A pictorial history of ‘the sport of kings’

KOLOA — For centuries, Native Hawaiians found refuge in the waves. The popular ocean sport’s evolution from its early days through its boom at Waikiki Beach are chronicled in Timothy DeLaVega’s book, “Surfing in Hawai‘i: 1778 – 1930.”

The 127-page book written by Kaua‘i resident and surf historian DeLaVega is filled with more than 200 images of the Hawaiian sport, including illustrations by early European explorers depicting naked Hawaiians riding a wave’s crest on wooden boards.

Around the 1890s, these images evolved into photographs.

One of the book’s highlights is a never-before published picture of Ni‘ihau surfers in 1890 by Henry Bolton, along with the early history of the Hui Nalu club (surf legend Duke Kahanamoku was a member).

The author will share his visual journey of Hawaiian surfing at 6 p.m. Thursday at Koloa Library and 5:30 p.m. April 11 at Princeville Library. Admission is free.

DeLaVega will be taking his tour on the road when he travels to the Outrigger Canoe Club on O‘ahu March 19.

“I love this era,” DeLaVega said. “Nowhere in the ancient world did surfing rise to such prominence as it did here in Hawai‘i. From that era up to the 1930s, all surfing was done on solid wood. We like to say it was done on souls of trees.”

DeLaVega assembled the book with the help of his TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) — a group of dedicated surf fanatics scattered throughout the world. Many of the images were gleaned from DeLaVega’s personal collection, and his research allowed him to comb through the archives of the Outrigger Canoe Club, where he was able to identify many of the surfers pictured in the book.

The book, which took a year and a half to complete, is the third surf project he has completed centering around surf history.

“It gives me great admiration for what they did,” said DeLaVega, who made surfboards in the 1970s and 1980s. “I know what it’s like to carve foam and to carve wood to make a surfboard. But what did the ancient Hawaiians have? They chipped away with stones.”

While working on this project, DeLaVega strived to properly identify each image and research the history of each photograph.

“The thing about this era, there’s been more that’s lost than remembered,” DeLaVega said. “I was trying to tell the story of surfing and how it evolved from different angles. What I really love is the oddball stuff. … I wanted to just as much hit the beachboys, the tourists and everyone across the whole thing.”

Out of 200 images, it’s hard for DeLaVega to pinpoint a favorite, but the body of work by an early photographer holds a special place.

“What I love the most, as far as imagery, is A.R. Gurney Jr.,” DeLaVega said. “His early surfing images are just poetic. … The beauty of it, the love of it, the dynamic and everything about it, he carried it through with his photographs even 100 years later. He just captured it all.”

For DeLaVega’s next surf project, he wants to continue the story he started.

“What I like to do is find the stories of Hawaiian surfers — not the superstars, who are wonderful — but what I like to do is tell the stories of the normal people. The people who had little clubs, the little huis. The ones with a bunch of friends who would just hang out. No one has really told these stories, and that’s where I’d like to go.”

The book is available at Kayak Kaua‘i in Hanalei, Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe and online through Amazon.com

Visit www.soulsurfingimages.com  for more information about the book and upcoming events.

• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.

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