I have a big thing for old surf footage. Generally, my favorite surfing images are the ones taken in the ’70s era – the ones before the crowds and fashion truly struck the surfing world; the ones that show surfing in the infancy of the neon, hormonal adolescence of the ’80s and ’90s. I’ve also always been fascinated with Hawaii before it became Hawaii+Surf Industry Depending on where you live, surfing is a huge part of life, even for non-surfers. Even if they don’t surf, it’s a top-of-mind activity for nearly everyone that lives here. My neighbors that don’t surf notice when the waves are good. If you’ve got wet hair, the old lady in the gas station will ask you where you surfed. And there is nowhere where it has been a part of life longer than Hawaii, the real birthplace (okay, maybe it’s Peru) of the totally-not-serious activity of sliding around on waves.
According to the New York Times, the footage above was shot in 1906 on Waikiki Beach by a Thomas Edison cameraman. It’s one of the first “surf movies” ever made, and it shows something that, surprisingly, is not so far removed from the Waikiki of today – small waves, happy people, and surfers. The informational section says that, back in 1906, a man named Robert Bonine came to Hawaii to shoot a documentary of life in the Polynesian territory. It hazards a guess that the wave is now called Canoes, although it probably wasn’t called that at the time – most likely surfing had not progressed to a stage where waves were named.
It’s a refreshing look at a time far-gone. One that will never be recovered, but one that is incredibly important. It’s a look back at a time when surfing was just a pastime, one meant for nothing like the diluted sport we see today. Surfing was purely for fun. And in a way, it still can be. You just need to learn to ignore all the trappings that come with it. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what draws many to surfing in the first place: the idea that something can be meant for nothing other than fun. There’s a paradox that’s risen from that idea, though. In capitalizing on something that at its core is so purely for enjoyment, it’s been transformed into almost the exact opposite. With the rising influx of new surfers attracted to that wispy, vague idea of sunsets and Gidget, the idea itself gets farther and farther away.