In today’s post, we shall finish our introduction to Harry’s favorite collecting topic and actually start looking at some Hawaiian surfing postcards! We left off talking about Duke Kahanamoku, one of the most important figures in surfing history. Today we will start by discussing another surfing legend, Tom Blake, who was also a personal favorite of Harry’s. As we shall soon see, all modern day surfers owe Blake a tremendous amount of thanks. Without him, the sport may not have evolved into what we know it as today – certainly not as quickly.
Tom Blake Jr. was born in Milwaukee, on March 8, 1902. His father, Thomas Edward Blake, was born in Muskegon, Michigan and was a competitive bicycle rider. He married Tom Jr’s mother, Blanche Ira Wooliver, in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1899. Unfortunately, Tom never knew his mother, as she contracted TB and died when he was only 11 months old.
Tom’s father fell apart when his wife died and initially asked Blanche’s sister, Daisy, to care for young Tom. Until he was 16 years old, Tom was raised by a committee of various relatives, mainly on his father’s side. When Tom was growing up, he was not really known for participating in water-related activities. However, when he was nine or ten, he did see a newsreel that featured a surfer in Hawaii. The short film made a lasting impression.
Enough of an impression for Tom to take in a related newsreel when he was 18. It was playing in a theater in Detroit, Michigan and chronicled the success of the U.S. swim team in the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium (For a snippet showing Duke Kahanamoku winning gold in the 100 meter freestyle, click on the video below). As luck would have it, Duke and his Hawaiian teammates had stopped in Detroit on their way back from Antwerp and they visited the same theatre that night.
Tom recognized Duke in the lobby and went up and introduced himself. He asked if he could shake Duke’s hand and Duke was so warm in response that it would forever change his life. He would later state “he somehow felt the handshake included an invitation to come and visit the Hawaiian Islands”.
Tom swam a bit while he lived in Detroit, but after meeting Duke, he was inspired to moved to California and take up swimming seriously. He joined the Los Angeles Athletic Club and began to train hard for competitive swimming, mainly at night. Tom first tried surfing at Santa Monica in 1921.
Tom participated in swimming competitions from 1922 to 1929 and was a very good, if not great, swimmer. He even beat Duke in a 220 yard race in 1928, although Tom downplayed the win because he was twelve years younger than Duke at the time (see Figure 1). The stock market crash effectively ended Tom’s swimming career and he was forced to sell many of his trophies and medals to survive.
Tom Visits Hawaii
Athletic and handsome, Tom appeared in a few movies during the 1920s, however, the work was too inconsistent so he gave up acting to become a professional lifeguard. He wanted to earn enough money to fulfill his childhood dream of surfing in Hawaii. In 1924, at age 22, Tom Blake Jr. went to Hawaii for the first time.
Duke was not living in Hawaii in 1924 (he was making movies in Hollywood), however, one of his younger brothers, Sam, took Tom out surfing at Waikiki and he was hooked for life (see Figure 2). To say that Tom “really got into it”, would be a tremendous understatement. He became fascinated with stories about Duke and his legendary “mile ride” in 1917 and devoted much of his life to making surfboard innovations that might allow for even longer rides and better surfing experiences.
After the initial enthusiasm caused by George Freeth and Duke, the development of surfing as a sport had slowed down in California by the late twenties – primarily due to the boards being so heavy and unwieldy. Traditionally, surfboards had been made of solid hardwoods. Enter Tom Blake.
Among the major contributions Tom Blake made to surfboard design were: 1) The development of hollow boards (1926), 2) The addition of the fin (1935), or skeg and 3) The inclusion of a leash (1930s). While the sport of surfing would be much different today without these innovations, it was yet another of Tom’s innovations that would have a major impact on the postcard hobby.
In 1929, Tom Blake developed a waterproof camera housing for taking surfing photographs while in the water. Up until this time, all surfing photographs had been taken from a beach, pier or canoe. With the waterproof housing, Tom could take action shots from short range and capture the sport from “the surfer’s perspective”.
Harry was a huge Tom Blake fan; not just for his contributions to the sport of surfing but also for his influence on vintage surfing postcards. If you were to gather all of the Hawaiian surfing postcards from the 1930s and 1940s in one place, then pick out all of the best images – you would find the vast majority were taken by Tom Blake (see Figure 3).
