Surfing, a sport also known as “the sport of kings”, seems like an incredibly cool pastime. It originated from Hawaii and even though called a “regal sport” is still mostly associated with chill young men and “hippies”.
Surprisingly, however, it has been a hobby of several unlikely individuals such as Agatha Christie (honestly, can you imagine the author of Poirot and Miss Marple riding a wave? We can’t either, but it’s true!) and Mark Twain. Several others will also leave you surprised.
10. Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie, the famous crime novelist and the creator of legendary characters such as Poirot and Miss Marple, did more than just conjure up “whodunit” stories. Indeed, it is now believed that Christie and her husband, Archie, were one of the first few Britons to try stand up surfing.
After World War I was over, Archie was offered a job to help and organize a world tour to promote ‘The British Empire Exhibition’. Thus, in 1922 Christie and Archie left their child in the caring hands of Christie’s mother and sister and set off for Africa. It was there that they were introduced to prone surfing, a sport that Christie described as “easy” and “great fun”.
Archie’s tour continued and eventually they found themselves in Honolulu. It was there, or rather, in Waikiki, a beachfront neighborhood of Honolulu, that Christie learned how to surf standing up. It wasn’t easy – you had to recognize the right waves and avoid the bad ones, as well as paddle out towards the reef where the waves broke. It was from paddling that Christie developed a strain in her arm that often kept her up at night. Nevertheless, she continued because there was “nothing like that rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour….until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft, flowing waves”.
It is unknown whether the ‘Queen of Crime’ kept up her new hobby after her return to Britain, but here is to hoping she did!
9. Barack Obama
Back in 2008 when Obama went back to his home state, Hawaii, he used his vacation time for hitting the beach and the waves! Indeed, like a true surf addict, he inquired about surf conditions right after he got off the plane – “It’s windy out here. Surf’s up?”.
In fact, a video of Obama bodysurfing has been shot which has deeply inspired two Honolulu City Council members. The video has led to their suggestion of renaming the beach after President Obama. So, according to their plan, “Sandy Beach Park” would become “President Barack Obama Sandy Beach Park”.
However, the public reacted negatively and opposed to the proposal, saying that Sandy Beach, as well as other Hawaiian locations, have a lot of historical and cultural meaning and thus their names should not be changed.
Thus, while Obama did not get a beach named after him, it is nice to know that presidents have cool hobbies and a life outside politics!
8. Prince Edward
A while ago, rare photographs of Edward VIII surfing emerged and experts say that they are the earliest pictures of a British surfer to ever exist. King Edward VIII, then the Prince of Whales, learned how to surf off Waikiki beach in 1920. Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian surfer and Olympic swimmer, took Edward on an outrigger canoe and then taught him how to surf. Edward, the Prince of Wales, did okay and was hooked on surfing from that moment on.
In fact, he enjoyed surfing so much that he later ordered the royal yacht to turn back so he could enjoy surfing for three more days. Unfortunately, Duke was out of the country but Duke’s brother, David Kahanamoku, took him out into the water and it was then that the rare pictures were taken. According to David Kahanamoku, Edward learned how to surf standing up rather quickly, which is rather impressive, considering that the surfboard he rode was a solid wooden plank with no fins, made from native Hawaiian Koa. It weighed roughly 100 pounds. A replica of this surfboard, as well as pictures of Edward surfing, can be seen at ‘The Museum of British Surfing’ in Devon.
7. Jack London
When the accomplished writer, Jack London, arrived in Honolulu in 1907, surfing was a neglected sport, kept alive purely by surf enthusiasts such as George Freeth and Alexander Hume Ford.
Indeed, it was Ford who convinced Jack London to hop on a surfboard. On his second day, London managed to ride prone for some distance and remained in the water for four hours. Nonetheless, he never managed to stand up on his board, and the following day he was confined to his bed as a result of a painful sunburn.
It is obvious that London was very much impressed by surfing. He said it was the “royal sport for the natural kings of earth.” In 1907, that same year he had come to Honolulu, he wrote an account of his experience and entitled it ‘A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki’. It was published in the 1907 edition of ‘The Lady’s Home Companion’ and then re-published later in 1911 in his non-fiction book called ‘The Cruise of the Snark’, which chronicled his sailing adventure across the south Pacific. In this account, he refers to waves “mighty monsters” and to surfing as to “flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands.” London’s account helped to popularize this fascinating sport.
6. Mark Twain
Mark Twain, the famous author behind ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’, was one of the first few Americans to publish an account on surfing. And of course, in the process of observing and writing, he surfed himself.
Twain was 30 years old and working for the ‘Sacramento Union’ newspaper as a travel correspondent when he went to Kona Coast in Hawaii. It was there that he observed the natives and recorded his thoughts on the matter.
And it was also there that he tried surfing too – “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.” While it is obvious that Twain’s failure put him slightly off surfing, his descriptions of the sport (and of a wipeout) are spot-on.
Twain’s articles for the ‘Sacramento Union’ newspaper were collected into his 1872 travelogue called ‘Roughing It’. It was in this book that his paragraph on surfing landed.
