Contestation in the cultural history of Australian surfing...

There are now 2.2 million recreational surfers in Australia; meaning one in ten of us ride waves for fun! This is not surprising given we have a wave dominated coastline, which makes Oz an ideal surfing environment. Duke Paoa Kahanamoku's surboard

Of course, this level of participation also means alot of people need boards to ride, and my research interests over the past few years have been centred on the production/making of surfboards as a cultural industry. But beyond culture and economy i have also been fascinated by the wider historical account of surfing in Australia. The common story of Australian surfing attests that Hawaiian waterman Duke Paoa Kahanamoku first brought surfing to Freshwater beach, Sydney in the summer of 1914-15. Here Duke gave swimming and surfing demonstrations to thousands of onlookers. This is the narrative  Australians would be most familiar with.

Yet histories are almost always contested. There is no doubt Duke played a central role in exposing the joy of surfing to large Australian audiences (See the 2008 film Bombora for example). But he was not the first person to ride waves here and the common belief he was is a partial representation of a more complex 'truth'. If you are interested in learning more about the cultural history of Australian surfing, check out this recent article published in Australian Historical Studies by Gary Osmond. In it he does a good job of outlining - using archival records - how Duke's story has become privleged over others with surfing actually being practiced in Australia several years before Duke's famous trip.

Here is the reference (the easiest way to find it is probably through google scholar):

Osmond, G. (2011) Myth making in Australian sport history: re-evaluating Duke Kahanamoku's contribution to surfing, Australian Historical Studies 42(2), pp. 260-276.

Photo: One of Duke's shorter surfboards. He took this one with him on a trip to Paris in 1924 and later gave it to good friend Tom Blake, who in turn passed it on to the Bishop Museum on O'ahu in 1931.

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One of Duke's shorter surfboards. He took this one with him on a trip to Paris in 1924 and later gave it to good friend Tom Blake, who in turn passed it on to the Bishop Museum on O'ahu in 1931.248.11 KB