The New God Doesn't Surf

Hawaiians were brought down by syphilis and cholera, new laws and prohibitions, endless work hours, overthrow and annexation—the 19th century was truly the surfing's own Dark Ages.

From reading nineteenth-century surf literature, Hawaii seems nearly partitioned, with the natives “frolicking and gamboling” in the ocean while the foreigners watch on the beach and gasp in admiration. But there was contact, of course. Hawaiians nearly perished for it, along with their favorite sport. In 1895, anthropologist and missionary son Nathaniel Emerson wrote about surfing in something ve...

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