Surfing was an Hawaiian cultural practice long before it became a Southern California sport. Hawaiian surfers George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku popularized the sport at Los Angeles-area beaches. Freeth was sent to demonstrate surfing as a promotion of Hawaiian tourism. Both Freeth and Kahanamoku became promotional tools of Southland beach resorts. Their skills, their media-stereotyped Hawaiian personae, supposed links to Hawaiian nobility, life-saving exploits, and motion-picture promotion mediated their dark skin in race-conscious Los Angeles. By the 1920s, surfing (on lighter, shorter boards) had been adopted as a Southern California pastime.
Southland Surf: Hawaiians, Surfing, and Race in Los Angeles, 1907–1928
Margaret DePond is a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico focusing on US history and the history of women, gender, and sexuality. Her dissertation, “Beach Babes: Gender and the Beach in American Culture,” explores the confluence of changing gender roles and leisure in the growth of American beach tourism. She is also the managing editor of the New Mexico Historical Review.
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Margaret DePond; Southland Surf: Hawaiians, Surfing, and Race in Los Angeles, 1907–1928. Southern California Quarterly 1 February 2019; 101 (1): 45–78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/scq.2019.101.1.45
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