George Freeth The First Southern California Surfer
In 1907 the eclectic interests of land baron Henry Huntington brought the ancient art of surfing to the California coast. While on vacation, Huntington had seen Hawaiian boys surfing the island waves. Looking for a way to entice visitors to the area of Redondo Beach, where he had heavily invested in real estate, he hired a young Hawaiian-Irish athlete, George Freeth, to demonstrate the art of surfing.
As a child in Hawai’i, Freeth had seen an old Polynesian painting that depicted his mother’s ancestors riding surfboards. Freeth decided to revive the art of surfing But had little success with the huge 16-foot hardwood boards that were popular at that time. When he cut them in half tmake them more manageable, he unwit-
tingly created the original “Longboard, ”which made him the talk of the islands. To the delight of visitors, Freeth exhibited his surfing prowess twice a day in front of the Hotel Redondo.
His energies soon led him to swimming, diving, and water polo competitions, and he later became the first official lifeguard in southern California. He is credited with inventing the ‘torpedo rescue can’ used by lifeguards today.Freeth promulgated a surfing revolution which would eventually become a phenomenon on the California coast. When he died in San Diego in 1919 at the age of 36, he left a legacy that looms large in the California lifestyle: the fit, tanned lifeguard, the athletic surfer, the tireless water polo player. Freeth trained several Olympic caliber swimmers and divers, and won Carnegie and Congressional medals for his lifesaving feats.
A memorial statue stands on the Redondo Beach Pier, and is often decorated with fragrant leis as a tribute from surfers throughout the world.
-excerpted from files of the Redondo
Beach Visitors Bureau