[During the Vans Triple Crown, we’ll be bringing you a whole stack of stories centred around Hawaii’s North Shore. You can read them all here]
Heading to The Islands?
Decided to take the plunge and make the only winter surf trip that counts?
Not undermining your self-aware #nopalmtrees safaris to Caledonia of course, complete with pseudo-intellectual fingerless glove musings in a Moleskin at a service station on the A9. After all, 2014 was a good year!
But if deep surf culture – and most of all waves – matter to you, a legitimate Hawaiian surfing education surely awaits.
If background reading is your thing, there’s plenty on Hawaii, from mid century novels aimed at selling commercial aviation, to daring surf journo exposés. Here’re five we recommend.
Like reading? Try 5 Books For Eco Woke Wave Riders
Hawaii – James A Michener
A thousand-page epic that chronicles the history of the Hawaiian Islands from their nascent volcanic eruptions up to the modern day, Michener’s 1959 blockbuster is best known for telling the stories of all the different people that came to Hawaii, from pre-history through to the annexation by the US government, Pearl Harbour and the decade following.
Today’s criticisms of Hawaii centre on stereotyping and casual racism, including plot lines like interracial love punished by tsunami, but get past Hawaii‘s of-its-time short-fallings and there’s still a lot to learn.
Rabbit Bartholomew recalls being given a copy of this book by the Aikaus during his troubles in Hawaii in the 70’s, which helped him understand the struggles of the Hawaiian people and see the error of his previously brash ways.
The story starts with the geological beginnings of the islands to the migrations of the Polynesians and subsequent arrival of the Europeans, Chinese and Japanese. Not just entertaining but informative, pretty much a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how modern day Hawaii came into being under dubious circumstances; the US government locked up Queen Liliuokalani and pretty much just claimed it as a state at the end of the C19th.
Although a work of fiction, Hawaii features a range of characters based on historical figures, from the powerful fruit growing families descended from New England Missionaries, Hawaiian Japanese enlisted to fight for the Allies in WW2, Chinese immigrant families and the hui’s they formed, and 1930’s Waikiki beach boys.
Shoal of Time – Gavan Daws
An energetic, sharp-penned post-Cook history of the Islands, Daws’ frank storytelling delivers the kind of modernity missing from Hawaii and makes a refreshing departure from a lot of the unrelatable, dusty antiquity often associated with ancient Hawaiian histories.
From the opening chapter dealing with Cook’s arrival and subsequent death, to the closing chapter post-war chapter ‘Now We Are All Haoles’ Daws’ account is widely regarded as the best one volume history of Hawaii so far.
“The newer arrivals accepted Hawaii much as they found it, with interest but without deep curiosity”
“The Hawaiians, those of them who insisted on the name, lived on consoling myths – every man was a great singer and dancer, a great swimmer and surfer, a great lover: a natural aristocrat, descended from kings, dispossessed now but regally forgiving” Daws notes. “The orientals, glad to be liberated from the immediate past of the plantation era, pushed history aside for something they called “culture” a rather self conscious blend of traditional arts and crafts and new elements such as beauty contests. As for the haoles… most white men did not have such (missionary) roots in the islands. The newer arrivals, especially those who came after the war, accepted Hawaii much as they found it, with interest but without deep curiosity.”
Welcome To Paradise Now Go To Hell – Chas Smith
When Chas Smith, then Surfing and Stab staff writer, now Beach Grit co-conspirator penned an no holds barred exposé on all things North Shore underground in 2013, centred around Fast Eddie Rothman and Da Hui, most surf savants were in consensus that a violent day reckoning awaited the wiry oregan dandy. “The next time he goes to Hawaii…” etc
It seems the historic wall of silence on the North Shore goings on was firmly centred around fear of physical violence on whichever member of the surf media was stupid enough to break the code.
