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Then called ‘surf-bathing’ the Hawaiian practice of Heʻe nalu (wave sliding) had some little-known early devotees. It had grown in popularity since 1885 when three Hawaiian princes took to the waves in Santa Cruz, California.
#1 Mark Twain
On his 1866 trip to Hawaii, he took surfing lessons. He was not a natural surfer and left us this highly entertaining description of his wipe-out:
“It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, 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 natives ever master the art of surf bathing thoroughly.”- Roughing It
#2 Agatha Christie
British crime writer and creator of Poirot and Miss Marple, in January 1922, she tried prone surfboard riding on Muizenberg beach in South Africa. She wrote:
“The surfboards in South Africa were made of light, thin wood, easy to carry, and one soon got the knack of coming in on the waves. It was occasionally painful as you took a nosedive down into the sand, but on the whole it was an easy sport and great fun.”
#3 Edward Prince of Wales
The playboy Prince who later became notorious for renouncing the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson took a three-day surf safari in Hawaii in 1920. He was taught by surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, the “Ambassador of Aloha”. The Museum of British Surfing who owns this signed photograph believe it to be the first photo of a Briton riding a wave. Historic reports say Edward loved to surf, riding waves for two hours every morning and three every afternoon.
The author loved what he called “the royal sport”. He wrote up his experiences in Hawaii in 1911 when he describes paddling out to the ‘big smokers’ and learning the tricks of non-resistance and to yield to the waters. He never forgot his first deep water wave:
“I heard the crest of the wave hissing and churning, and then my board was lifted and flung forward. I scarcely knew what happened the first half-minute. Though I kept my eyes open, I could not see anything, for I was buried in the rushing white of the crest. But I did not mind. I was chiefly conscious of ecstatic bliss at having caught the wave.” The Cruise of the Snark.