Surfing has long been synonymous with the Californian lifestyle. The story of how surfing came to the beautiful shores of California, however, is scarcely known. It all started with three young Hawaiian princes attending a military academy near Santa Cruz. A newspaper article reported on this first-time event on an otherwise average weekend.
On July 20, 1885, the local newspaper, The Surf, reported that “Sunday afternoon at the beach was one of the liveliest of the season. It was warm, very warm, but tempered by a breeze, which made the heat endurable and kept people good-natured.” It described the promenade along the beach as a “bright and moving picture of itself,” as each of the local streetcars brought “a full load to join the gay groups already on the sand.” On no other Sunday of the season, the Surf assessed, “have so many bathers, both ladies, and gentlemen, been in the water, and all pronounced it delightful.”
There was an exciting ocean race that afternoon between a pair of swimming brothers—William and Irvine Jones—with William winning by twenty yards and collecting $40, a substantial purse for that era. A small theatrical troupe, including a small donkey pulling a miniature cart, performed a comedy routine along the breakers and “afforded much merriment to the spectators.”
Further east along the beach, however, at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, history was about to be made. Three Hawaiian princes—David Kawananakoa, Edward Keliiahonui and Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole—were in the water with long surfboards made of local redwoods, and milled in the shape of traditional Hawaiian o’lo boards, traditionally reserved in the islands for royalty. Their uncle, King David Kalakaua, a renowned surfer at the long break along Waikiki Beach, had taught them to surf.