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Cal Porter's Then & Now
BiographyThere are many famous opening lines from great works of literature: “It was a dark and stormy night”, Bulwer-Lytton, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, Charles Dickens, “Call me Ishmael”, from Moby Dick, but ever was there a line more to the point than, “I Am Born”, in Chapter 1 of David Copperfield. So that’s where I will start. It happened to me in the year 1924, and by my calculation that makes me 88 this year.
I surfed at an early age. I had older brothers, and we had surfboards of one kind or another before I was five years old. I’ve surfed all my life. I’ve bodysurfed all my life. I dived for lobster and abalone and fish for dinner, and I sold them to restaurants and fish markets. I had a small fishing boat and fished commercially. I taught swimming. And when I was old enough I became a lifeguard so that I could earn a living and still be on the beach and in the water. Lifeguarding put me through college and graduate school. I became a teacher and then a school principal for many years. But I never left the beach. All my spare time and days off were on the beach. It’s a good thing for me that my family shared my love for the ocean. Most of our trips were to the watery places of the world, where the sea was warm, the water was clear, the diving was good, and the waves were beckoning. I lifeguarded for almost 40 years. And now many years into retirement I’m still on the beach. I live on the beach. Through my windows I can see the beach. And when that day comes and it’s time to “shuffle off this mortal coil” (Hamlet), I will return to the sea once more.
FIVE LITTLE KNOWN BUT FAMOUS SURFERS
1. He was thirty years old in 1866 and working as a reporter for the Sacramento Union newspaper. He was one of the first reporters sent from the mainland to provide readers with information about the tropical and exotic Sandwich Islands that were little known at that time. He spent four months in those islands that would be renamed Hawaii, sending back twenty-five articles that became big hits with readers back home in California. He had just adopted a pen name for these stories that he would use for the rest of his writing life. After Hawaii, Mark Twain would go on to write about Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Becky Thatcher and dozens of other characters in stories for the next forty years.
Twain wrote about everything he saw in Hawaii but he was so fascinated by the naked natives surfing he just had to try it: “I tried surf-bathing once but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too, but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but the natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly”. In 1866 Twain was probably the first American surfer ever.
From the first edition of Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”, 1872
2. The Snark was a forty-three foot ketch, a sailboat with two masts and an auxiliary seventy horsepower engine. It set sail from San Francisco and reached the Hawaiian Islands in the early summer of 1907. Jack London was already a famous author when he made this trip having written “The Call of the Wild”, “White Fang”, “Sea Wolf” and many others. At the conclusion of this long sail through the South Seas he would write another well known book, “The Cruise of the Snark”. At Waikiki Beach London was introduced to George Freeth the preeminent surfer in the islands who would start the popularization of surfing in California that same year. London, like Twain before him, had to give surfing a try. In his journal he goes to great lengths in describing his first two days of learning to surf. First day, first attempt in shallow water: “The water gave me a passing buffet, a light tap, but a tap sufficient to knock me off the board and smash me down through the rushing water to bottom, with which I came in violent collision and upon which I was rolled over and over. I got my head out for a breath of air and then gained my feet”. And the next day: “I shall never forget the first big wave I caught out there in deep water--------I was conscious of ecstatic bliss at having caught the wave----------It was my second day at surf-riding, and I was quite proud of myself, I stayed out there for four hours”.
London, on a later Waikiki trip
3. Besides Kamehameha and other Hawaiian kings has there ever been another king that surfed? Only one that I know of. At the time he was a prince, twenty-six years old, and the heir apparent to the throne. It was 1920, and Edward, the British Prince of Wales, journeyed to the shores of Hawaii on H.M.S Renown for a stay of three days. Duke Kahanamoku was quickly recruited to take charge of teaching the future King Edward the Eight and his friend Earl Mountbatten how to surf. They were in the water for two to five hours all three days. Edward learned quickly and was soon on his feet; Mountbatten never made it up. Edward was probably the first British surfer ever, royal or otherwise. In another sixteen years Edward would be King of England, but of course his reign was short lived when Wallis Simpson entered the picture and England said no to the idea of this American divorcée ever becoming queen; abdication ensued. There is no record of the good prince ever surfing again.
4. If I were asked to name the most unlikely person to take up surfing, this next one would be high on the list. She is the best selling novelist of all time with four billion copies. Outside of the Bible and Shakespeare hers are the most published books in history. In addition to other works, she wrote sixty-six detective novels, mainly featuring Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Many of her works were filmed and on stage. All this and she never went to school when she was a child, her mother believing that education destroyed the brain. Agatha Christie travelled to Hawaii with her first husband, Archie, in 1922; she was thirty-two years old. Both she and Archie had experienced prone boogie boarding on the coast of South Africa on the voyage to Hawaii and were eager to try stand up surfing once they reached Waikiki. Both became quite good at it. In Christie’s words: “I learned to become expert ---the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right in to shore standing upright on my board. It is one of the most perfect physical pleasures that I have known”. In 1922 Agatha Christie was surely England’s first female surfer. She wasn’t royalty like Edward VIII but later she did become Dame Agatha Christie and also “Lady” since her second husband was knighted.
Agatha, Hawaii, 1922
5. This surfer is about as unlikely as the one above, and much older than any of the preceding was for his first attempt at the sport. The setting is Muizenberg Beach, a popular spot on the South African Coast, and coincidentally where Agatha Christie did a bit of prone surfing ten years before on her way to Hawaii. He was seventy-five years old in March of 1932 when he arrived at the beach to try his hand at surfing. He had already written over fifty-five plays such as My Fair Lady, Caesar and Cleopatra, Candida and Major Barbara, all made into movies as well as many more. George Bernard Shaw made quite a stir when he appeared on the beach, board in hand, with his long beard and white hair. The South African Travel News the following week wrote that, “Mr. George Bernard Shaw had the beach to himself for his initiation into the delights of surfing. After a few minutes practice be becomes as adept at the exhilarating sport as many of its younger devotees”.
George Bernard Shaw in Action, 1932
Three Brits and two Americans,
Four writers and a king.
One thing in common,
Submitted By Cal Porter on June 11 , 2012
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