The First Surfers in USA California. The young Hawaiian princes were in the water, enjoying it hugely and giving interesting exhibitions of surfboard swimming as practiced in their native islands. The first surfers to practice the ancient sport of Hawai’ian kings in California were true Hawai’ian princes. There were three of them, and they were seen “surfboard swimming” at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz in July 1885. The Kalaniana’ole brothers—Jonah, David, and Edward—were certified Hawai’ian royalty, the sons of Kaua’i’s high chief D. Kahalepouli and Princess Kekaulike.

The First Surfers in California

Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole was fourteen in 1885, the oldest of the three and the one destined for greatness. After leaving Saint Matthews Hall in San Mateo, Jonah attended England’s Royal Agricultural College. Childless Hawai’ian Queen Lili’uokalani adopted Jonah and proclaimed him prince, and that got him into trouble during the haole overthrow in January 1895. At age twenty-four, Prince Kuhio aided the Royalist uprising against Hawai’i’s new republic. Captured and convicted of treason, he was sentenced to a year in jail.

Released, Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole became the U.S. Congressional delegate from the Territory of Hawai’i, a seat he was reelected to ten times. He did much for Hawai’i, and today there are highways, buildings, and beaches named in his honor. And when Hawai’i celebrates Prince Kuhio Day on March 26, the state pays tribute to the eldest of the three Hawai’ian princes who were “surfboard swimming” at the San Lorenzo Rivermouth in 1885.

Meanwhile, Alexander Hume Ford was campaigning on behalf of surfing in Hawai’ian waters. In 1908, he petitioned the Queen Emma Estate trustees to set aside a plot of land next to Waikiki’s Ala Moana Hotel for a club to preserve the ancient Hawai’ian pursuits of surfing and outrigger canoeing.

Ford’s fundraising manifesto promised the fraternity would “give an added and permanent attraction to Hawai’i and make Waikiki always the Home of the Surfer, with perhaps an annual Surfboard and Outrigger Canoe Carnival which will do much to spread abroad the attractions of Hawai’i, the only islands in the world where men and boys ride upright upon the crests of waves.”

The trustees accepted Ford’s plan and on May 1, 1908, the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club was founded, the first modern group dedicated to the perpetuation of wave-riding. The clubhouse offered facilities for dressing and a grass hut for board storage right on the beach.

Native Hawai’ians launched in 1905 the informal Hui Nalu literally “Club of the Waves” evitalizing Islander interest in the sport. Hui Nalu and the Outrigger Canoe Club began friendly competitions, and by 1911 when the Hui Nalu was formalized, there were as many as a hundred surfboards on Waikiki Beach. In 1915, Jack London returned to Hawai’i and was shocked to find the Outrigger Canoe Club had 1,200 members, “with hundreds more on the waiting list, and with what seems like half a mile of surfboard lockers,” as he happily noted.