Water Sports

Princess Ka‘iulani: a female pioneer of modern surfing

Atlas Obscura published an excerpt from Jim Kempton’s Women on Waves: A Cultural History of Surfing From Ancient Goddesses and Hawaiian Queens to Malibu Movie Stars and Millennial Champions, profiling Princess Ka‘iulani. She was the last heir apparent to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawai’i and a mean surfer:

[…] But first and foremost, the princess was a surfer. Known to ride a long wooden board, a particularly heavy and demanding one at that, she had a reputation for outstanding performance in big surf. Hawaiian women, particularly those of royal blood, were noted for their prowess and power on the waves. The Hawaiian monarchy had surfed with passion until the late 1800s, when wave riding became almost extinct as a sport. The evangelical missionaries’ religious dogma had become the preeminent cultural power in the land—and for the most part they had succeeded in removing surfing from the everyday lives of the Hawaiian people. But Princess Ka‘iulani— second in the line of succession for the Hawaiian Crown—was a notable exception.

And this from the Polynesian Cultural Center:

Princess Ka’iulani is credited with helping to revive the art of surfing. From this point on, the sport of surfing took off around the world, beginning with California in 1885, and across the Pacific to Australia in 1915, where it was introduced by Duke Kahanamoku of Waikiki, known as the Father of Surfing. It could only spread from there, throughout Asia, South and Central America and over to Europe and Africa.  

She was also a painter and spent time with Robert Louis Stevenson before she sadly passed away at 23 of inflammatory rheumatism at her home in Hawai’i. A short but remarkable life.

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