Today, we continue with our series remembering Harry Foglietta and his favorite Hawaiian postcard collecting interests. While Harry had three definite favorites: hula girls, surfing and the Mid Pacific Carnival – it is the surfing cards for which he was most passionate, especially those featuring the legendary Duke Kahanamoku. The reason for this is simple enough; Harry was a lifelong surfer, beginning in his teens growing up in Riverside, California and continuing into his early 60s on Oahu.
In one of the comments to part one, former next door neighbor Bill Buerger stated that the catalyst for Harry’s interest in becoming a surfer was the movie Gidget, released in 1959. Having surfed myself, and being somewhat versed in surfing culture and history, I am well aware of the profound impact this movie made upon the youth of the early 1960s. At Harry’s service last week I had a chance to speak with Harry’s brother, Jim, and ask him about this.
Jim replied that they did see Gidget and while it made a big impression upon the teenage Foglietta brothers – he emphasized it was only one of many popular films (both commercial and documentary) and songs that all together captured the beach-surfing culture of the day and inspired the Foglietta brothers and their friends to to surf. As immortalized by the Beach Boys in Surfing Safari (1962), “Let’s go surfin’ now – Everybody’s learning how” (see Figure 1).
In part four of this series, we shall begin to see how the art and sport of surf board riding evolved and spread from ancient beginnings in Polynesia through the time when Harry and Jim became surfers in Southern California. As this was Harry’s main interest, I have taken it upon myself to write a fairly comprehensive introduction before we actually see the postcards.
It is not known when surfing originated – or where – but it is believed to have been in Polynesia. There is evidence that early surf board riding was also done off the coast of West Africa and Peru.
At some point (estimates range form 3400 to 4000 years ago), humans migrated out of Asia and into the islands of the Pacific Ocean. These islands would subsequently become known as Polynesia (see Figure 2). It is believed that body surfing (no board involved) began there almost immediately.
It is also believed that surf riding with a board was done throughout the Pacific Islands for centuries before it was first described in Tahiti by Joseph Banks, a naturalist employed on Captain Cook’s first voyage of discovery on the Endevour (1768-1771) and next by William Anderson, a naturalist who accompanied Cook’s second voyage on the Resolution (1772-1775).
Polynesians from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands arrived at the Hawaiian Archipelago in the 4th century A.D. They brought paipo boards with them. Paipo boards were short boards with a round nose and riders generally lay on their stomach. It is believed that occasionally the Tahitians stood up. However, the art of surfing while standing was subsequently perfected in Hawaii.
On Cook’s third voyage (1776-80), the Resolution visited the Hawaiian Islands twice, in 1778 and 1779. After Cook was killed, Lieutenant James King was assigned to complete the voyage journals. King made an entry covering two pages of the journals, in which he described natives surf board riding (standing up) at Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast. Cook’s designated artist, John Webber, completed the first rendering of a man on a surfboard (see Figure 3). The Hawaiians referred to surfing as he’e nalu, which translates into wave sliding.
Men and women from all classes participated. In addition to paipo boards, there were larger alaia boards (9-12 feet) for wave sliding in an upright position; even longer kiko’o boards (12-18 feet) and the massive olo boards which were as long as 24 feet. All boards lacked fins. Therefore, the riders had to drag their hands or feet in the water to turn.
The boards were shaped from three kinds of local wood: koa, breadfruit or wiliwili. The kahunas (native priests) oversaw spiritual carving rituals, christened new boards and also frequently led surfers in prayer to their gods to help them find courage and strength before entering the water.
The Hawaiians had no written history before European contact, so they relied on an oral history that was passed down from generation to generation through chants and songs. Many of these stories involved wave sliding.
Wave sliding was a big part of the Hawaiian culture during the time of Cook’s visits, imbued with social and spiritual significance. As such, it was strictly regulated by a set of rules known as Kapu. The Kapu dictated that the best boards and the beaches with the best waves were reserved for chiefs and members of the ruling class, the Ali’i. Only cheiftains were allowed to ride an olo board.
It should come as no surprise to learn that, as a result of the Kapu, the chiefs were among the best surfers In Hawaii. Especially noted for their surfing prowess were Kaumuali’i, ruler of Kauai and Kamehameha I.
