In the final quarter of the 19th century, Mark Twain scribed two of the most famed pieces of American literature. But a full decade before The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were published, Twain was busy getting barreled and writing about it. At least that was the plan. It made Twain one of the first known American writers to document an account of surfing for the public.
According to The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Twain was commissioned to travel to Hawaii and write a piece for the Sacramento Union newspaper. He made $20 an article as their travel correspondent, with a collection of them making it into a compilation called Roughing It. His visit to The Big Island’s Kona Coast had the following account:
In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. 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. None but the natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.
A couple things to take from this: First, he called it surf bathing multiple times. Surfbathing Magazine, SurfbathingLine.com – oh, how different a world we could be living in. And second, wow our lingo has come a long way in the last 149 years. “…I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple barrels of water in me.” Spicoli he is not.