15 Year Old Girl Helps Bring Surfing To Australia
Duke Kahanamoku was born in Hawaii in 1890 to prominent Hawaiian families. Growing up, Kahanamoku developed his surfing and swimming skills on Wakaki beach. He preferred a traditional Hawaiian surf board (“papa nui”) made from the wood of a koa tree -16 feet long and weighed 114 pounds. Kahanamoku qualified for the U.S. Olympic swimming team in 1912 and went on to win a gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle in Stockholm, and a silver with the relay team.
Kahanamoku travels internationally to give swimming exhibitions in which he popularizes the sport of surfing. He made surfing popular in mainland America first in 1912 while in Southern California. In December 1914 Kahanamoku was in Australia at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach invited by the New South Wales Swimming Association. He did not bring a board so he constructed one made of local pine wood.
On February 6, 1915 Kahanamoku was giving a demonstration of swimming and surfing at Dee Why Beach. In the crowd was 15 year old Isabel Letham, a local avid swimmer and body surfer. Australian surfers used small boards but did not stand up while surfing. At the end of the session, Kahanamoku brought Isabel into the water to tandem surf and introduce Hawaiian surfing to Australia. On the first few waves they paddled for she yelled for him to stop because it felt like going off a cliff. Kahanamoku ignored her cries, went anyway, and hauled her to her feet. Isabel claims the exhilaration sensation of surfing standing up has her “hooked for life.” Surfing had been introduced to Australia.