The early Hawaiians had bona fide surfing contests to see who could ride the farthest and the fastest – and this often included wagering. Those who did well earned respect, increased social status and are reported to have had more “romantic success”. Commoners who exhibited exceptional skill were sometimes allowed to surf on the good beaches with the Ali’i.
In 1819, King Liholiho sat down with his mother and some other women from the ruling class to eat a meal. Previously, men and women eating together was strictly forbidden by the Kapu. This symbolic gesture on the part of Liholiho signaled the beginning of the end for the Kapu system. As it regards surfing history, surfers from the lower classes gradually began to surf at the same beaches as those from the upper classes.
Arrival of the Missionaries
When the Protestant missionaries arrived in 1820, they regarded surf board riding in much the same way as hula (see part two). They viewed the intermingling of men and women on the beach and in the water (dressed in loin cloths or nothing at all) and also the wagering as sinful. They attempted to discourage surfing by instilling modesty and suppressing gambling.
As with the hula, there was likely another motive on the part of the missionaries for wanting to see surfing expunged. As we have seen, surfing was a highly spiritual activity involving the kahunas in various roles. Remember, the goal of the missionaries was to convert the Hawaiian natives to Christianity. So in addition to objecting to the sensual and (in their view) immoral aspects of surfing, the missionaries likely viewed the spiritual aspects as an impediment to conversion.
By imposing their form of morality, the missionaries succeeded in eliminating much of the enjoyment Hawaiians derived from surfing and they gradually lost interest in the activity. However, as with the hula – surfing did not completely disappear. Surfing continued to take place throughout the islands, in an unobtrusive fashion.
In 1851, the Reverend Henry Cheever published his book titled Life in the Hawaiian Islands, The Heart of the Pacific. In the book, Cheever told of witnessing native surfing at Lahina, Maui. In 1866, Mark Twain stayed in Hawaii for four months and tried surfing, albeit not very successfully. He wrote about this experience in Roughing It, published in 1872 (see Figure 4).
Twain wrote, “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 [surfer] would paddle three of four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell!”
In 1885, three Hawaiian princes were attending boarding school at St. Mathews Hall, in San Mateo, California. It has been widely reported that they sometimes took time off from school, shaped boards from the local redwood trees and surfed at Santa Cruz. Their names were David Kawananakoa, Edward Kealiiahonui and Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole.
The earliest surfing-related photographs date from around 1890. Many years ago, I purchased much of the Hawaiiana collection belonging to Dan DePalma Sr. of San Juan Capistrano, California. Included were two rare photographs and I am pleased to share these with you today.
The first was taken by Theodore P. Severin. For many years thought to be the earliest surfing-related photograph, an example in the Bishop Museum (Honolulu) has been widely reproduced in surfing publications around the world. The DePalma Collection contained a second example, complete with the bottom imprint (see Figure 5).
The second piece from the DePalma collection is a montage produced by the famous British photographer Frank Davey. Davey worked for a relatively brief time in Hawaii, from 1897 to 1901. However, during this period he produced a number of important images. The name of the surfer in this montage is Charles Kauha and he is holding what scholars believe to be one of the last paipo boards used in Hawaii (see figure 6).
Davey took several similar photographs of Kauha at Waikiki in April of 1898. He included this image in History of the Hawaiian Islands and Hints to Travelers Visiting the Hawaiian Islands, published in 1899. I would like to share one more early Davey piece that I acquired at a show, perhaps the ultimate Hawaiian photo montage (see Figure 7).
By the end of the 19th century, surfing had all but disappeared in the Hawaiian Islands. A group of native Hawaiians informally began the Hui Nalu (“Club of the Waves”) in 1905 and this helped to revitalize the sport. However, it was largely due to three haole men that surfing was able to make a big comeback.
In 1907, Jack London and his wife, Charmian, visited Hawaii for the first time. For those unaware, London was a famous adventurer and an extremely successful author. By this point, he had written Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf and White Fang. London was introduced to surfing after being sought out by Alexander Hume Ford (see Figure 8).
