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The Endurance of Surfing in 19th-Century Hawai‘i

Patrick Moser

JPS, Vol 125, No 4 pg (411-432)


Conflicting reports of surfing’s near-demise in 19th-century Hawai‘i compel us to re-evaluate historical sources of information and look to recently-available newspaper databases to understand how surfing fared during a century of monumental change. I argue that while surfing remained suppressed by influential haole (non-Hawaiians, especially those of European origin) around the capital of Honolulu, areas outside of the capital, both on O‘ahu and on other Hawaiian islands, kept the cultural traditions alive. A review of primary sources indicates that the story of surfing’s demise was perpetuated by haole who had vested interests in furthering specific religious, economic and political agendas in the Hawaiian Islands and who were deeply committed to the colonial process. Three categories of newspaper articles in particular—missionary declamations against surfing, topical reports of Hawaiians riding waves, and reports of surf exhibitions staged for travellers—provide collective evidence that Native Hawaiians did not in fact abandon surfing but continued to practice their national pastime.


Hawaiian Islands, 19th-century surfing, surf history; haole

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