During my usual stumble through Surfer Magazine’s website, I found a great article by Rob Gilley about Mark Twain’s novel, Rouging It. We all know Mark Twain, mainly due to the forced reads by our high school literature teachers of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but Roughing It has some how not made it on that list. After Gilly had sparked my interest I did a bit of research myself and will be heading out this afternoon to find a copy, why? Published in 1872, Roughing It is a semi-autobiographical travel novel documenting Twains travels from St. Louis to San Francisco and on to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in the early 1860’s. While traveling in the Hawaii Islands Twain experienced surfing for the first time, he recalls:
“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 natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.”
It seems that the time Twain spent in the Hawaiian Islands was only a fraction of the time spent traveling across the country, but his reflections on how he connected with nature while roughing it is going to be well worth the read from one of the best writers in history.