Ford had moved to Hawaii from South Carolina and took up surfing. He was also a businessman who actively promoted the Hawaiian islands and the sport of surfing to the mainland. Like many haole businessmen in Hawaii, he longed for statehood.
Some accounts imply Ford promoted surfing in order to attract more white tourists and residents – in an attempt to boost the minority white population and, in his view, make Hawaii a better candidate for statehood. To further that, he enlisted the help of London to help him achieve this goal.
Ford took London surfing at Waikiki and introduced him to George Freeth, a hapa haole. Born in Hawaii to an Irish father and part Hawaiian mother, Freeth was the most famous Waikiki beach boy of the day.
Beach boys gave surfing lessons and it had been Freeth who helped Hume to first stand up on a board. London was in awe of Freeth and was inspired to write A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki, which included glorified accounts of Freeth surfing at Waikiki:
“Where but the moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is now a man, erect, full statured, not-struggling frantically in that wild moment, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those might monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on the giddy summit, his feet buried in the giddy foam, the salt smoke rising to his knees, and the rest of him in the free air and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a Mercury – a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the swiftness of the sea”.
And, more concisely: “I saw him tearing in [on the back of a wave] standing upright with his board, carelessly poised, a young god bronzed with sunburn”.
The story was published in the October (1907) issue of Ladies Home Companion and as part of London’s bestselling The Cruise of the Snark (1911). For the sport of surfing, the die was now cast (see Figure 9).
Also in 1907, Freeth made a trip to California. He was observed surfing at Venice Beach and subsequently became known as “The first man to surf in California”.
Aparently people there had no knowledge of the three Hawaiian princes who surfed at Santa Cruz in 1885. It should be noted that other Hawaiians – who worked on sailing ships off the California coast during the 1800s – may also have surfed on their time off. In Two Years Before the Mast (1835), Richard H. Dana wrote about Hawaiians from a sailing crew surfing off the shore of Santa Barbara.
At this point Freeth came to the attention of railroad and real estate magnate Henry E. Huntington (Huntington Beach, etc). Huntington invited Freeth to put on a series of surfing demonstrations in Southern California to promote the opening of the Los Angeles – Redondo – Huntington Railroad. Freeth drew huge crowds and inspired many young Californians to surf (see Figure 10).
For an outstanding article on the life of George Freeth, click here.
While London was writing about surfing and Freeth was giving surfing demonstrations, Ford was petitioning the trustees of the Queen Emma Estate to set aside some land near the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach for a club that “would preserve the ancient Hawaiian pursuits of surfing and outrigger canoeing”. On May 1st, 1908, Ford and some of his associates founded The Outrigger Canoe Club (see Figures 11 and 12).
Once the Outrigger Canoe Club was established, they began to have friendly competitions with the Hui Nalu. The members of the Outrigger Club were primarily haole and their first captain was George “Dad” Center. The Hui Nalu were primarily native Hawaiians led by Duke Kahanamoku. These competitions generated much excitement and interest in the sport.
In 1911, the Hui Nalu formally organized and established a locker room in the Moana Hotel. In 1915, London returned to Hawaii and stayed for ten months. He was “shocked and excited” to find that the Outrigger Canoe Club had 1200 members and hundreds more on a waiting list (see Figure 13).
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku was a native Hawaiian, born in Honolulu on August 24, 1890. He had five younger brothers and three sisters. His bothers, Sam, Louis, Sargent, David and Bill, were all expert watermen in their own right.
Duke was named after his father, Duke Halapu Kahanamoku. His father had been christened by Bernice Pauahi Bishop in honor of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh (The Kingdom of Hawaii modeled its government after the British monarchy and Hawaiian royalty maintained a strong connection with their British counterparts). Although not part of the Hawaiian royal family per se, Duke’s parents were considered lower ranking nobles.
Duke was blessed with a phenomenal body. He was slim (but very muscular) with unusually long hands and feet. He revolutionized the sport of swimming by developing the flutter kick to replace the scissor kick which had traditionally been used in freestyle swimming. Swimming in Honolulu Harbor on August 11, 1911, Duke broke the world record in the 100 yard freestyle – by 4.6 seconds (55.4).
