Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Are You Listening To Volcano Radio?

Volcano Radio is a podcast being produced by friends of mine, Malia and Stewart. They're both accomplished journalists and writers. And on the podcast, they're accumulating some great content about what it means to live in Hawaii and how to have a non-touristy visit if you don't live here. I'm lucky enough to every once in awhile be asked to contribute something. Here's a book review I wrote. The audio should be available at Volcano Radio soon.

As surfers we’re lucky that such places as the Bishop Museum exist. They have vaults of antique surf memorabilia and photography. Desoto Brown had the opportunity to comb through these pictures and publish them as a kind of scrapbook of surf photography.

In Surfing: Historic Images From Bishop Museum Archives, we get a little over 150 pages of black and white photos of Waikiki, early surf contests, tourism, and the Duke, taken from 1890-1960. In the background of these pictures is the development of a tourism mecca, including the construction of the Royal Hawaiian and filming of Hollywood travelogue productions for the Hawaii Tourist Bureau.

A few pages in, the book, contrary to the implication of the title, says that “this is not a history of surfing or even of surfing photography. Instead, it’s a selection of historic pictures from just one collection, the Bishop Museum Archives in Honolulu, Hawaii.” It goes on to describe the millions of images held in this collection. And the fact that there are still some gaps in surfing history. Brown also says: “You won’t see the full evolution of surfing from the time of Western contact onwards: the sport’s fall and rise, its growth beyond Waikiki and then the Hawaiian Islands, and the position it occupies in the world today.” Okay, this is just page 9, but I’ll keep going. I want to see what the book is.

The photos are full of sexy smiles and perfect waves. And the captions provide context for each of the shots and the people and places in them. For me some of the highlights are the documentation of the surfboard as a relic, and then as a symbol of Hawaii, the discussion of the staging and truthfulness of some of the photos, the photo ops at the Moana Pier, the land sled, the 3D photography and the early aerial shots.Yet, the reader is left wondering how these photos fit into the story. Are there thematic connections? Are the same people involved in the development and the surf? Is there a sequential story to follow?

The book ends with a 1960’s Waikiki that we start to recognize, crowds and concrete. And the last 30 pages are a dedicated tribute to Duke Kahanamoku’s life and contribution to Hawaii and surfing.

For $15, the Bishop trades an attractive, compact package, adorned in reef green pastels and the quintessential Waikiki surf photo with Diamond Head in the background. But it’s apparent immediately that this not going to be photography for your coffeetable or bookshelf display. More with the visitor in mind I think, you won’t have a problem fitting this small soft-cover in your luggage or carry-on. But as a surfer anywhere, this is a must-have.

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