To further promote the sport of surfing, Tom organized surfing major competitions in California between 1928 and 1941, when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought and end to it.
Breaks Duke’s Longest Ride Record
It is possible that Tom recorded two rides that were longer that the one Duke made in 1917. It is also possible Tom did not break the record at all. It all depends if Duke’s ride was closer to a half mile or a mile – the exact distance was never officially recorded (such is the nature of legends and myths).
In August of 1930, Tom was surfing in the same spot, the first break at Kalehuawehe. He caught a large wave and rode it toward the shore for about 300 yards. Then, “To my surprise [I] saw that the wave was steepening up to my left. This offered a chance to get by the end of the shallow coral and ride parallel to it… for a ride of about 800 yards or into Cunha break.“
The second ride is actually listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, under “Surfing, Longest Ride”. It took place on June 1, 1936, when Tom rode a wave from first break at South Castle to Storm Drain at Waikiki Beach – for an estimated distance of 4,500 feet.
Tom would continue to spend a considerable amount of time in Hawaii through 1955. When he left Hawaii for good (age 53), he gave up the sport of surfing. He thought he had a heart condition and apparently did not trust doctors to tell him if he could safely continue to surf. Tom Blake returned to Wisconsin in the 1980s where he passed away on May 5, 1994. He is remembered today as one of the sport’s greatest legends.
Harry’s funeral service was held at the National Cemetery in Riverside, California on April 16th (2018). After attending, Kay and I spent a few days on the coast in Santa Monica – where Duke gave his surfing demonstrations in 1912 and Tom first tried surfing in 1921. One day we decided to drive up to Malibu and while we were there, ate lunch at Duke’s Restaurant.
There are six of these Polynesian-surfing themed restaurants located in Hawaii and California. While Duke’s in Malibu is not my favorite in terms of atmosphere (it is hard to beat the one on Waikiki Beach, near the site of the original Outrigger Canoe Club), it does have something unique to offer surfing aficionados. On Tuesdays and Sundays, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman works there – as their “Ambassador of Aloha”.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Kathy occupies a rather lofty position on various lists of the most influential surfers in history (usually #7 or 8; Duke is always #1), especially considering she really only surfed for three years in the late 50s (1956-58). While Kathy was not working the day we visited Dukes, I did pick up a copy of her book to read in my hotel room. As you may have guessed, the name of the book is Gidget (see Figure 3).
In the forward to the book, Kathy says she first saw a surfboard when she was eight or nine years old (about the same age Tom Blake first saw the surfing newsreel). She lived with her family in Brentwood, an LA suburb about three miles inland from Santa Monica and 19-20 miles from Malibu.
When she was growing up, “My mother would regularly give two teenage boys who lived down the street a ride to Malibu beach. Malibu was known for having the second most powerful waves in Southern California (behind San Onofre, where the Foglietta bothers surfed). They would place their giant surfboards in the rumble seat of our Model-A Ford. Their names were Matt Kivlin and Buzzy Trent and they were the first surfers I ever met.”
Her parents were big believers in all the beach had to offer: fresh air, sun, salt spray and exercise. They took her to the beach all the time in her early teens, where she usually spent a lot of time sitting with her family and their friends watching the few surfers of the day (perhaps a dozen total at Malibu during this time).
She became fascinated not just with the handsome young surfers but with the sport itself and longed to try. She began to socialize with the older boys (mostly late teens and early twenties) and convinced them to show her how when she was in the 10th grade (age 15). That is when she fell in love with surfing and the beach lifestyle.
She had no board of her own, so she packed a bag of sandwiches and traded it to the hungry surfers in exchange for the use of their boards. She desperately wanted to learn how to surf and become one of “the crew” During the summer of 1956, she went to Malibu Beach almost every day (see Figure 4).
In the beginning, the boys teased her about how hard it would be for a girl to paddle out and actually catch a wave. It did not help matters that she was five foot nothing and weighed 90 pounds. All the real-life surfer boys had nicknames (now a part of surfing lore), such as “the Beatle, the Bucker, the Jaw, Turtle, Moon-Doggie, Scooter” and so on. Kathy knew she had finally become an accepted part of the crew when they bestowed upon her the nickname Gidget, for girl-midget.
