Magazine article Risk Management

The Sport of Kings SURFING

Magazine article Risk Management

The Sport of Kings SURFING

Article excerpt

Surfing has been part of Hawai'ian life and culture for thousands of years. Thought of as the sport of royalty due to their prowess on the waves, he'e nalu (Hawai'ian for "surfing") was integral to shaping class distinctions in ancient Hawai'ian society. But it was not until the 18th century arrival of European explorers to what was then known as the Sandwich Islands that the rest of the world was exposed to the art of wave riding. In these early days, surfers seemed to walk on water, using wooden surfboards sometimes weighing more than 100 pounds and measuring 15 feet and longer-boards that would dwarf the light, maneuverable polystyrene and fiberglass boards used by today's surfers.

While Westerners were amazed by what they saw, their religious zeal was nearly responsible for the extinction of the sport. European missionaries preached against surfings sacred place in Hawai'ian society, which coupled with a growing agricultural economy and an influx of immigrants to the islands, caused the sport to all but disappear from Hawai'ian life. By the end of the 19th century, only a handful of surfers in isolated areas throughout the islands still took to the waves. The majority of these were men with one notable exceptionPrincess Kaiulani, whose eight-foot long wooden surfboard is still on display in Honolulu's Bishop Museum.

But in the early 1900s, interest in surfing began to see a revival in Hawai'i as the missionary influence declined. Modern pioneers like George Freeth, who brought surfing to California in 1907 and became the first lifeguard, were instrumental in creating worldwide attention for the sport. Probably the most influential figure in the sport's rebirth was Duke Kahanamoku, who grew up on the beach in Waikiki where he was part of a local surfing club known as Hui Nalu or "the Club of the Waves." He was also a renowned swimmer who won five Olympic medals between 1912 and 1924. After his first gold medal in the Stockholm Games of 1912, Kahanamoku toured the world, particularly the United States and Australia, giving exhibitions not only of swimming, but surfing as well. He would eventually appear in a number of Hollywood movies, serve as sheriff of Honolulu for more than 25 years, become the first person to be elected to both the Surfing and Swimming Halls of Fame and have a commemorative stamp issued in his honor by the United States Postal Service in 2002. On the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1990, a 17foot bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku was erected on Waikiki Beach. The statue has become a popular tourist attraction and visitors drape it with fresh leis as a tribute to this "Father of Modern Surfing."

Due of the success of Kahanamoku and his contemporaries, surfing got the boost it needed to become a globally recognized sport. By the 1960s, surfing had also become a vital part of American pop culture. Hollywood jumped on the surf trend with a rash of teen beach films that included the Gidget movies, Elvis Presleys Blue Hawaii and movies such as Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, Bikini Beach and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini all starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. With the notable exception of 1966s Endless Summer, which documented actual surfers and their worldwide tour for the perfect wave, real surfers dismissed the majority of these movies as mere fakery. But for much of the movie-going public, these films provided the template for the fashion and atmosphere of surf culture. Bikinis, baggy boardshorts and a laid-back attitude became the required beach uniform, regardless of whether or not one actually surfed.

At the same time, surf music, with its characteristic staccato guitar riffs and rolling instrumentais meant to evoke images of crashing waves, leapt on to the charts with the 1961 release of the first surf rock single "Let's Go Trippin'" by Dick Dale, who would also record the hits "Miserlou" and "Surf Beat," and eventually come to be known as "The King of Surf Guitar. …

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