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Surfing

Last week I promised that I would feature one of the boring cards from Conquest of Paradise, so here it is.

Lieutenant James King was made captain of the Discovery after the death of Captain James Cook in Hawaii. He was given the task of completing the narrative portion of Cook's journals. Lt. King devoted two full pages to a description of surfboard riding, as practiced by the locals at Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast of the Big Island. His entry is the earliest written account of surfing.

But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us'd to guide the plank, they wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity...

Called he'enalu, or wave sliding, riding waves lying down or standing on long, hardwood surfboards was an integral part of Hawaiian culture. Surfboard riding was layered into the society, religion and myth of the islands. Chiefs demonstrated their mastery by their skill in the surf, and commoners made themselves famous (and infamous) by the way they handled themselves in the ocean.

The Polynesians who made it to Hawai'i also brought their customs with them, including playing in the surf on paipo (belly) boards. Although Tahitians are said to have occasionally stood on their boards, the art of surfing upright on long boards was certainly perfected- if not invented- in Hawai'i. There were reefs and beaches where the ali'i (chiefs) surfed and reefs and beaches where the commoners surfed. Commoners generally rode waves on paipo (prone) and alaia (stand up) boards as long as 12 feet, while the ali'i rode waves on olo boards that were as long as 24 feet.

Several of Hawaii's most famous chiefs, including King Kamehameha, were renowned for their surfing ability. Ali'i could prove their prowess by showing courage and skill in big waves, and woe betide the commoner who crossed into surf zones reserved for the ali'i. On the south shore of Oahu, at Waikiki, there is a surf spot that was called Kalehuaweke by the Hawaiians. The name commemorates an incident in which a commoner dropped into the same wave as a Hawaiian chiefess, which was a major taboo. To save his own skin, he offered her his lehua wreath to placate her.

In the wake of the Discovery, surfing fell into decline for more than 150 years. The haole (Europeans) brought new technologies, languages and Gods, along with vices and diseases that ravaged their society. As their society crumbled, so did surfing's ritual significance within Hawaiian culture. Now a commoner could drop in on a chiefess without fear for his life! The changes brought about the demise of the Makahiki festival, the annual celebration to the god Lono, in which surfing played an integral role. For surfing, the abolition of the traditional religion signaled the end of surfing's sacred aspects. With surf chants, board construction rites, sports gods and other sacred elements removed, the once ornate sport of surfing was stripped of much of its cultural significance.

Mark Twain sailed to the Hawaiian Islands and tried surfing, describing it in Chapter XXXII of his 1866 book Roughing It: "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."

Duke Kahanamoku helped make surfing a modern phenomenon. He was a three-time world record holder in the 100-meter freestyle and an avid surfer. In 1912, Duke passed through southern California en route to the summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. His surfing demonstrations at Corona del Mar and Santa Monica caused a sensation. Duke became world famous by winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle in Stockholm (and again in Antwerp in 1916). Touted as the fastest swimmer alive, Duke was on the road constantly, giving swimming exhibitions around Europe, the United States and the world. He even became a favorite of Hollywood casting directors, playing exotic roles in many movies. On weekends he would take his Hollywood friends surfing. Everywhere he could, Duke used his fame to introduce the world to the sport of surfing.

In game terms, the Surfing card provides the player with one Victory Point, nothing more. Your people have simply made a permanent contribution to world culture- and they're having fun doing it!


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