One day, she told her father, Frederick Kohner, that she wanted to write about her life at the beach. Frederick was a professional Hollywood screenwriter and offered to write the book for her. While the book (1957) is based upon Kathy’s experience with the Malibu Beach surfing culture and lifestyle, it is a fictionalized account (see Figure 5).
The subsequent film (1959) went a step further, playing up the surfer boy-beach girl romance angle and the counterculture lifestyle. It had quite an effect on the youth of Southern California – and the whole country for that matter. The movie Gidget is widely credited with “moving surfing from an underground culture into a national fad” and brought surfing widespread international attention for the first time.
The original Gidget movie starred Sandra Dee in the title role and introduced another young actress who would soon create an iconic role of own, Yvonne Craig – 1960s Batgirl (see Figure 6).
Popular Beach Culture
Soon, the once sparsely populated Malibu Beach was flooded with teenagers who wanted to adopt the beach-surfing lifestyle for their own (see Figure 7). American International Pictures (AIP), guided by the shrewd Sam Arkoff, was quick to capitalize on this new teen obsession and conceived the Beach Party film genre with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello leading the way (see Figure 8).
From 1963 through 1965, AIP released one insanely popular teen movie after another – all based on the newly popular Southern California beach culture. The exploitive titles included: Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).
During this same period, a new American rock band, The Beach Boys, formed and started churning out beach-themed hits: Surfin (1961), Surfin’ Safari (1962), Surfer Girl (1963), Catch a Wave (1963), Surfin’ USA (1963) and Girls on the Beach (1964). To see the Beach Boys perform Surfin’ USA, live, click on the video below:
Soon many other movie studios and bands jumped on the band wagon and were filling the theaters and airwaves with commercial beach-surfing productions of their own. In addition, serious film documentaries were being produced by the legendary Bruce Brown: Slippery When Wet (1958), Surf Crazy (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960) Surfing Hollow Days (1961), Waterlogged (1962) and, of course, the transcendent 1966 surfing movie, The Endless Summer (see Figure 9).
Surfing simply exploded in the early to mid 1960s – and took my friend Harry along for the ride.
Printed Hawaiian Surfing Postcards
For a comprehensive overview to the early post card era and an introduction to Hawaiian pioneer postcards, see part two. The earliest sets were issued between 1897 and 1901 and most did not include surfing-related images, per se. If you recall from part four, by the end of the 19th century (when these cards were printed), surfing had all but disappeared in the Hawaiian Islands.
Therefore, when it came to images of Waikiki and “Surf Riding”, the early sets usually depicted native Hawaiians with outrigger canoes – not surf boards (see Figures 10-14).
There is at least one pioneer card that actually depicts a surfer holding a paipo board. It has been printed using the same Frank Davey photograph as shown in the montage in Figure 6 from part four. It is from the earliest Hawaiian postcard series to be printed in multicolor and has no “Postal Card” or “Post Card” imprint on the back, only printed lines for the address and a stamp box. This card is almost always found in unused condition and at one point there was speculation it was a later reproduction or even a “fake” (see Figure 15).
I have several unused and one used examples of this card. The latter was mailed to Germany on October 29, 1900. The sender has written “Carte Postale” where the imprint would normally have been placed. This dispels the notion that the card is anything other than a genuine pioneer. Some other cards that seem to be from the same series have variations of a “Private Mailing Card” back, while others also lack the imprint (see Figure 16).
Another New York postcard publisher, Franz Huld, issued a series of cards with Hawaiian images around the turn of the 20th century (I have an example of the following card used in 1904). Card number 554 is captioned “Native with a Swimming Board, Hawaii”. It features an image quite similar to the one shown in Figure 15, however, while the surfer is Charles Kauha – it was not created by Frank Davey.
Students of surfing history have long pointed out that while it is the same man, both his beard and his loincloth or malo – appear to be longer in the Huld card. Therefore, the photographs are certainly not from the same sitting and, as it turns out, not even by the same photographer. It was taken by James J. Williams, circa 1893. The card has an undivided “Post Card” back (see Figure 17).
