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.

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