Surfer Colonialism in the 21st Century” (2002)
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Made, the Kuta hack, broke down the price list for me as we crept
along Jalan Legian in the crush of early-evening traffic.
“I know nice place, very clean, in Sanur,” opined Made (“Mahday”), craning his broad grinning face around to assess me. A small florid Balinese man in his early 30s, his flat, filed teeth sported a single gold...
59. “Winterland: Fred Van Dyke, and the Blissful, Stressful, Unpredictable Life of the Older Surfer” (2005)
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Older surfers are now more interesting to me than younger surfers. I don’t know exactly when this happened—ten or 15 years ago, somewhere back in the early ’90s—but whenever it was, whenever the scales tipped, at that moment I suppose I became an older surfer myself. I’m still a...
Part VI: What Is Surfing?
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In Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast (1996), Daniel Duane reflects poetically on “the peeling wave as an ideal of perfection.” “The surfer’s object of passion,” Duane writes, “becomes the very essence of ephemerality—not a thing to be owned or a goal to be...
60. “Playing Doc’s Games—I” (1992)
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The rain puddles are like small powder-blue windows scattered on the muddy farm road as I hurry down to the beach at Four Mile. It’s a soft, clear morning, with not a breath of wind, and a north swell. It looks to have sneaked in overnight. Remarkably, there’s no one around. Four...
61. On Water (1994)
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Jack the Surfer. Surfing for him something about hunting the waves, or, occasionally, being hunted by them. Turning forty, still living right across from the beach in Carlsbad, in the water on dawn patrol nearly every morning. Not a beach bum, however: he has a job selling...
62. Caught Inside: A Surfer’s Year on the California Coast (1996)
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“If someone asks,” Vince said suddenly, standing up, “what I’ve done with my life, what’ll I say? Surfed the Point and taught math?” He shook his head with a laugh. “Raw mediocrity.” It didn’t, of course, strike me that way, and I wanted to tell him but couldn’t think of how. I also...
66. In Search of Captain Zero (2001)
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Often these days I’ll find myself sitting on the cliffs under the lighthouse or taking a beach walk with Honey and thinking about things. One of my recurring thoughts is of a particular wave I rode around this time last summer, at Pavones. The break there is amazing. It’s not thick...
67. “Return of the Prodigal Surfer” (2001)
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Kiritimati, Christmas Island , erstwhile thermonuclear playground in the mid-Pacific. Neither the beginning nor the end of a journey toward the lightness of being but, for me, more of the same, surfwise, selfwise, further evidence of the cosmic truth inherent in the mocking axiom...
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About the Editor
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Publication Year: 2008