Island Kings, Whalers & Beach Boys
How Pacific Whaling Introduced Surfing to the World
The museum is sponsoring an exciting, family-oriented exhibition in 2005 that explores the origins, evolution and perfection of surfing as a recreational American sport and lifestyle. Island Kings, Whalers & Beach Boys: How Pacific Whaling Introduced Surfing to the World celebrates the phenomenal impact of surfing on American culture, from its South Pacific roots in the 1700s, to its discovery by whaling ships in the 1800s and its introduction to California in the early 1900s. Artifacts, graphics, original art, music and cinematic clips will be used in the exhibition to highlight the fascinating history of this past-time and its far-reaching effect on American culture today. The exhibit explores the discovery of Polynesian islanders surfing in the South Pacific, and how whaling crews made contact with surfers in Hawaii, a favorite destination of whaling vessels. Famous travelers and authors – Mark Twain and Jack London among them – memorialized surfing in their writings, long before it reached American soil.
Island Kings, Whalers & Beach Boys traces the extraordinary rise in popularity of surfing over the last century and how it spread to Long Island’s Rockaway Beach in 1912. Today, Montauk’s Ditch Plains is regarded as the Mecca of surfing in New York State. It all began many centuries ago, however, in the remote South Pacific, and has left its indelible mark on American pop culture – our movies, music, and attitudes toward recreation and lifestyle.
The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, which launched a new gallery in 2003 to accommodate seasonal exhibits, is an ideal venue for the show. The museum has in its permanent collection a wide array of artifacts, paper documents, and fine and decorative arts that portray the Whaling Era and its impact on 19th century America. Of particular interest are the ethnographic objects – spears, shields, paddles and other exotic items – brought back to Sag Harbor as souvenirs of the whaling voyages. The objects signify the “contact period” when many Americans – primarily Whites, but African-Americans and Native Americans, too – first encountered the aboriginal and native peoples of far-away places. Their customs, language, mode of dress, food-ways, arts and crafts, and countless other characteristics left an indelible impression on American whale men, who brought the stories of their encounters – and their keepsakes – home to Sag Harbor.
Island Kings, Whalers & Beach Boys gives the museum an opportunity to combine scholarly research, social history, and commentary on contemporary culture in a single event, providing viewers with a perspective on an American tradition whose roots may surprise those who attend the show. The exhibit also gives the museum a platform on which to develop an engaging and meaningful school curriculum for Fall 2005, touching on themes as varied as Colonial American and maritime history, cultural diversity, and environmental conservation.