Thursday June 17th, 2010

Melville on the Beach

hmelvilleLapham’s Quarterly has updated its web site to reflect the new issue, “Sports & Games.” One of the choice bits available online is Herman Melville writing about surfers in Tahiti in 1849. A piece:

For this sport a surfboard is indispensable, some five feet in length, the width of a man’s body, convex on both sides, highly polished, and rounded at the ends. It is held in high estimation, invariably oiled after use, and hung up conspicuously in the dwelling of the owner.

Ranged on the beach, the bathers by hundreds dash in and, diving under the swells, make straight for the outer sea, pausing not till the comparatively smooth expanse beyond has been gained. Here, throwing themselves upon their boards, tranquilly they wait for a billow that suits. Snatching them up, it hurries them landward, volume and speed both increasing till it races along a watery wall like the smooth, awful verge of Niagara.