ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — Did a Sandwich Island Girl surf Asbury Park the summer of 1888?
The mystery, which started in 2006 when a wood-cut illustration of her was found, is still unsolved but a recently found personal ad placed in The Daily Press, the predecessor of the Asbury Park Press, may lend more credence to her being historical fact rather than fiction.
If the Sandwich Island Girl is real, she would turn surfing history upside down because it would mean Asbury Park is the first spot where surfing occurred on the East Coast, not Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Surf historian Joseph “Skipper” Funderburg, tells The Asbury Park Press she represents the “earliest known illustration of a surfer standing up riding a surfboard on a wave in the continental United States.”
Surf historians have been trying to identify the Sandwich Island Girl ever since Funderburg discovered the wood-cut illustration of her riding waves at Asbury Park.
The illustration appeared on the cover of The National Police Gazette on August 18, 1888. The caption read: “A Gay Queen Of The Waves: Asbury Park, New Jersey, Surprised By The Daring Of A Sandwich Island Girl.”
The ad may be the newest piece of evidence in what is a scant collection of a few contemporary newspaper references. The ad was discovered by an Asbury Park Press reporter doing archival research.
The ad was placed by J.L. Graham of Sea Bright on Aug. 6, 1888. It read:
“The undersigned desires to know the whereabouts of a young lady from the Sandwich Islands who is stopping in the park.”
The ad appeared three days after the press ran a blurb about Graham titled, ‘Will the search be successful,” which was as much on point then as it is now. It is not known if Graham ever located her.
Factual evidence of the Sandwich Island Girl has been hard to find. The Gazette account provided no name of the girl and the surfing community has questioned the trustworthiness of the source.
Surfing biographer Craig Lockwood likened the Gazette to a tabloid of its era in a critique published on the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center website. The center, located in San Clemente, California, is home to some of the world’s most important and authoritative archive of surfing artifacts, surfboards, memorabilia, photography, video, periodical and scholarly work.
The trail went cold on the Sandwich Island Girl after the 2006 discovery. Funderburg got another clue in 2017 when he found a syndicated Philadelphia Press letter that described in detail her exploits in the surf. The letter was published July 29, 1888, and predates the Gazette piece.
The letter did not give a name but said she was the daughter of a “tremendously rich planter,” who was touring the country and arrived in Asbury Park with the wealthy family of a New York importer.
According to Funderburg, news reporting was much different then. Papers were less interested in getting names of participants or attributing names to quotes.
Surf historian Malcom Gault-Williams said the Gazette could have picked up on the Sandwich Island Girl from the Philadelphia Press letter. The letter, he said, likely means the Gazette story was not fabricated.
Funderburg said Graham’s ad further validates her existence. He said Graham may have even read the Philadelphia Press letter, which appeared in papers a week earlier.
“If someone went through that much effort to find her, it certainly offers more proof she was real,” said Funderburg.
Graham told The Daily Press that he had a home in the Sandwich Islands and knew the lady. Funderburg said he will research Graham’s records in hopes that it will lead him to her.
Surfing was introduced to the continental U.S.A. from Hawaii — which was known in the West at the time as the Sandwich Islands, a name handed down from Captain James Cook, an 18th-century British explorer.
The first reported board riding in the continental U.S.A. took place at Santa Cruz, California in 1885 when three Hawaiian teenage royal princes took a break from boarding school. Hawaii was still an independent island kingdom but was coming increasingly entwined in American business interests.
Even before the three princes surfed on boards made of local redwood, American’s learned of surfing in a Harper’s Weekly story about Sandwich Island surf riders that was published in the early 1880s. The Harper’s Weekly account appeared in the Red Bank Register in April 1883.
In 1909, Burke Haywood Bridgers introduced surfing to the East Coast at Wrightsville Beach. However, if the facts add up, the Sandwich Island Girl may push the date back of East Coast surfing 20 years and move it 600 miles up the coast to Asbury Park.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com