5. Dennis Wilson
Dennis Wilson, the drummer of ‘The Beach Boys’ was in actual fact, the only one of the whole band to surf (LINK 14). Indeed, he was the one to encourage other members of the band to write about the sport, seeing as surfing was getting cool.
Wilson seemed to know lots about surfing and the best beaches to catch the best waves. In one of his interviews he says that – “September is good for the South; Hawaii is good from November until January; the West Coast is good in June; Australia’s good in January…”. As for the perfect waves – they had to have just the right speed, shape and size.
Wilson drowned in 1983 (not from surfing!) and was buried at sea.
Recently, Wilson’s surfboard was on sale on eBay for $100,000. It has since been sold. The backstory of the surfboard can also be found on the eBay page. According to it, sometime in the 1970s, Wilson gave the board to his good friend Louis Marotta who kept the board in his garage. However, in 1985 he gave the board to his close friend Bob Stafford, who was a huge fan of ‘The Beach Boys’. Bob passed away recently and thus the board passed onto his son Brian, who was named after Brian Wilson and who was selling the board.
Wilson’s surfboard was forever preserved in the band’s 1962 debut album ‘Surfin’ Safari’ as well as their third album ‘Surfer Girl’.
4. Prince William
Prince William’s first time hitting the waves was back in 1993, when he was still a child. He later surfed with his friends in Scotland in 2004 as well as Portugal. In fact, the sport means so much to Prince William that it was part of his bachelor party in 2011.
As well as that, Prince William and Prince Harry went body boarding together in Cornwall in 2012 while William’s wife, Duchess Kate, watched Andy Murray’s Wimbledon match. Prince William got off from attending the match by saying that he had an “existing commitment”.
Indeed, it seems that Prince William loves surfing so it is not at all surprising that his baby boy, Prince George, was gifted his first ever surfboard while on his visit to Australia with his parents. The board was commissioned by the Mayor of Manly Jean Hay and is valued at $2,200. Prince William said that he would love to surf the waves there and perhaps one day he will do just that (with his son!)
3. Prince Charles
Another royal surfer, Prince Charles, was supposedly first introduced to surfing on a royal trip to Australia. Recently, however, photographs of the then 20 year old prince surfing at Constantine Bay have been unearthed. They have been donated to the Museum of British Surfing by Phil Taylor, a surfer who originally took the pictures. They have been taken sometime between 1970 and 1973.
Apparently, back in the day, Prince Charles did not know the surfing etiquette very well and would often drop in on other surfers in the water, thus angering them in the process.
Soon after the photographs were taken, Prince Charles became patron of the British Surfing Association. And in 1978, he even went so far as to host the British surfing team at the Buckingham Palace before they set off for the World Championship in South Africa. Prince Charles has not surfed in a long time now, however, but perhaps one day he will decide to hit the beach again (and show us his improved surfing etiquette!).
2. Adolph Spreckels
Adolph Spreckels was Clark Gable’s stepson. His mother married Gable when Spreckels was five years old. Spreckels was heir to the Spreckels Sugar fortune and his Great Grandfather was a sugar baron. Spreckels was said to be a reincarnated Hawaiian prince by the keepers of island lore, known as Old Kahunas.
Soon after Gable died, Spreckels first learned how to surf in Waikiki. He was an uncontrollable teenager and was once cut off from his family fortune. However, he soon benefited from a multi-million dollar inheritance and in the early 70’s it was believed that he possessed more surfboards than anyone else in the world.
In 1969 he helped invent an almost universal feature found on short boards called the “down” rail. As well as that, he was one of the first men to ride the waves at Backdoor Pipeline in Hawaii, which were considered extremely dangerous. Nonetheless, his easy lifestyle got to him and he died of a drug overdose at the age of twenty seven.
1. ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill
Jack Churchill, or “Mad Jack”, has to be not only one of the most fascinating surfers out there, but also the most fascinating man, to ever live. He was the only soldier to kill his enemies with arrows shot from a crossbow. He was awarded the Yugoslavian Partisan Star as well as the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross for his war efforts. Later, he got rid of his arrows and rode into battle playing pipes. His favorite tune to play was “Will Ye No Come Back Again?”.
In fact, it was this song he played when the Nazis knocked him down with a grenade blast. It is believed that they thought Jack Churchill was a relative of Winston Churchill and thus instead of killing him decided to send him to Berlin for interrogation. It was of course found he had no links to Churchill and he was sent to a concentration camp. He escaped the camp and attempted to walk 125 miles through German territory to the Baltic Sea. He was caught near the shore and brought to a different camp. There, he escaped yet again during a power outage and walked about 100 miles surviving on vegetables he cooked in a stolen rusted can.
As if his war adventures were not enough, in 1955 Churchill decided to surf the tidal Severn Bore near Gloucester. He surfed it on 16ft Australian-style surfboard he had previously made himself and which he towed behind his motorcycle.
Witnesses to this mad act were convinced that the oncoming waves would drown Churchill, as they often drowned stray farm animals. They tried to convince him to give way but he could not be swayed. He laughed looking at them, and said, “I will be all right”.
He rode the Severn Bore for over a mile and was the first man to do it.
Written By: Laura Martisiute