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Surfing as a Way of Life: Comparing and Contrasting Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Surfing as a Way of Life: Comparing and Contrasting Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan

Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan met halfway in a sport called surfing, their cup of tea, and later became their bread and butter. Both men have a passion for the sport that it became a part of their lives. William Finnegan's childhood is full of traveling around and wandering in California and Hawaii. Ironically, they lived far coast when he was young until he met a family who lived near the coast that helped him discover the sport. First, he started with a shortboard, then tried a longboard for the first time in his forties. He also joined and won competitions. In his book, Barbarian Days: a Surfing Life, he unfolds the life he had in the places he wandered, with surfing as his hobby or leisure, and then eventually became the game changer of his life. Also, in his book, one can notice how he intricately revealed his surfing life without leaving any details behind, as if he was taking the readers with his surfing adventure. And for Finnegan, surfing is like living and breathing the waves. He is addicted to the sport, which means Finnegan sees surfing as not just a mere sport but his life. Finnegan’s intentions were deeply relayed through this book of his, an existing proof of how surfing changed Finnegan’s life. Moreover, as he laid out these narrations of his life, it will help people who aspire to be good surfers, for they will be enriched with Finnegan’s knowledge of the sport. It will serve as a guidebook for those people, and Finnegan’s love for surfing will inspire them.

On the other hand, Duke Kahanamoku is not called the ‘Surf Hero’ for nothing. Like Finnegan, Kahanamoku also grew up in Hawaii before moving to California. These are the places where he lived his surfing life and became famous for his good deeds with the help of the sport. He was known for his superb skills in swimming and, later, in surfing, as he won various awards in competitions like the Olympics. With a total of 5 medals in swimming in the Olympics, Kahanamoku did not just win in these competitions, but he won in life by using his skills in surfing to save lives. (Beschloss, 2014) In 1925, an incident happened where a yacht was overturned, and Kahanamoku did not just stand by the bay. He then used his board, swimming, and surfing skills to save the yacht's passengers. With this happening, he gained popularity all over the US, not just because of his awards as an athlete but because of how he utilized his skills for a better purpose. (Rothman, 2015) Kahanamoku became famous for being a great athlete and having a good soul. He was known to be a hero for nothing; he did not master swimming and surfing for nothing. Even without having to publish his book documenting all these events, many sportswriters have written about the so-called ‘Duke of Hawai-I.’ Unlike Finnegan, who wrote his own story, Kahanamoku’s legacy was written with the pen and paper of those who witnessed his journey as an athlete and a hero.

These two men have experienced life with their surfboards. They both have similarities, even in dealing with their struggles in life. They have been an influence on people all over the world because of their love for surfing. Surfing for them is not just a mere sport, but more, it is a lifestyle that helped them get through life and a passion that serves a purpose. Their only difference is how they used the sport in their lives. Finnegan’s surfing is his way to escape his boredom until he sees it differently one day. While Kahanamoku is a natural-born Hawaiian; hence, swimming and surfing have been part of his life since he was born. Nonetheless, they both significantly impacted the sport of surfing and will forever be remembered as the sport's pioneers. Their minor differences will unfold in this paper in the latter sections. Surfing can be just a simple sport or a hobby, or a mere recreation for some people. Unlike Finnegan and Kahanamoku, surfing may not be for everyone because it is not as easy as it sounds in movies and books. It demands time for a person to master the sport; it takes up dedication, effort, and experiencing the waves. Finnegan and Kahanamoku have put their hearts out to surf the waves of California and Hawaii. Thus, the sport brought them success.

Surfing is not just a mere recreational sport for Finnegan and Kahanamoku. As surfing became a part of their lives, it molded them into people who will help future and aspiring surfers. They have become good people with the help of surfing, which is evident in how they have put up with racial discrimination. Despite facing difficulties in life, they have chosen not to fight back; instead, they chose to forgive and still became humans with a purpose. The popularization of surfing until the present times is proof that they have done the right thing. To sum up, their hearts are filled with good intentions to popularize surfing so that people like them who experience such setbacks will also find surfing to face these problems and choose to be a better version of their selves. Therefore, surfing might help build a better culture, safe spaces, and a world that does not discriminate against races and skin colors.

