GEORGE FREETH...FIRST MAINLAND SURFER?
As the New Year approaches, I couldn’t help but write a little something about surfing in years past. In the summer of 1907 (113 New Years celebrations ago!), a guy named George Freeth (pictured left) was giving surf lessons in Honolulu. Later that year, he decided to pack his bags and his board and head east to San Francisco, determined to popularize the sport of surfing on the U.S. mainland. I had always understood that he was lured to California by Henry Huntington (recognize the name?), a resort hotel developer and railroad executive. Huntington’s idea was to make surfing an attraction for visitors riding his new trolley line that wound its way along the Southern California coast.
Apparently, Freeth actually came to California on his own, but he did introduce surfing to the area, first riding waves at Venice Beach in October 1907. He gave surfing demonstrations and lessons up and down the Southern California coast, pioneering new surf spots in Ventura, Redondo Beach, San Diego, Palos Verdes and of course Huntington Beach. I wonder if he ever surfed Rincon…can you imagine?
It was Freeth who helped bring the legendary Duke Kahanamoku to California for the first time (pictured right). Duke was a member of the Hawaiian swim team at the time, and went on to win the first of his five gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Of course, we all know The Duke as the Father of Modern Surfing.
Although it has been shown that California waves had been ridden as long ago as 1885, George Freeth can be credited with introducing the mainland to the sport of surfing. He went on to become California’s first professional lifeguard, but unfortunately passed away in San Diego at the age of just 35. It is especially poignant at this time, as George Freeth died during the influenza pandemic of 1918.
Until next time,