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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