Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mark Twain goes surfing

While searching for something else, I happened across Roughing It, a classic Mark Twain travelogue one former Hawaii resident (I avoid saying "Hawaii native" or "Hawaiian" because that is highly ambiguous — even offensive — if you're talking in Hawaii) calls "a foretaste of genius and the best travel writing about Hawaii, my home state, I have ever read."

Here's his passage on "surf-bathing":
In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea, (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. — The board struck the shore in three quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.
That was written based on travels in 1866, and published in 1872, though this could be written today, except for the part about calling Native Hawaiians "heathens." 

I was particularly attracted to this passage, not having had much luck with surfing myself. "M" from Iran, who is apparently a natural, tried to "teach" me by saying, "It's very easy. You just go like this, then you go like this, and then you go like this." 

"M" was full of it.

Anyway, I wonder what Mark Twain would have written about Corea had he gone there. Jack London went to Korea and wrote about it (the name of his novella escapes me), but it was several decades after Mark Twain had gone to Hawaii, Europe, and the Middle East. 

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