Thesis Statement: Surfing is not just a mere recreational sport for William Finnegan and Duke Kahanamoku; surfing is the passion that helped them succeed in life and overcome problems such as racism.

Section I: Overcoming Racial Discrimination

The first thing is that William Finnegan and Duke Kahanamoku witnessed racial discrimination. During their time, racial discrimination was widespread all-over United States. It was chronic; the white people looked down on the natives. A theory called Postcolonialism or Postcolonial theory studies these kinds of problems. It focuses on the country that went under colonialism and studies the after-effects of colonialism. Racism is one of the concepts studied in this theory. There are instances of “Othering” on the side of the colonized. They were treated as exotic, mysterious, and uncivilized before; these are part of Edward Said’s study, Orientalism. (Castle, 2008) In Orientalism, there are two distinctions: The Occident and the Orient, the West and the East. The East, or the Orient, are the countries that the West or the Occident colonized. Because of the power that was brought by colonization, the colonizers created the “Self Other-ing” mindset for the natives of the colonized country. They established their superiority, making the Orient question their identity and experience themselves as the “Other.”

The two men, who made a name with the help of surfing, experienced racial discrimination. Kahanamoku was called a ‘negro’ in California, and Finnegan was bullied in his grade school. Despite this racial discrimination, Kahanamoku became a sheriff in Honolulu. He overcame these racial problems and proved himself with the help of his sports, surfing, and swimming. He was a child in Honolulu during that time; Hawaii was under a political crisis wherein their queen was thrown out, and the colonization of the US began. (Beschloss, 2014) Despite having experienced this dilemma, it did not stop him from joining competitions, even in Olympics. He was known for his skills, thus getting different pseudonyms such as human fish’ and ‘King of All Swimmers.’ He became famous because of his success as a swimmer in Olympics, as it was a prestigious competition. Later, he was honored because of his heroic act of saving the passengers of Thelma, the capsized yacht in Laguna Beach. Kahanamoku overcame racism by joining competitions and winning them.

On the other hand, William Finnegan did not know how to distinguish ethnicity. He was often bullied during grade school, causing his loneliness at a young age. A white young boy, he did not know how to deal with ethnicities and racial complexities, and ironically, he was picked for being white. (Stranger, 1999.) His family was traveling places, and when they lived in Honolulu, Finnegan was exposed to the diversity of culture in Hawaii. Because of his loneliness, he finds surfing as his escape from his reality. With the help of surfing, he made friends outside school. He learned surfing from the locals, who taught him all the knowledge about the waves. He had known a family that lived near the coast, and they helped him fuel his passion for the sport. Hence, surfing became not just his hobby or recreation to kill time; it became his career. Finnegan overcame his racial dilemmas by diverting his attention to surfing and overlooking the complexities of the culture he belongs to. Finnegan learned from his parents the class divisions in Hawaii. He learned how a distinct race could separate another, leading to discrimination. It is apparent that there were hierarchies of the race even before. Having said this, Finnegan looked at surfing differently as it helped him bring back the joy in his life.

Despite having experienced this, they disregarded it and continued living their lives to the fullest. They used surfing as their coping mechanism against this racial discrimination and ascended to success. They rose above this racism and became the bigger person by forgiving and not getting back to the people who looked down on them; instead, they became influencers and good examples. No matter how hard it was for them or how to hurt they were, they only surfed their way out of their problems. Surfing for them has become their weapon in battling the racism they have faced in their lives, and surfing brought them triumph.

