Watch the First Surf Movie Ever Made: A 1906 Thomas Edison Film Shot in Hawaii

Above you can watch what was arguably the first surf movie ever made–the very begin­ning of a long cin­e­mat­ic tra­di­tion that gave us Gid­get in 1959, and The End­less Sum­mer in 1966. And lest you think the surf movie reached its zenith dur­ing those hal­cy­on days, some would argue that the best surf films were lat­er pro­duced dur­ing the aughts–Thick­er Than Water (2000), Blue Crush (2002), Step Into Liq­uid (2003), Rid­ing Giants (2004), etc. And don’t for­get this great lit­tle short, “Dark Side of the Lens.”

In 1906, smack in the mid­dle of the aughts of last cen­tu­ry, Thomas Edi­son sent the pio­neer­ing cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Robert K. Bonine to shoot an ‘Actu­al­i­ty’ doc­u­men­tary about life in the Poly­ne­sian islands. The blurb accom­pa­ny­ing this video describes the scene above: “The first mov­ing pic­tures of surfers rid­ing waves — Surf Rid­ers, Waiki­ki Beach, Hon­olu­lu — shows a minute of about a dozen surfers on ala­ia boards in head-high, off­shore surf at what is prob­a­bly Canoes. These surfers are shot too far away to detail what they were wear­ing, but they all appear to be in tanksuits.”

If you’re inter­est­ed in tak­ing a deep dive into Hawai­i’s surf­ing scene, I’d def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend pick­up up a copy of Bar­bar­ian Days: A Surf­ing Lifethe mem­oir by New York­er writer William Finnegan. It won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thomas Edison’s Silent Film of the “Fartiste” Who Delight­ed Crowds at Le Moulin Rouge (1900)

Dark Side of the Lens: A Poet­ic Short Film by Surf Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mick­ey Smith

Watch the Very First Fea­ture Doc­u­men­tary: Nanook of the North by Robert J. Fla­her­ty (1922)

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  • Mele Luau says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing piece of film his­to­ry! It’s incred­i­ble to think that this footage of surfers in Hawaii was cap­tured over a cen­tu­ry ago by Thomas Edi­son, one of the great­est inven­tors of all time.

    This short film is not only a tes­ta­ment to Edis­on’s pio­neer­ing spir­it, but also a glimpse into the ear­ly days of surf­ing as a sport and pas­time. It’s amaz­ing to see how much the sport has evolved over the years, and yet some aspects of surf­ing, such as the joy and free­dom it brings, remain time­less.

    Watch­ing this film, it’s clear that the surfers in Hawaii had a deep con­nec­tion to the ocean and the waves, and were able to ride them with skill and grace. It’s no won­der that surf­ing has become such a pop­u­lar sport and lifestyle around the world, with peo­ple from all walks of life drawn to the thrill and beau­ty of rid­ing the waves.

    Thanks again for shar­ing this piece of film his­to­ry — it’s a true gem that reminds us of the endur­ing pow­er of the ocean and the human spir­it.

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