The Island Curio Company was one of the most prolific publishers of Hawaiian postcards, producing many different series and single cards. A multicolor, multiview card from one of their earliest series is captioned “ON THE BEACH OF WAIKIKI” and features both the Davey surfer and an image of three men paddling through the surf in an outrigger. The card has an undivided “Private Mailing Card” back. I have one example of this card used in 1908, however, I have many examples of the other cards in this series used in 1905-07 (see Figure 18).
There is a scarce variety of this card that appears to be exactly the same (front and back) with the exception that it is was printed primarily in black ink – with some light aqua accents. The card is from a separate printing and is numbered “16B”, in place of “16” (see Figure 19).
One of my favorite series of Hawaiian postcards was published by G.J. Boisse, Honolulu. T. H. (Territory of Hawaii). The series includes many interesting images and most of the cards are scarce to rare – adding a challenge factor to the mix. All of the cards are numbered on the reverse and from the usages in my collection, I can tell you they were sold during the years 1907-09.
Card number 25 is of special interest to collectors of surfing postcards and ephemera. It is a vertical multiview card, printed in shades of black and gray ink and captioned “SURF BOATING AND RIDING AT WAIKIKI, HONOLULU”. It features one clear image of a man riding a surfboard and another of three outrigger crews working toward shore, plus two additional surfing views where the participants are so tiny, they are hard to make out.
The surfing photographs were taken by R.W. Rice and A.W. Perkins and the collage was created by Julian Greenwood. The image first appeared in Hawaii, its People and Their Legends, a booklet published by the Hawaiian Promotion Committee in 1904. This is one of the scarcer cards from a scarce set (see Figure 20).
I have an interesting early card put out by the Pioneer Advertising Co., Honolulu. It is printed in black ink with an undivided “Post Card” back. This example was used in 1910. The card is promoting the company’s “modern steel billboards”, which includes an advertisement for Gurrey’s LTD featuring a photograph of Duke Kahanamoku surfing (see Figure 21).
Alfred Richard Gurrey Jr. was a surfer known for his surfing photography and he took this photo. He married photographer Caroline Haskins (Gurrey) – one of the most highly regarded photographer “artists” in the islands during the beginning of the 20th century. In 1913, Alfred became a member of the Hui Nalu.
The next two cards were published by the Outrigger Canoe Club, shortly after it was founded by Alexander Hume Ford in 1908. If you remember from part four, Ford heavily promoted Hawaii and the sport of surfing to the mainland – hence these cards.
A similar card to the one in Figure 22 was published in Surfing in Hawaii by Timothy T. DeLaVega (page 50). In his book, Tim states the card was used in 1909. The second card (Figure 23) has “1909” written on the reverse, above the divided “post Card” back.
The Hilo Drug Company published two cards with surfing images, numbered 30 and 114. The first card (number 30) is from what I believe to be the second printing and has an undivided back. There seems to be some disagreement about where this photograph was actually taken. Apparently it has to do with the color of the sand (which is not entirely clear to me). If the sand is black, it could have been photographed in Hilo Bay. If it is white, then perhaps it was taken on Oahu (see Figure 24).
The photograph for the next card (number 114), was definitely taken at Hilo Bay. However, it has been pointed out that the boys are not really surfing this close to the rocks, rather just fooling around – or posing for the photographer (see Figure 25).
Another of my favorite Hawaiian series was published by H. Culman, Fort & Hotel Streets, Honolulu, T. H. Culman sold these cards out of his jewelry store at the aforementioned location from 1911 through 1916. They all bear Christmas greetings and it is possible that Culman did not sell the cards – perhaps he gave them to his customers during the holiday season.
There are at least two surfing-related cards in the Culman series. The first is currently a bit of a sore point for me. I won this card showing an early view of the Outrigger Canoe Club on Ebay recently – only to have it get lost in the mail (see Figure 26). I currently have 11 different Culman images; the Outrigger Club card would have made 12.
The second card is a real stunner; a multicolor multiview card featuring two classic surfing images. The card has a divided back and was used in 1912 (see Figure 27).
The Hawaii & South Seas Curio Company, like the Island Curio Company, issued many different series and single cards over a long period of time. Included are many common surfing-related cards. I have chosen an uncommon one to include here – one that is an all time favorite among many different groups of collectors: Hawaiiana collectors, postcard collectors, surfing collectors and sports memorabilla collectors.
