Friday, April 04, 2008

What Do You Get When You Cross An Ulsterman With An Hawaiian?

No - not an Orangeman in a grass skirt - but George Freeth, often billed as the "first surfer in the United States". Apparently, Georgie's old man hailed from Ulster and fell for a Wahine after he emigrated to Hawaii. The offspring of their loins turned out to be a rather interesting dude. As inscribed on a memorial statue at Redondo beach...

lab_image_george_freethGeorge Freeth was born in Honolulu November 8, 1883 of Hawaiian and Irish ancestry. As a youngster he revived the lost Polynesian art of surfing while standing on a board. Henry E. Huntington was amazed at Freeth's surfing and swimming abilities and induced George to come to Redondo beach in 1907 to help the building of "the largest, warm saltwater plunge in the world."

George Freeth was advertised as "the man who can walk on water." Thousands of people came here on the big red cars to watch this astounding feat. George would mount his big 8-foot long, solid wood , 200 hundred pound surf board far out in the surf. He would wait for a suitable wave, catch it, and to the amazement of all, ride onto the beach while standing upright.

George Freeth introduced the game of water polo to this coast. He trained many champion swimmers and divers. George was the "first official lifeguard" on the Pacific coast. He invented the torpedo shaped rescue buoy that is now used worldwide. On December 16, 1908 during a violent south bay storm, George rescued 6 Japanese fisherman from a capsized boat. For his valour he received "the United States Lifesaving Corps gold medal."

George Freeth died April 7, 1919 at the early age of 35 years as the result of exhaustion from strenuous rescue work.

8 comments:

Mick said...

Double check that one... I thought he died during the post WW1 flu epidemic.

Anonymous said...

I'm I entitled to Royalties for this story!!!

Beach Bum said...

No, you still owe me for that ice-cream in Morellis.

peter.robinson said...

Research by historians in Hawaii and California states that Freeth was Anglo-Hawaiian not Irish (the latter coming from an apparent error on his death certificate). he was the son of an English sea captain, a fact which is backed up by his surviving relatives in Hawaii.
www.thesurfingmuseum.co.uk

Beach Bum said...

Mick - yes, the inscription on the statue turns out to be quite contentious! As well as the cause of death, Peter and a few others have pointed out that he might have been of Pommie origin afterall! I'm hoping to get my paws on the research referred to - watch this space!

Dale Solomonson said...

For more information on George Freeth see The Surfers Journal, Volume 12, No.3, Summer 2003:

"Reinventing the Sport, Part Three: George Freeth" by Joel T. Smith

Beach Bum said...

Heh Dale - thanks - yes, Joel was kind enough to email me that article ... there's been a ton of emails on George flying back and forth. Still haven't definitively pinned down his Father's origins but the evidence suggests he was English afterall. BTW anybody selling your Surfmats in New York?

Dale Solomonson said...

Nope... orders are custom, direct from me. Thanks for asking :)

Dale