Oct 2, 2014

Jack London and the Gay Surfers

In 1907, adventure writer Jack London and his wife Charmian sailed their yacht, The Snark, to Hawaii, where they went swimming, gave book readings, and got taken around by the Honolulu elite.

One night they were sitting on the veranda of their hotel when a small, slight man appeared, introduced himself as a fellow journalist, and told them about a native Hawaiian sport: surfing.

He turned out to be Alexander Hume Ford, aka Hume, a globetrotting journalist who had published books and articles on Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, and China.  He had recently arrived in Hawaii for a brief visit, and fell in love with the surfers on the beach

Particularly 23-year old George Freeth (1883-1918).

Jack, Charmian, Hume, and George spent a riotous vacation together, two couples hitting all of the Honolulu hotspots.

They tried out surfing, and Jack liked it so much that he wouldn't take a break from the sun, and got the sunburn of his life.  He and Charmian returned to America devotees of the newly discovered sport.

Enraptured by surfing -- and by Hawaii's cultural and natural wonders -- Hume extended his visit indefinitely.  He and George became inseparable companions..  Later in 1907, when a Congressional delegation toured the islands to determine if Hawaii was ready for statehood, they acted as their guides.

When industrialist Henry Huntington read about George's surfing exploits, he invited him to come to California to give a demonstration.  George stayed on, living in the Huntington mansion, introducing surfing to the beaches of Southern California, and inventing new lifeguarding techniques.  He died suddenly in 1919.

Hume soon found a new protege, 17-year old Duke Kahanamoku, and began promoting him as Hawaii's "Champion Surf Rider." Kahanamoku went on to become an Olympic Gold Medalist and actor, and to befriend such beefcake legends as Johnny Weissmuller.

Hume stayed in Hawaii permanently, promoting the sport of surfing in books and articles, joining surf clubs, founding the famous Outrigger Canoe Club, writing and editing Mid-Pacific Magazine, and photographing muscular young men standing next to their surfboards.

He died in 1945, and is still remembered today for his undaunted enthusiasm for the sport of surfing, and for his adopted home.

Of course, it's possible that Hume and George weren't partners, that they weren't even gay.  But they never married, they sought out the company of men throughout their lives, and they rhapsodized about the lean, muscular bodies of surfers gleaming in the sun.

See also: Duke Kahanamoku