Duke easily qualifyied for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. He stopped over in California en route, where he gave several surfing demonstrations at Corona del Mar and Santa Monica that drew enormous crowds. They are said to have caused an even greater sensation than those given by George Freeth five years earlier.
Duke won a gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle in both Stockholm and again eight years later, in Antwerp, Belgium (The 1916 games were cancelled due to WWI). At the 1920 games, he was also a member of the victorious U.S. 800 meter relay team. In the 1924 Paris games, Johnny Weissmuller broke an Olympic record in the 100 to edge Duke, who took home the silver. Years later, Duke would often joke, “It took Tarzan to finally beat me” (see Figure 14).
From 1911 to 1924, Duke was touted as “the fastest swimmer alive” and gave countless exhibitions of both swimming and surfing around the world. Contrary to popular belief, Duke did not introduce the sport of surfing to Australia. That honor goes to Australian Tommy Walker, who visited Hawaii in 1911, bought a board on Waikiki Beach for $2.00 and brought it back Sidney with him. He mastered the sport and gave numerous surfing exhibitions on Manly Beach in 1912.
Duke visited Australia and New Zealand in 1915, giving surfing demonstrations and electrifying the crowds everywhere he went. Duke often struck a mesmerizing pose while standing on his board. He inspired untold numbers of Australians and New Zealanders to take up the exciting sport of surfing (see Figure 15).
It was in 1917 that Duke’s legend entered the realm of myth. He was riding his 16 foot, 114 pound board at Waikiki when he caught a wave at Castles (historically known as Kalehuawehe). Castles was a surf break near the home of the Kamaaina family whose three-story beachfront home was a prominent landmark in front of Diamond Head.
Duke road the wave through Elks Club, Cunha’s and Queens – all the way into the beach. Duke modestly estimated the ride was half a mile long, however, other estimates place it closer to a mile. This was the longest ride in surfing history – until it was eclipsed by Tom Blake in the 1930s.
In 1920 Edward, the Prince of Wales, visited Hawaii and even tried surfing with Duke. This event brought plenty of international publicity – not just to the sport of surfing, but also to Duke and the other Hawaiian beach boys (see Figures 16, 17 and 18).
Starting in the 1920s, Duke began splitting his time between Honolulu and Los Angeles. He had started a movie career that would span 28 years and over 30 films including over a dozen full-length features.
In 1925, Duke took some of his Hollywood friends to surf at Corona del Mar, about 50 miles south of L.A. As they sat on the beach, waiting for a storm to pass, they spotted a boat in trouble just beyond the surf line.
In moments the boat capsized, throwing all 29 passengers overboard. Duke grabbed his surfboard and paddled into the rough sea. He fought with all his strength to reach the sinking ship, whereupon he started pulling people out of the water and begged them to hold onto his board. He made three trips before collapsing. In all, he rescued eight people from a disaster that claimed the lives of 17.
Southern California officials called it “…the most superhuman rescue act and the finest display of surfboard riding that has ever been seen in the world”. Duke was now a national hero.
While Duke was frequently typecast because of his dark complexion and never reached movie star status (see Figures 19, 20 and 21), the exposure added to his fame and enabled him to make other celebrity friends. The celebrities would later visit him in Hawaii and be photographed with him, often on the beach. These photographs appeared in newspapers around the world and further helped to promote Hawaii tourism and the sport of surfing.
in 1927, Duke returned to Hawaii to open the Waikiki Natatorium, a memorial to the 10,000 men from the Territory of Hawaii who volunteered to serve in WWI – in the form of open air ocean water public swimming pool located on Waikiki Beach (see Figure 22).
The opening ceremony was scheduled for August 24, Duke’s birthday. Duke swam in an exhibition first and thrilled the huge crowd. In the official meet that followed, Johnny Weissmuller won the 100 (in a new world record), 400 and 800 meter events, and Hawaiian Buster Crabbe won the 1500 (see Figure 23).
Crabbe would go on to win gold in the 400 meter freestyle event at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. Crabbe would also make his mark in Hollywood, playing the title role in Tarzan the Fearless, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Crabbe was also a tremendous surfer and, like Duke, would use his fame to popularize the sport.
