Surfing in the Jazz Age

A warm summer Sunday afternoon in Corona del Mar, 1928: the economy was roaring along, the cheerier side of early twentieth-century American culture—Hollywood and jazz, Mae West and Buck Rogers, Gershwin and Valentino—was in its brightest bloom, and several hundred people turned out for the debut Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships.

In a 1918 public service photo, Duke Kahanamoku sits on the beach in Waikiki in his woolen two-piece bathing suit, solemnly knitting a sweater to be care-packaged off to American troops on the Western Front. It’s a touching, if discordant image. World War II, a generation later, would inadvertently reshape surfing from top to bottom. But the Great War was as psychologically removed from the world’...

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