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Hawaiian Royals Bring Surfing to Shocked British Bathers: Victorian Era

The September day in 1890 was chilly and gray in Bridlington, England. It was nothing like the hot summer day in Santa Cruz in 1885 when three Hawaiian Princes surfed the waves on boards made from local Redwoods. Still, it was the day for two Hawaiian Royals to bring surfing to shocked English Bathers.

According to Peter Robinson, founder of the Museum of British Surfing   in Braunton,  North Devon, this day in Bridlington was believed to be the first instance of surfing in Britain.

The event was  revealed in a letter written on September 22, 1890 to Hawaiian consul Henry Armstrong from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Piikoi, one of the three brothers who surfed in Santa Cruz five years ealier.

The letter was  recently discovered at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii by author and historian Sandra Kimberley Hall.

In the letter, Jonah said:
‘We enjoy the seaside very much and are out swimming every day.
‘The weather has been very windy these few days and we like it very much for we like the sea to be rough so that we are able to have surf riding.
‘We enjoy surf riding very much and surprise the people to see us riding on the surf.”

Jonah and his brother, Prince David Kahalepouli Kawanaankoa Piikoi, were taken for a holiday in Bridlington by their tutor, John Wrightson, as a reward for their school work.

In Santa Cruz, the brothers (including their third brother) rode surfboards they had made from local, first growth  redwood trees.  For their wave sliding adventure in England, Robinson guesses that their boards were made from timber acquired from a Bridlington boat builder.

 But What Did They Wear?

Most likely, they would have worn neck-to-knee wool or cotton swim costumes.  At this time, beaches were segregated for men and women, who often used Victorian Bathing Machines to enter the water.

The locals must have  been astonished to see the two dark-skinned brothers expertly sliding the waves on planks. Their joyful outing inspired the surfers riding the waves off England today.
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