When celebrities came to Oahu in the teens and twenties, they would often seek out the legendary Duke Kahanamoku for a photograph – for publicity purposes or as a memento. Starting in the 1930s (before selfies), this became a forgone conclusion. I have many such images in my collection and would like to take this “opportunity” to share some of my favorites with you.
Following the end of the World Series in October of 1933, Babe Ruth visited Hawaii for the first time and participated in several exhibition baseball games against local teams. He especially looked forward to meeting Duke and have their picture taken together (see Figure 24).
On December 27, 1934, the ocean liner Lurline arrived at Honolulu Harbor. Among the passengers were Amelia Earhart and her husband, George Putnam. Also aboard the ship, sitting on the deck in plain sight, was a Lockheed Vega monoplane.
Speculation was rampant that she was going to attempt a Hawaii to mainland flight, however, Amelia kept insisting she only brought the plane along to travel between the islands while on her vacation.
On January 10th, 1935 Amelia and Duke got together for the obligatory photo op. In this case, the famous photo that made the newspapers was a shot of Duke showing Amelia how to eat a pineapple (see Figure 25).
The following photo is rarely seen and shows George joining them. I like this image because you can see their faces clearly. Duke liked it too – and saved it for his own personal memento of that day (see Figure 26).
The next day, on January 11, 1935, newspapers around the world reported that Amelia Earhart had taken off from Wheeler Field early in the morning and become the first person to fly solo between Hawaii and the continental United States. She traveled the 2400 miles between Oahu and Oakland, California in 18 hours.
Later that same year, Shirley Temple made her first trip to Hawaii. She arrived in Honolulu Harbor aboard the Mariposa on July 29, 1935. By this point she was arguably the most popular film star in the world – at age seven! Shirley had recently completed Bright Eyes, where she memorably sang “On the Good Ship Lollipop”.
On August 8, 1935, a photo appeared in all of the newspapers which showed a smiling Shirley Temple sitting on Duke’s lap with her favorite doll – and constant traveling companion – Christine (see Figure 27). There is, however, a wonderful backstory to this particular photo op.
An enormous crowd (estimated at 10-15,000 people) turned out to meet her at the dock, screaming and yelling her name. Although somewhat used to big crowds fawning over her, the young actress became frightened and started to cry – she would not leave the ship.
Then, she somehow recognized a single face among the masses and waved for her trusted friend Duke (whom she had met in Hollywood) to come on board. A few minutes later, she was perched safely on his broad shoulders and was all smiles. A fellow passenger aboard the ship took the snapshot shown in Figure 28. Duke carried her off the ship and through the crowd.
During her visit, Shirley Temple was made an honorary captain of the Waikiki Beach Lifeguard Patrol (see video below):
She was then presented with the custom made surfboard shown in the video – after Duke and some of the most famous Waikiki beach boys of the day signed it for her (see Figure 29).
The following shot does not include another celebrity, however, I have included it because it clearly shows what an incredible physical specimen Duke remained in middle age (47). Taken in 1937, Duke was only five years removed form appearing at the 1932 Olympics – his fourth – as an alternate for the U.S. water polo team (see Figure 30).
We will end part four with one of my very favorite Duke Kahanamoku photographs. Rolf Armstrong was one of the most accomplished pinup artists of all time. He spent much of his career with Brown & Bigalow, the venerable calendar producer and became well known for his paintings of actresses Bebe Daniels and Greta Garbo, among others.
He first visited Hawaii in 1950 and fell in love with the islands. His yearly visits extended from several weeks to many months and he planned to permanently retire there. Before this happened (1960), Armstrong died from a heart ailment in his beloved Hawaii at Queens Hospital in Honolulu.
Over the years he had been very close friends with Duke and his wife, Nadine. Rolf introduced Duke to his favorite model, Jewel Flowers, and they developed an instant bond. Duke, Nadine, Rolf and Jewel socialized a great deal (see Figure 31) and were mutual friends with many other celebrities, both in Hawaii and on the mainland, including James Cagney.
Duke liked to hang out at Armstrong’s studio and watch him work. Prior to the dinner party shown above, someone (Armstrong?) took this photograph of Duke and Jewel chatting during a break. They both seem quite happy and I find their unmistakable affection for each other to be entrancing (see Figure 32).