20 July 2010

Herman Melville (1849): "...a surfboard is indispensible"

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...

... 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. Hanging over this scroll, looking down from it as from a precipice, the bathers halloo, every limb in motion to preserve their place on the very crest of the wave...

An expert swimmer shifts his position on his plank, now half striding it and anon, like a rider in the ring, poising himself upright in the scud, coming on like a man in the air.

At last all is lost in scud and vapor, as the overgrown billow bursts like a bomb. Adroitly emerging, the swimmers thread their way out and, like seals at the Orkneys, stand dripping upon the shore.
More at Lapham's Quarterly.  The text comes from his 1849 book, Mardi, available at Project Gutenberg.  It's hard for me to picture the author of Moby Dick sitting on the beach on a South Pacific island, watching the surfer dudes hanging ten.

1 comment:

  1. Melville achieved great success with his novels of south sea island life "Typee" & ""Omoo". He was a keen observer.


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