Sunday, January 18, 2009

World War II Surfers

I am often asked what is the connection between my love of surfing and my continuous ramblings about World War II. Many can relate easily to the Vietnam War and its relationship to surfing as it has already been explored in the movies Big Wednesday and Apocalypse Now, but World War II also has a very strong basis as can be seen in this historical example.

In the early 1940's, surfing would have been practiced by only a few hundred individuals up an down the the west coast of California. Many of these surfers lived subsistance level lives along the beaches, often camping out for weeks on end to enjoy the pristine uncrowded conditions. On idle afternoons they would dive for abalone and losters, harvesting this complimentary food source off the coastal shelf.
As war came to the United States, the military was eager to establish specialised groups of men who could serve specific tasks in combat. With the experiences learnt from island invasions in the Pacific, the US NAVY sought to create Underwater Demolition Teams, esssentially divers who could clear a safe path through mine fields and other explosive obsticals into the beaches so that the Marine amphibious landings could take place with reduced risk and casualties. But where to find such men??

It was Surfers' such as John Kelly(photo above), Bob Butt and Pete Peterson who formed up the nucleus of the US NAVY's initial UDT units, forerunners of the modern elite commando SEAL teams. Their peacetime skills were case hardened by the rigors of combat in the atolls of the South Pacifc.

Surfing and World War II

Surfing and WWII.

Recently I had a new board made. I like surfing logs and to ensure I get the best I can afford I visit my friends at Sea Surfboards Byron Bay. Dain, Matt and Paul, all have a pretty good idea where my heads at in terms of board design, but this time to give them further insight into where I was drawing my asthetic influences from I posted them this little slice of information gleaned in part from 'legendary surfers'.

In one of the stranger chapters of surfing's history, it was toward the end of the Second World War that surfboards were seriously considered for use as an instrument to advance military objectives.

After the United States Marines suffered over 50% casualties in the taking of Iwo Jima in the summer of 1945, the Navy brought several Naval Combat Demolition (NCD) teams to Camp Pendleton to learn how to use surfboards.

It has been proposed that the Navy was also inspired by Gene "Tarzan" Smith's travels between the Hawaiian Islands on his paddleboard, unassisted.
Fran Heath and his fellow Hot Curler John Kelly are generally credited with the idea of using surfboards militarily. Both became members of the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) during the war. "We considered using surfboards for reconnaissance missions," recalled Fran. "That was Kelly's idea. But, boards are too easily spotted from low-flying aircraft and there's no protection if you're spotted, so that idea was scrapped."

Naval Combat Demolition teams were different from the UDT's which were more sabotage/espionage oriented. The NCDs were "created when the Navy realized how many casualties were being caused by landing craft grounding on unchartered reefs and other underwater obstructions during Pacific island invasions," according to Larry Kooperman. The NCD teams consisted of 30 highly trained frogmen. The job of the NCD's was "to swim in to the beaches of Japanese-held islands in the dead of night, reconnoiter the reefs and other obstructions, chart them or blow them up and swim back to their ship or submarine before the sun came up. The NCD teams never gained the fame enjoyed by the Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams, the parent of today's Navy Seals. Perhaps the reason for this is the NCD teams spent all their time swimming, whereas the UDT's, like the Seals, did some of their best work above the high tide mark.".

"The Navy perfected the NCD surfboard in the summer of 1945," Larry Kooperman documented. "Its first mission was to be the reconnaissance off the coast of Japan in preparation for the invasion of the Japanese homeland by units of the United States military. These Warboards were hollow wooden surfboards built of a thin layer of redwood over a wooden frame. They were about 14 feet long and weighed about 60 pounds. They were camouflaged so as to be almost invisible in the night-dark water. Built into these boards, between the frames, was a depth sounder. Each board was to be equipped with a two-way radio that was used to relay the depth sounder's readings to the mother ship".

In late summer 1945, the NCD teams were "ready to paddle to war." However, the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6th and on Nagasaki three days later preempted the need of the Warboards and they were never used operationally.

And so I have my new board. I chose a really great Olive green which is consistant with Marine dress uniforms, I believe this is refered to as Forest Green. The Red pinstriping and fin are also used in Marine Corp insignia. The overall effect is a log that draws inspiration from the invasion craft used to storm the beaches of enemy held islands in the Pacific. While at conception this idea was to draw some strange looks when I explained it, after the board was finished the effect was obvious and everybody has commented that she's one tough looking mother, worthy of any leatherneck. Semper Fi.

Introduction to Papa Nui.

Like us all I am inspired by many things. Since day one, my Father has been a most dominating force. Jack was a veteran of World War 2 and he served the better part of those years campaigning in the South Pacific. Naturally as a child I was awed by my fathers exploits and adventures in the island jungles and so over the years I grew to develop a significant appreciation of his generations acomplishments. Along with this came a great love of history, especially the war years and especially the conflicts in the Pacific region.
This interest permeates my world and influences much of how I view things. As you come to know me through this blog you will see how this plays out into my thinking and my approach and outlook on things. But for now my interests are Surfing, Art, Fashion and Music.

I like history, military, aviation, old hollywood movies, junking, interiors, cooking, south pacific, Japan, beachcombing and underwater love. Musically Im drawn to the Clash and the Blue Hawaiians, Alfred Aholo Apaka, the Whys, Dizzy, Wes Montgomery, Slim Gallard, Machito, Lee Perry, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Burning Spear, Johnny Lee Wills and the Japanese Motors. I love the asthetics of America from the 1930's -1960's and for fashion Ive always spent my dollars on vintage garments from American thrift stores while on junking trips across the States.

At one time or another Ive been very active in Skateboarding and Surfing, have lived abroad in London and Tokyo and have worked with some big name fashion labels, here and overseas.
My desire for this blog is to network some of my thoughts and see what comes back. I have long term goals around things Id like to do and would love the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who could help me put a spin on things and perhaps encourage me to make some of my ideas a reality.