Section II: Difference in Relationships

Before they were athletes, they were men. Finnegan and Kahanamoku are famous in the surfing world and among women. Perhaps, because of their bodies, healthy lifestyle, or because they are passionate, just like any other men, women are usually attracted to them. Finnegan and Kahanamoku, being an athlete, automatically draw women around them. Finnegan, with the women around him, has been in several relationships. Though he still found it difficult to please them, his relationships faced shortcomings and on-off phases. Of course, he eventually found a woman to marry. But before that, he explored quite a few hearts of women around him. One instance was when he was still a teenager; he developed a crush on his best friend’s girlfriend, Lisa. One-sided, he chose to wait for her to notice him, but then on, his crush faded, and at age 15, he had a girlfriend named Charlene. After Charlene, he had his next which he claimed to be his first serious girlfriend, named Caryn. Caryn was with him on his adventure until they decided to split up. (Finnegan, 2016) After her, he was with other women until he married Caroline in middle age, and they had their daughter Mollie. Like an ordinary man, Finnegan went around places and hearts of women till he found his match and settled down. His marriage life did not hinder his surfing career. Instead, Caroline and their daughter Mollie supported him. Finnegan was one lucky man because Caroline was very supportive of his surfing. Perhaps because he had a stable job then, and that was Journalism. Or maybe he decided to stop playing around when he had Mollie and focused more on his career.

Kahanamoku, on the other hand, also had a complicated love life. Unlike Finnegan, he did not wander around women’s hearts. Because of his fame, there were rumors around him. Rumors that he had a baby with the tobacco heiress named Doris Duke, but the baby died then after having been born. And then after 3 weeks after that incident, he surprisingly married a dance teacher named Nadine Alexander, and Doris Duke reportedly gave the couple money, which they used to purchase their house. (Beschloss, 2014) After these two women, there were no accounts of women in his life. There were no more reports or rumors of him playing around with women. Perhaps, Kahanamoku focused more on his surfing, swimming, and political career. He ran again as a sheriff in Honolulu when he returned from California. And he focused on spreading surfing as a sport in the US and worldwide. Kahanamoku’s said his first love was, well, surfing and swimming. This is how he differs from Finnegan; how they handled their relationship with women is different. Though both treated surfing as their lives, Finnegan rode the waves with his girlfriend watching him on the shore; meanwhile, Kahanamoku rode the waves with the world watching him.

These stories of their love life are evidence of their conquering the world despite the racial discrimination they have experienced and the class divisions they have witnessed. They made a name for themselves in the surfing industry, especially Kahanamoku. It shows on the accounts and articles that were written about them. Also, Kahanamoku’s success is very apparent in Hawaii because they have built landmarks for him in such places as lagoon, beach, and even festivals. Nevertheless, the beginnings of their lives are always challenging and tiring, just like those beginners learning to surf. Surfing for these two men has been there for them since day one as they fought their own life battles and struggled to survive each day. Their love for surfing and the women they married are related, for they pour their hearts out in both and through their loyalty to those two parts of their lives. Though Kahanamoku did not experience having relationships with several women in his teenage years, his loyalty to his marriage says it all. The same goes for Finnegan. Finnegan probably had the most colorful love life, while Kahanamoku had the most successful career.

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Section III: Letting the World Know About Surfing

These two men played a huge part in the popularization of surfing. They are the two big names in the surfing industry, Kahanamoku and swimming. Regardless of their race or class division, they have paved their way to success through surfing and found their purpose. Until the day he died, Kahanamoku had done so much in popularizing surfing worldwide. He established the foundation for surfing, restaurants, landmarks, etc. He is also known as the “Father of Surfing,” as he used his fame to spread and uphold surfing in Hawaii, California, then Australia, and now all over the world. Also, with the help of various movies about surfing and beaches in the emerging film industry, many people will follow in his footsteps. People were amazed and mesmerized by this trend or culture as it was new to them. According to an article on a website entitled The Inertia, Kahanamoku was Hawaii’s favorite son when he was still alive. (Westwick, 2013) Because of his records, he was treated with the utmost respect in Hawaii. He also instituted the first surfing club and helped formulate the surfing etiquette today. Also, because of his fame, there were brands that used his name before. (Westwick, 2013) Another article says that he brought fame to the Hawaiian race before it died. This is a sign that he embraces his ethnicity as his career soars high. Disregarding racism, he broke his limits and succeeded. He embodies an authentic Hawaiian who made his race famous and respected.