Starting with his ejection from Mick Fanning’s World Title party in Dec 2009 and subsequent roughing up by local heavies, throwing him through a fence as they turfed him out at Mick’s behest for calling him boring in Stab articles, Smith’s telling of several well known but very much unpublished anecdotes, mainly involving people getting beaten up by Hawaiian surfers, his apparent baiting of certain heavies and a general tone of skepticism regarding all things North Shore and ‘aloha’ made a remarkable departure from the heavily censored, sycophantic storytelling the mainstream surf media invariably applies to Hawaii.
“Apparent baiting of certain heavies and a general tone of skepticism regarding all things North Shore and ‘aloha’ made a remarkable departure from the heavily censored, sycophantic storytelling”
Alas, rather than leading us to the dramatic climax where he gets his inevitable comeuppance for reporting the unreportable, the otherwise intriguing account ends with a bit of a whimper, almost as if Smith died before finishing Welcome To Paradise and the publisher’s legal team were charged with finishing the book in the least controversial manner possible.
Weak ending or not, Welcome To Paradise is a highly entertaining read, whether you’re planning an Island trip soon, or never.
Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
While not exclusively about Hawaii, Bill Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize winning surfing memoirs Barbarian Days – A Surfing Life is as good as surf writing gets, and the pages dedicated to Finnegan’s formative years surfing in Town and later acid-tinged tubes in giant surf Maui’s Honolua Bay more than merit the book’s inclusion in this list.
Finnegan’s early shred forays at Cliffs near Diamond Head while at elementary school, the bizarre white supremacist gang called the In Crowd, whose main role was to fight with ‘mokes’, paint a colourful picture of fascinating late 60’s Hawaiiana. Graduating to surfing the Town reefs at Kaisers, Canoes and Queens as the longboard era drew to a close, witnessing the dawn of ‘locked in’ tuberiding, getting his board stolen by local drug addled surf buddies not only sets up Finnegan’s surfing life, but sets up a brilliant book.
“There was speed in the acid, he said. That’s why I was cold”
The big Honolua on acid chapter, amidst a full flow hippy scene is the kind of non-clichéd belle epoch fare so rare in the usual surf legend grandiosity.
“There was speed in the acid, he said. That’s why I was cold… I slowly curled into a ball, my arms around my knees. Something seemed to be bending my spine, forcing my head down into my chest. Many things were ending at once, I thought, and for a change I was right.”
Waterman – The Life & Times of Duke Kahanamoku – Dave Davis
Surfing has an unusual relationship with The Duke; a lineage that can feel tenuous to the vast majority of us who grew up surfing in grey mid latitude soup. We all know that we’re supposed to revere him, but we’re not always sure why. Because he was a fast swimmer? Lionised by lip service, or perhaps a Joel Tudor Insty post, but what was he actually like? Would he have choked you or out knocked your teeth down your throat for dropping in on him?
He took surfing to the world, but wasn’t that, like, bad? He was an ‘ambassador of aloha’, but we’re told that of every single Hawaiian surfer on the WSL webcast, even if first hand encounters indicate something of a different persona. Truth is, we don’t know much about the founding father of our sport and lifestyle, and he can feel about as relevant to your next surf as Jules Rimer does to your next game of headers and volleys.
Waterman deals with both Duke’s life and Hawaiian history in 32 chapters, and reveals not only the Duke’s accomplishments in olympic swimming, but also the shameful racism he had to deal with on a daily basis.
“He can feel about as relevant to your next surf as Jules Rimer does to your next game of headers and volleys”
Hawaii’s first Olympian, and a gold and silver medallist in Stockholm, Kahanamoku used his Olympic fame to showcase the sport of ‘surf-riding’ globally, a sport then unheard of outside Hawaii. “No American athlete has influenced two sports as profoundly as Kahanamoku did, and yet he remains an enigmatic and underappreciated figure: a dark-skinned Pacific Islander who encountered and overcame racism and ignorance long before the likes of Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Jackie Robinson.”
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