A Happy 180th Birthday to Mark Twain, And a Video Tribute to the Late, Great Pioneer of Western Surf Prose.
by Owen James Burke
Screenshot from the 1909 Edison film below.
Mark Twain was not merely the greatest American humorist, novelist and social critic to grace the globe; he may well have been western prose’s first surf writer, evidenced by his eloquent description of his failed attempt at ‘surf-bathing’ while visiting the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1872 (excerpt from Roughing It):
I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.
This Edison film of a later-years Mr. Clemens and (supposedly) his daughters Clara and Susy was taken in 1909 outside ‘Stormfield’, the American humorist, novelist and social critic’s home in Redding, Connecticut, one year before he passed. Notice Twain’s ever stern and steady delivery of some wry quip which makes his daughter chuckle wholesomely over tea on the patio:
Read more about the early surfing adventures of not only Mark Twain, but Agatha Christie and Jack London in our feature, These Were the Original Surf Writers of Western Prose, and in Twain’s semi-autobiographical travelogue, Roughing It, a prequel to his first book, Innocents Abroad.