On the other part, Finnegan’s part in popularizing surfing is also huge. Just like Kahanamoku, Finnegan also joined competitions but just the local ones. Even though those contests are just local competitions, he always wins them. Because surfing is not just a part of his life; it is his life. From just drawing the waves to riding them, it eventually became the love of his life. It was hard for him at first, as he faced difficulties in his life, such as having a hard time dealing with his own identity, racism, and witnessing different cultures because of their traveling to places. He then used surfing whenever he experienced these difficulties or whenever he was having a hard time until he learned that surfing was not just a pastime or recreation to him. It has helped him grow as a person and made him overcome his life struggles. Although he left everything behind for surfing during his youth, he still found a stable job later after adolescence and had a life beyond surfing as he married Caroline and had their daughter Mollie. Finnegan, though, did not stop surfing until he couldn’t anymore. Making surfing a popular sport was not Finnegan’s goal before publishing his book. As for Kahanamoku, it was always his goal; to make it famous so people would also love the sport. It was mentioned in Finnegan’s book; he sees surfing as art. There must be something agreeable to that. Surfing has its factors that people drawn to the sport. Aside from Kahanamoku’s fame and influence, people are hooked on surfing because it is a different kind of lifestyle; it’s a different kind of lifestyle that only brave hearts can face. Also, there is something aesthetically pleasing in surfing. (Stranger, 1999) The sea, the waves, the shops that sell surfboards, and surfing as it is, are aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps these are some reasons people’s attention was diverted to surfing during Kahanamoku’s time. Aside from this, the movies or films produced back then favored the sport, for it only showed these beautiful things about surfing. Perhaps it’s the landscape, the beauty of nature, and how astonishing it was for people. Also, the surfer's concept of freedom catches people to the sport. The look of spontaneity, adventure, and just being one with nature is the look they created. Therefore, this kind of display will tend to sugarcoat other things about surfing which could lead to difficulties for other aspiring surfers.

Conclusion: The Pros and Cons of Surfing

They do not show how hard it is. Surfing requires training; training requires time. It is not a simple sport or hobby that anyone can try. It is also dangerous when someone lacks knowledge about the waves and how to ride them. Hence, it also requires studying. Surfing involves taking risks, one of which is risking your own life. There are dangers in surfing, such as drowning, interaction with marine life, broken bones because of the strong waves, and other hazardous things that a surfer can experience. (SurfingWaves, 2015) These things can be a hindrance in surfing. Nevertheless, one can overcome these hindrances through proper training and enough experience in surfing. Beauty and aesthetics are not just the pros of surfing. More than that, surfing is also suitable for a person's physical, mental, and emotional aspects. It is suitable for meditation as you think of nothing else but to balance while riding the wave. It also helps in becoming more self-aware of surfers' needs to focus on their bodies. Surfing helps in communicating with one’s own body and its limitations. It also helps in improving a person’s mood. (Smith, 2018). When a surfer succeeds in riding the waves without tumbling and falling from his board, a feeling of fulfillment will improve the surfer’s mood. More than these emotional benefits, since surfing is a sport, it helps develop muscles. Surfing requires the power and strength of a surfer to paddle up, stand up and ride the wave. It builds muscles through time and training. Surfing is also suitable for cardio exercise. (BetterHealth, 2014). These are some health benefits of surfing, and perhaps there are more undiscovered benefits. Indeed, only one thing that needs to be considered in becoming a good surfer: training. Training and practice will help in mastering the sport and succeeding in surfing. Beginners and aspiring surfers should take note and follow the excellent example of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan.

Considering the surfing culture now, Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan would be proud as millions worldwide now love their beloved sport. They have succeeded in riding the waves and in their lives and sharing their love for the sport. William Finnegan’s book won an award, and there’s more to that; he must have been feeling fulfillment until now because of the good reviews and the wide range of audience he got. Meanwhile, Duke Kahanamoku is well-remembered in Hawaii, not just remembered but well-respected. His legacy lives in the hearts of the locals and natives of Hawaii, for he brought honor to them and their country. Surfing is challenging, as well as life. Duke Kahanamoku and William Finnegan proved themselves in the world by sharing their passion and love for surfing.


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Barbarian Days William Finnegan

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