The Father Of California Surfing
The First Professional Surfer
Born on Oahu 1883
Dead at 35 of the “Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918” in San Diego in 1919
George was a Hapa Irish/Hawaiian
Surfed around Waikiki with a few other Surfers involved in the Waikiki Swimming Club
When Jack London (Famous American Author-Call of The Wild, The Sea-Wolfe, White Fang) came to Hawaii he was introduced to Freeth and Surfing.
This encounter between the two men, facilitated by Alexander Hume Ford ( Assisted in the founding of the Outrigger Canoe and Surfboard Club on Waikiki Beach) prompted London to write about Surfing and Freeth. The subsequent article was published in a magazine -The Woman’s Home Companion- A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki This article Introduced George Freeth To the mainland public.
London Described Surfing and Freeth:
And suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning white, on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling, precarious crest appears the dark head of a man. Swiftly he rises through the rushing white. His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his limbs — all is abruptly projected on one’s vision. Where but the moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a Mercury — a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the swiftness of the sea. In truth, from out of the sea he has leaped upon the back of the sea, and he is riding the sea that roars and bellows and cannot shake him from its back. But no frantic outreaching and balancing is his. He is impassive, motionless as a statue carved suddenly by some miracle out of the sea’s depth from which he rose.
London speaking directly of Freeth – Shaking the water from my eyes as I emerged from one wave and peered ahead to see what the next one looked like, I saw him tearing in on the back of it, standing upright on his board, carelessly poised, a young god with sunburn
Shortly after the publication of “A Royal Sport” there arrived in the islands some heavy-suited men, agents of a big business empire. They represented one Henry Huntington, a railroad and real estate magnate of Southern California. They had an offer to make to the 23 year-old wizard of the waves: for a certain amount of money, at a certain time and a certain place, would the lad demonstrate his “walking on water”? His scheduled appearances could constitute a sterling attraction in the Southland. They would be well- advertised. George was willing and able. He asked no questions. He became, quite simply, part of the promotion. The Bronze Mercury was to be a lure.(Whitcomb, The Father Of Surfing, American Heritage Magazine 2000)
At Redondo, Freeth performed his surfing act twice a day under the billing “The Hawaiian Wonder.”
And thus Surfing was introduced to Southern California, planting its roots in the Sandbars, Cobblestone Points and the psyche of Beachside Mainlanders., as well as planting the money for surfing ( Pro Surfing) seed into the psyche of Beachside Businessmen.
Freeth was not only a surfer but an accomplished waterman, actually becoming the first Official Life Guard in The U.S.
To George, an ocean lifeguard was “at one with the water,” being proficient not only in ocean swimming, but also in rowing and surfing.
He was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor: the Congressional Gold Medal, for rescuing eleven fisherman caught in a storm near the Venice Pier. It was reported at the time that he was only the fifth recipient of the honor since George Washington first received it on March 25, 1776.
Freeth is to be emulated and praised for many things he did; swimming, diving, life saving, but for California Surfers and Surfers in general he deserves a special place in the annals of Surf History. He is a part of why we do what we do. He helped revive and restore the Sport Of Kings.
That being said Freeths legacy is that of a double edged sword, if not for him would we be surfers? If not for him would surfers/surfing be used by Marketing Managers as a way to introduce new product lines, sponsorships, web cams for target customers and potential business partners, and new product updates or can we
blame credit that to the Bronzed Aussies?