Duke Kahanamoku the first king of the waves in NZ

SURF'S UP: Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club members, who hosted Duke ahanamoku, watch the action
Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club.

SURF'S UP: Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club members, who hosted Duke ahanamoku, watch the action

In their best suits and dresses, Wellingtonians trundled in trams along Onepu Rd.

Clutching their sun umbrellas, they were out in their thousands for a day at Lyall Bay beach.

A southerly blast had died away and something special was happening on Wellington's south coast.

KING OF THE WAVES: 
The man dubbed the father of surfing Duke Kahanamoku.
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KING OF THE WAVES: The man dubbed the father of surfing Duke Kahanamoku.

It was 100 years ago this month that the modern era of surfing came to New Zealand.

Champion Hawaiian Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku is widely credited with bringing modern surfing to the Western World.

Pre-European Maori had forms of surfing but it was Kahanamoku - a showman who could surf standing on his head - who brought in the modern standup version.

SURFING ROYALTY:
Duke Kahanamoku, left,  is given a Maori cloak by Ngati Tuwharetoa chief Te Heuheu Tukino V, on left.  ...
Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club.

SURFING ROYALTY: Duke Kahanamoku, left, is given a Maori cloak by Ngati Tuwharetoa chief Te Heuheu Tukino V, on left. The chief christened Kahanamoku ''the Honolulu Maori''.

Kahanamoku's New Zealand legacy would be boosted in 1958, when two Americans began importing Malibu boards.

But on March 7, 1915, hordes of Wellingtonians dressed in their finest packed in behind barriers to see this new sport in the flesh. Banners flew from the rooftops.

Even the weather played ball. After a southerly blast, the skies cleared to leave a fine day with good surf.

The record Sunday crowd that day were "well repaid", The Evening Post noted.

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"The visitor entertained them with a truly wonderful display of shooting the breakers, which, after the spell of southerly weather, were fairly large. His renowned standing shoot on the surf board was the particular feature.

"He stood right up on the board, while the latter shot along at a great speed. By careful steering he prolonged the shoot for a distance of 150 to 200 yards.

"Kahanamoku and party spent a very pleasant time at the bay, the whole arrangements being in the hands of the Lyall Bay Surf Club."

A century later the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club, with the Wellington Boardriders Club, has organised an all-day celebration at Lyall Bay today.

A book celebrating the club's centenary says Kahanamoku had won gold medals for swimming at the 1912 and 1920 Olympics. But he would go down in history more for his impact on surfing, with demonstrations tacked on to his swimming tours.

It was originally a swimming tour that brought him to Australia and New Zealand in late 1914 to early 1915.

He would have arrived to a Lyall Bay significantly different to today. Pre-airport, the bay was a "huge beautiful curve" reaching around to Moa Pt, backed by sand dunes, Michael Clarke, of the Lyall Bay club, says.

For Wellingtonians it was a day out - a chance to dress up for a day at the beach, and a welcome distraction to World War I.

Kahanamoku was by then the world's most famous surfer, the Encyclopedia of Surfing notes.

Five years earlier, in 1910, he was already riding much longer boards than his fellow Hawaiian surfers, catching bigger, longer waves from further out.

"He rode for the most part in an elegant, straight-backed stance, but played to onlookers at times by standing on his head as he approached the beach."

By the time he came to New Zealand and Australia, he had already brought surfing to America's east coast and would later take it to California.

Years later, in 1965 and with surfing known around the world, Kahanamoku would reflect on the sport he showed the world.

"You know, there are so many waves coming in all the time, you don't have to worry about that. Take your time - wave come. Let the other guys go. Catch another one."

Kahanamoku's surfing legacy may have boomed but those who have tried catching a wave at Lyall Bay in recent years may think his gentlemanly ethos didn't fare so well.

 - The Dominion Post

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