Surf Board Riders: a scene from Thomas Edison's 'Hawaiian Islands'

In 1906, Thomas A. Edison released "Hawaiian Islands." The silent, black-and-white film features what many historians consider the oldest surf footage ever found. It is also the first flick featuring surfers riding surfboards.

With over 30 chapters or scenes, the movie includes three segments that clearly reveal the importance of surf-related activities in Hawaiian and Polynesian culture:

  • "Panoramic View | Waikiki Beach Honolulu";
  • "Surf Board Riders | Waikiki Honolulu";
  • "Surf Scenes | Waikiki Honolulu";

Yes, the inventor of the light bulb was also a filmmaker. In fact, Edison's film studio produced nearly 1,200 movies since it started in 1894.

The rare surfing footage of the "Hawaiian Islands" survived the test of time and has been kept safe by the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.

Surf Scenes | Waikiki Honolulu: outrigger canoes and surfboards filmed for

Shot at Canoes

The movie by Thomas Edison has a curious story.

The inventor-businessman sent the iconic cameraman Robert Bonine to Hawaii in 1906 with an exclusive mission - to shoot a series of actuality films about the new territory of the United States.

Bonine spent three months in Hawaii, capturing the essence of the Pacific archipelago.

The islands were about to become an enormous and profitable tourist attraction thanks to watermen like Duke Kahanamoku and his swimmer-surfer friends.

"Such rudimentary travelogues would go on to be immense successes with a public encouraged for nearly two decades by National Geographic and hungry for images of exotic locales and practices that, even in the era of grand liners, remained largely inaccessible to most," writes John Engle, in his splendid book "Surfing in the Movies."

According to Engle, the "Hawaiian Islands" surf scenes were shot at Canoes, exactly where Jack London had his first surf lessons with George Freeth and Alexander Hume Ford.

"Hawaiian Islands" is an extraordinary piece of history and proves that the act of wave riding was truly an ancient practice before it was even considered an exotic sport.

Panoramic View | Waikiki Beach Honolulu: surfboards were extremely popular in Hawaiian beaches of the early 20th-century

Curious Facts

In "Surf Board Riders" and "Surf Scenes," if you watch carefully, you'll spot a few interesting things:

  1. Surfers paddled with both arms simultaneously;
  2. Surfers already used the pumping technique to increase speed;
  3. Surfers already rode prone;
  4. The crowd was already a problem;

"What you notice about 'Surf Board Riders' is its extremely simple point-and-shoot nature. With this rudimentary minute film, Bonine may be unwittingly illustrating a truth about the surf movie to come," adds Engle.

We may never know if Thomas Edison and his crew truly were the first to shoot the surf.

Some sources believe that American traveler, photographer, and filmmaker Burton Holmes was the first to capture wave riding between 1897 and 1898.

But no one can deny the influence "Hawaiian Islands" had on promoting surfboard riders and their unfamiliar pastime in mainland America and subsequently in the rest of the world.

Hawaiian Islands (Thomas A. Edison, 1906) | Chapters & Starting Times

1. Panoramic View | Waikiki Beach Honolulu | Hawaiian Islands, 0:00:14
2. Kanaka Fisherman | Casting a "Throw Net" Hilo | Hawaiian Islands, 0:01:26
3. S.S. "Kinau" Landing Passengers | Laupahoihoi | Hawaiian Islands, 0:03:09
4. Surf Scenes | Laupahoihoi | Hawaiian Islands, 0:04:07
5. Shipping Cattle | Kawaihae | Hawaiian Islands, 0:05:13
6. Loading Sugar | Kahului Maui | Hawaiian Islands, 0:06:18
7. Panoramic View | Crater of Haleakala | Hawaiian Islands, 0:07:14
7.1 Hauling Drags, 0:08:50
7.2 Loading Cane On Cars, 0:09:39
7.3 Hauling Cars to Mill, 0:10:23
8. "Snap Shots" | Hawaiian Islands, 0:10:56
8.1 Unloading A Boat At Pepikeo, 0:11:02
8.2 Pau-U Riders, 0:11:40
8.3 Feeding Turkeys, 0:12:12
8.4 Pounding Poi, 0:12:49
8.5 Native Canoes, 0:13:21
8.6 Japanese Wrestling, 0:13:52
9. Pa-U Riders | Hawaiian Islands, 0:14:34
10. Panoramic View | Oahu Railroad Pearl Harbor | Hawaiian Islands, 0:16:11
11. Panoramic View | Honolulu Harbor | Hawaiian Islands, 0:18:27
12. Panoramic View | King Street Honolulu | Hawaiian Islands, 0:21:13
13. Panoramic View | Waikiki From An Electric Car | Hawaiian Islands, 0:23:19
14. Crowds Returning From the Games Waikiki | Hawaiian Islands, 0:25:31
15. Panoramic View | Oahu Railroad Haleiwa | Hawaiian Islands, 0:26:31
16. The "Float" | Waikiki Honolulu | Hawaiian Islands, 0:27:43
17. Surf Board Riders | Waikiki Honolulu | Hawaiian Islands, 0:28:33
18. Surf Scenes | Waikiki Honolulu | Hawaiian Islands, 0:29:26
19. Hawaiians Arriving To Attend A "Luau" Or Native Feast, 0:30:27
20. Hawaiians Departing To Attend A "Luau" Or Native Feast, 0:31:17
21. Native Hawaiian Guards In Bayonet Exercises | Hawaiian Islands, 0:32:35
22. S.S "Kinau" Landing Passengers | Mahukona, Hawaii, 0:33:46
23. Arrival "Mahukona Express" | Kohala, Hawaii, 0:34:41
24. Hauling Sugar Cane | Kohala Plantation, Hawaii, 0:35:38 25. Through the Chute, 0:36:58
26. Off To The Ranges, 0:37:55
27. Humuula Sheep Ranch | Hawaiian Islands, 0:38:38
27.1 Shearing Sheep, 0:38:44
27.2 Dipping Sheep, 0:39:45
28. Scenes On A Sugar Plantation | Hawaiian Islands, 0:40:51
28.1 Sugar Cane Field, 0:40:57
28.2 Cutting Can, 0:41:28
28.2 Loading Drags, 0:42:28

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