The card is from a relatively small series (less than a dozen images) that was first issued in the late 1920s (my usages are from 1927-1931). The cards were issued in two different versions. The first is printed in either black or sepia ink and the second is the first version, hand colored. Card number 48/B features a vertical (cropped) image of R.J. Baker’s famous photograph of Duke standing in front of his surfboard on Waikiki Beach, next to ‘Apuakeha Stream (see part four).
The card is identical to the black and white real photo postcard that we will see in part six, however, unlike the photo postcard – it is titled “Duke Kahanamoku – Hawaiian Swimmer” – thus its popularity (see Figure 28).
There is another printed Duke postcard from the 1920s that few collectors are aware of. It was published by Canadian Pacific Cruise Lines and is captioned “Three Birds HAWAII”. The three birds are represented by an airplane, a seagull – and Duke Kahanamoku diving into Honolulu Harbor from the 100 foot high spar of a sailing ship. The original photo of Duke’s dive was taken by A.R. Gurrey (see Figure 29).
In my opinion, the biggest producer of quality printed surfing-related images during the 1920s was The Paradise Postcard Co., Box 3461, Honolulu, H. T. (Hawaiian Territory vs Territory of Hawaii). Their cards were sold in three different versions concurrently.
The first was real photo with a high gloss (see Prince of Wales, part four – Figure 16 and Figure 30, below). The second was printed in sepia (see figure 31) and the third was printed in multicolor with a modernist feel (see Figures 32 and 33). All of the cards are captioned on the front and have divided backs. In addition, the sepia and multicolor cards have a descriptive paragraph printed on the back, above the address (left) side.
I have specialized in collecting cards from this company for over 30 years now, and have about 200. For real photo cards, my usages cover 1925-1931 (perhaps the Prince of Wales card was printed subsequent to 1920?); for sepia cards, 1923-1928 and for multicolor cards, 1925-1932. I cannot say if every image was printed in all three versions, however, to this point I have collected a dozen that were (including two of the surfing images).
There is a descriptive paragraph on the back of the great tandem image below: “Surfriding is justly called the ‘King of Sports’, for there is nothing to compare with it in all the world; that rush shoreward on a surfboard at express speed, ever in front of a huge white-capped billow, provides those fortunate enough to experience it with sufficient thrills to last a lifetime.”
The descriptive paragraph on the back of this next card is a little different: “Surfboard riding is duly recognized as the King of Sports and [where else] in the world can it be indulged in every day of the year – winter and summer alike – as in the Hawaiian Islands. It requires the patience and skill to master the art, but nothing can equal the reward of that thrilling rush shoreward… until the wave has spent its force on the coral sands.”
Thanks in large part to Tom Blake, the 1930s was the heyday for real photo surfing postcards. However, one company continued to produce printed cards of very high quality and these are very popular with collectors today. The company was Sunny Scenes Inc., located in Winter Park, Florida.
They were in business from 1923 through 1949 and produced hand-colored greeting cards, postcards, and larger pictures “by using stencil and air brush techniques.“ The scenes were mainly from Florida, Hawaii, California and Texas and products were distributed to vendors in those states.
Although the company was in business for over 25 years, they produced Hawaiian postcards over a shorter period of time. A survey of 63 usages in my collection indicates the period to be 1931-1943. It should be noted that the WWII years saw disproportionate usage, a result of servicemen stationed in Hawaii sending cards to the mainland (many of these bear censor markings).
Over this period, Sunny Scenes produced many different series and single cards – which can be differentiated by numbers and captions running vertically on the left of the address side. Included were two famous surfing images.
The first features a surfer in a classic pose, similar to one used by Duke Kahanamoku. This card is often unwittingly bought and sold as a “Duke” card when, in fact, the surfer standing to the right is Roy Craw, Jr. (see Figure 33). This card was first issued as part of a large series (numbered HA-14) and the ensuing demand caused it to be reprinted as as a stand alone card (with different coloring) numbered H-803-K.
The other surfing card produced by Sunny Scenes must not have sold very well, as it is relatively difficult for collectors to acquire today (see Figure 34).